Saturday, May 9, 2009

Our community

Did you ever meet someone where there is something else going on? Sure, you shake hands, either in real life or virtually, and it is polite. But it is like they owed you money in a past life. It’s not exactly like you remember the amount, but something about them makes you think, “Oh, right, I remember this douche bag now.”

If you don’t know, I’m a recently added clicker for Lost and Found Connections Abound, so I have the privilege of reading the stillbirth, neonatal death and infant death blogs on Mel’s huge mother blogroll and passing on news to LFCA. This was the end of my first week. As I read a whole host of blogs I had never read before, blogs spanning from years to weeks since the loss of the writer’s baby or babies, I realized that each of us on this journey experience such universal truths with very individual perspectives. It was humbling and insightful. I was so curious after looking at people’s sidebars, why it is we connect with some blogs and not others?

I know my writing is not everyone’s cup of tea. This journey is mine alone. I’m generally not offended if someone decides to drop me, add me, comment, not comment, but I do think this community is beautiful because of the support from all realms—from the babylost and non-babylost alike, from the pregnant and the trying, from the ones of recent loss and those with losses from many decades ago. Comments are so important, and I appreciate every one. (Except for perhaps that one I got from a sex yoga blog in Malaysia, I could have done without that one.) It is why I comment on blogs often, because when something moves me, or resonates with me, or I see someone hurting, or happy. I can smile at them, open my arms, send a brief note to tell them that their stories were heard.

I just wonder some days what it would be like if, instead of reading these blogs, I ran into grieving women throughout my day, and heard their stories instead of reading them. This used to happen often when I worked as the morning barista in the largest coffee shop (during the pre-Starbucks times) in Tucson, Arizona. People would flutter in. I would see their car pull into the parking lot, and start their drinks. I knew details of their lives that their own sisters, husbands or parents didn’t know. And I really cared about the people who drank coffee in that place. All of us that worked there did. We wondered where they were, if they were regulars that skipped a day. We noticed when people were down, or angry, or happy, or short, or spacey. We didn’t gossip about them, but we talked about their lives as though they were friends of ours. We reached out to those in need. We set people up on dates. We passed along recommendations, and job leads, and books, and anything we could give at the moment.

But in this community, where we might read blogs in our pajamas over our morning cup of coffee, I wonder how much of our mood changes how we read the blog post. Would my own delivery of my words change the message? Would you like me, or dislike me, because of how I speak, or my nervous laughter, or my sarcastic undertones? Could you get past my crazy hair to listen to my story, or would my one wild white hair curled in front of my eyes distract you too much?


Last night, Sam and I went on a date night, dropping Beatrice off at my sister’s house. After our night, we lounged in my sister’s living room with the kids. Cooper, my almost seven year old nephew, had his head against my shoulder, and my sister said to me, “I was telling Cooper today what wasn’t invented when we were children.”

“Yeah, Auntie Angie, there wasn’t an internet, or cordless phones. Mommy told me that you used to fight with her just outside of the reach of Abuelita when she was on the phone.” (Karmically, I know naughtiness is coming my way.)

It made me think. There once wasn’t an internet. And my beautiful new friends in Australia would have not felt like my neighbors. What would I have done after Lucy died? What would my community look like?

A few weeks ago, my friend Kitt sent me a really interesting snippet of a book she was reviewing by a historian of religion named Molly McGarry called, Ghosts of Futures Past: Spiritualism and the Cultural Politics of Nineteenth-Century America.

Here are Kitt's words, because, well, I would have just rewritten them:

I was sort of blown away by this part of the book where she was talking about how mothers of lost children were especially drawn to spiritualism, not because this was new information, but because of how she analyzed it. She talked about Victorian culture and the rituals of grief with which I'm sure you're familiar: the elaborate mourning rituals, the carefully prescribed stages of grief with specific clothing for each phase, the memento mori, lockets, notecards, etc. And I had always thought that maybe that would be an easier time to experience such a loss--not that it's ever "easy," that's a terrible word for me to use--but because death was an expected part of life...there are a lot of books about death in Victorian culture, people's awareness of death, and so on. But grievers who were drawn to spiritualism were actually critical of the way Victorians grieved; the "intricate rituals of middle-class sentimental culture effectively shifted the social focus from the dead to the living, from those who were mourned to the mourners themselves."

But spiritualists wanted to connect to the dead, so they got involved in spiritualist communities, which, McGarry argues, were virtual communities like the internet is today. True, they would attend actual events--séance and the like--in an attempt to connect with their lost children, but they would also subscribe to spiritualist journals and write letters in which they said that no one understood them and their grief except others with the same experience. She wrote: "The medium's bodily transformation in the séance circle was an individual experience collectively mobilized." It was accepted that "only those who had been mourners could sympathize with the bereaved." One woman wrote, "To others my grief may appear excessive, but you, who have lost children, may conceive of the anguish of a mother's spirit, in seeing suddenly snatched from her arms, in the space of a few hours, the idol of her heart...and who in that Spirit-world can replace the mother in this?" [here I thought of the Jizo, as I've learned about it from you.] Here's McGarry again: "What most characterizes this literature is a sense of social isolation among the correspondents, of being without collective comfort and alone with solitary grief. It is hard to say whether these bereaved individuals found themselves actually excluded from the materialistic cult of mourning and untouched by the era's mostly literary ethos of sentimentality or whether they were voicing grief as a longing for connection that these social forms repressed. In some ways, the very existence of these epistolary exchanges speaks to the shared sense among letter writers that their immediate social circles had failed them and that another imagined community, in this case a community in print, was required to assist in the mourning process." And finally: "Spiritualism provided a community of the living for the living."

Such a rich beautiful multi-faceted insight into our people--the babylost. I also thought, like Kitt, that with the elaborate Victorian mourning rituals, and the prevalence of stillbirth at the time, that the 19th century might have been an era where it might be, uh, easier somehow. It is never easy to grieve, as Kitt says. And it has never been easier. I feel like a jerk for even thinking it, but it still is one of those ideas I had. How many of us have written blog post upon blog post about our alienation from our social circle, the non-babylost? Still, I found it fascinating.

I think we would have found each other in a different way in a different time. We would have connected more with some women than others. It might have been through church, or séance, but the other babyloss women would have answered that loud wail across the universe that only a woman who lost her baby can recognize. Maybe we would have been keening together in an ice hut, not fixing our husband's torn kayak, or maybe we would have sat around a campfire dancing our stories with masks and drums, stabbing sticks into the ground, or maybe even we might have sat in a circle in a darkened room, listening to the sound of spirit trumpets or waiting for objects to levitate, but I have no doubt, we would have told our stories to one another somehow.


  1. hey Angie

    I really liked your post. I think you are right about how we connect, have a collective experience, regardless of the circumstances we live in. I love the way you describe the hushed whispers when we leave the room because I'm sure that's how people talk.

    I do believe babyloss is a lot more present in our society, than we are aware of. I just think, we weren't sensitive to it. It's the sad story we didn't want to really know about, other than the ten (or maybe just two?) minutes it took to talk about someone else.

    Just this morning as I was driving back from the shops I was thinking in a similar way. I remembered other babyloss story... my ex-boyfriends (15 yrs ago) brother died of SIDS some 40 years ago, my aunt had a stillbirth before I was born, my husbands brother and SIL lost their firstborn (cord accident) 20 yrs ago... the list goes on and on. But I'm not connecting with these people... I'm not going through some ritual with them. They don't even necessarily know about what happened to us.

    And while I went through hundreds of blogs of other women, I only feel this connection with some.

    Which makes me think, there is something special about people I've met here.


  2. Beautiful, Angie. I'm just happy we found each other...much love

  3. Without the internet, I have no idea how I'd cut through the isolation I feel, overseas and in hiding (still at 29 weeks!), babylost. I regularly feel wonder and gratitude for grieving in the era of the internet - yet it's always with the regret for and curiosity about the mourning rituals and recognition of the past. I crave ritual and recognition.

    We need to share our stories, it's a matter of survival, I really believe that. I'm glad we can do it here.

  4. Universal truths with very individual perspectives ... what a perfect way to describe our community.

  5. Happy Mothers Day,
    Thinking of you in my heart,
    Lots of Love, Hugs & Kisses,
    Kay xxxx

  6. It is hard to know what would have been better. In a way, the bygone era may have been because infant death was more expected and very much a part of life. We are so good at getting it right these days and obs and midwives perpetuate the fantasy that things always go well in this day and age. I was so, so unaware how often it still happens and never for one minute thought it would happen to me. I felt so alone in those early days I arrived home from hospital empty handed, but it wasn't long before I was drawn to the internet (maybe I heard the wailing?) and saw there were so many women out there, just like me.
    I really don't know how I would have survived the last nine months without this space. And yes, even though you live in Philly, you do feel like my neighbour, if that is possible.
    Happy Mother's Day my friend.

  7. I have wished I lived in another time often, thinking it would be easier because more people around me would know what this feels like. Then I feel guilty because it's not like I wish this on anyone.

    My siblings and I had a birthday party for my Mom last weekend and there were roughly 75 people there. Most of them were her age. One of them pulled me aside and told me she knows the hell I have been through because her first daughter died as an infant 40 or so years ago. Later, as my Mom blew out the candles on her cake, I looked around the room and realized there were at least 5 other women in the room who had lost babies right before they were born, or shortly after. And it kinds of blew me away because 1.) that seems like a lot of lost babies in one room and 2.) because I had not connected with any one of them and talked about our babies. Same goes for my SIL's SIL who lost a baby girl a few months before me. But here, in my computer, I seem to connect with so many women from all over the place. And then I am thankful for the time we live in because I probably would have been committed by now if I lived in an era, say 40-50 years ago, when women were not allowed to see or talk about their babies.

    Sorry for the long comment. Hope you have a peaceful mother's day tomorrow.

  8. Hm. Interesting.

    I do like to follow people at all stages, lost their first, lost a later child, arleady pregannt again, already with a subsequent child. It gives me hope.

    I think we seek validation in our feelings. A check that we are not crazy.

    I think the generations immediately before ours just 'dealt' with it through stoicism. Just suck it up. And went to church to be sure to go to heaven to see their children again.

    Is the rest of that book a good and poignant read?

  9. I've wondered about the time thing too.. except I have been grateful to be part of this time, where I was encouraged to hold my baby, and sleep with him in my arms. To take photos, and mementos, to talk about him and miss him openly and the internet community that i've found in all of you! It has meant so much to know that I'm not walking this path alone, and that my feelings and emotions are normal! Thank you for the post, it is a totally different percpective than I've even thought of.. and it really makes sense. :)

  10. Once again I am just blown away by your post Angie. You open my eyes ears and heart more every time i visit here. Thank you for making this journey so rich.

  11. Such a beautiful post, Angie.
    Without the internet, without Ferdinand's death, I would not have come across such beauty. I loathe that fact, yet embrace it at the same time.
    Much love to you, sweet mama. xo

  12. I have often wondered how things would be for me if not for the internet and babylost blogs. Although I am just now starting to write my own blog and leave comments on others, I have been in the background quietly reading and relating for a while.

    Thank you...

  13. Hi Angie,

    Thank you for commenting on my blog. I'm really glad to connect with you, although every time I 'meet' a new baby lost mama, I wish we didn't have to know each other in these circumstances.

    Love Jess


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