No one likes to talk about the death of a child.I learned that the hard way, by losing one and then finding that no one wanted to hear about it.
Thirty years ago today, I lost a ten-month-old son to congestive heart failure. He was born tiny and sick, and he never thrived. He did smile a few times. Once, he laughed. He had dark hair and blue eyes. He was born on Christmas Day, and — I’ve never understood why — other women would smile when they heard this and exclaim, “Oh! What a wonderful Christmas present!”
Did they even listen when I said he was born desperately ill? How could they possibly believe that laboring for 11.5 hours and then giving birth to a sick baby was in any way a Christmas present? How could they say such a thing to me, when I returned home from the hospital to tell my friends of my misfortune? When I returned home from the hospital without my baby. When my baby lay in a neonatal unit, clinging to life, surrounded by machines instead of his mother’s arms. My arms. I had literally never held him.
I had a toddler at home. When I went into labor, my OB sent me to a research hospital 55 miles from home. To visit my sick newborn required planning and effort. And I did make the effort. My friends all said, “We’ll help any way we can. We’ll watch your toddler for you. We’ll do this. We’ll do that.” I soon found that this was the right thing to say, but not necessarily what they truly meant, because when I’d call, they’d say, “We’re busy this week. How about next week?” And so my son languished, and my arms ached, and my so-called friends went about their lives unencumbered by the burden of helping a young mother see her sick baby.
It’s strange — through all of human history until less than 150 years ago, it was a common experience to lose an infant. Women lost a horrifying percentage of their children during infancy, to all the various ills that plague the human race. Did they comfort each other, these bereft mothers with aching breasts, when they were common? Did they just soldier on? I don’t know. I suppose I could do some research, but not today. Today, I don’t want to.
Today, I just want to get to tomorrow and get this horrible anniversary behind me, one more time.