Thursday, February 19, 2009


Once upon a time, my husband and I used to sit there at night, after lights out, and take turns talking about our day with our 22 month old daughter Beatrice. I would generally start, and tell him every minute detail about what Beatrice and I did.

“This morning, we woke up, and came downstairs. Mama got some coffee, and Beatrice got some milk in her purple cup. Then, we decided to eat breakfast. Beatrice wanted toast instead of cereal, even though Mama had already poured the milk. After we ate, we went upstairs to start our day. Then we sat on the counter, and brushed our teeth, but Beatrice didn't want to brush them, so we decided to count to ten together and only brush our teeth until the count was over. Then when we were done, we clapped and talked about how easy it was...”

You get the picture, nice and drawn out and booooooooooooring…then my husband Sam would tell us about his day, in very easy and nice terms, because you see, he works at a pediatric hospital as an anesthetist, so he sees sick children, abused children, sad children...but we would talk about how Daddy helped the sick kids get better. And then, well, you know what happened. My daughter died. And the day we came home and put her to bed, we decided we absolutely could not talk about our day anymore. Our day would consist of Mama and Daddy crying. So, I grabbed a book I read sometimes to Beatrice when Sam works a twenty-four hour shift. A book of fairy tales. She would fall asleep after one, and Sam and I would go into our room and talk about just how very twisted fairy tales are. It just reads as though every child in fairy tales is abused, and every one ends with the little girl becoming a princess, or dying in the process. Does marriage really have to be the end of every girl's story?

Anyway, after a few days of this nonsense, Sam and I took little Bea to Peddler’s Village, which a constructed, fake little village in Bucks County with quaint shops and a water wheel. It was an unusually warm Sunday in December, only a week after Lucy’s birth. We wanted to get out of the house, try to function in normal society. At Peddler’s Village, there is a beautiful independent toy shop. I searched through their book section for something to replace the fairytales. There was only one folktale book, so I bought it without reading one word. It is called The Girl Who Only Dreamed Geese. It is a collection of Inuit folktales. One night, not too long after, as I sat down, I began the story called Uteritsoq and the Duckbill Dolls. The story starts, “Who had the reputation for being the most stubborn man in all of the coastal villages of Greenland? It was a man named Uteritsoq.” What a great beginning! Something to tease Sam about before bed. Uteritsoq is a stubborn man, but a good provider. He never accepted any help. Then we get to the part that took my breath away, and stopped me in my reading.

Now it happened that Uteritsoq had a beautiful wife. But she was very unhappy. She has wanted a child so badly, and just a few days earlier she had lost a child before it had lived even a day! There was great sadness throughout the village. Crying, weeping, sobbing, Uteritsoq’s wife went into mourning. One by one, the other women in the village came to her house to sit and weep with her. According to traditional rules, she was not to do work of any sort—no sewing, no fish cleaning, no mending, no cooking. Nothing. Mourning was enough work. Weeping was enough work. Dreaming about the lost child was enough work.

This story came up a week and a few days after Lucy died, and I was sitting at home with my husband all day, my breasts bound, weeping, sobbing, feeling entirely alone. Here was a story that understood. And old story passed down from woman to woman, family to family. It keeps going, “However, Uteritsoq felt crowded by the weeping in his house. He watched his wife’s quaking shoulders, her tears, how we tore at her hair, her constant frown—it all made Uteritsoq restless and confused. He wanted to flee from his own house. So he did.”

Now I am sitting cross-legged on the floor of my daughter’s bedroom—the bedroom intended for both Bea and Lucy. Tears are streaming down my face. I need to know. What happens? What happens to this family? Uteritsoq finds his kayak torn, and tries to make his wife mend it, though she is in mourning. Though she refuses because she is in mourning, stubborn Uteritsoq makes her, thus upsetting the Moon Man and his dog, who controls the tides. This then upsets the hunting. He goes on a long arduous journey to the moon. While he is gone, the wife’s mourning period ends, and the moon spirit goes to her and helps Uteritsoq’s wife make many duckbilled dolls. As they sit there sewing them, Uteritsoq watches her and overhears her complaining about him and his stubbornness. When he returns home, all of the duckbilled dolls become children. And they are all stubborn, which the villagers get a kick out of. The story ends thus, “Sometimes he laughed; sometimes he cried. And through it all, he caught a lot of fish. He had very, very good luck.”

We just don’t have these stories in our society. We just don’t make stillbirth part of the human experience. It is something to be whispered about, something told about you after you leave the room as though explaining the sadness in your face. I love this story for many reasons, but not least of which is simply because it exists.


  1. Beautiful story. I often get frustrated about how few people talk about stillbirth other than in hushed tones. As if talking about it is going to make it any worse.

  2. Angie, Thank you SO much for sharing this beautiful story. You are right, our society does not make stillbirth part of its narrative.

    I'd love to chat more over email if you'd like, particularly because we're both in the Philly area. skatzesq at


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