Sunday, January 3, 2010


I will preface this post by saying that I recognize that losing my child has changed the way I parent. Though to be fair, I was just finding my parenting footing when my second daughter died. I have become much more strict about, say, jumping on the couch. We have done more Angie-friendly things around the house. For example, Sam built a balance beam for Beatrice that is an inch off the ground. We encourage jumping on the floor. If Beatrice climbs the tree in the front yard, she does it with a spotter. All in all, though, I try not to be too overly protective. I chide myself when I notice hovering. When people bandy around the words "helicopter parenting," I cringe. I do not want to become that mother.

I think falling, when done at a reasonable height or speed, can be a very good lesson. My girl was born with a healthy fear of heights and danger, for which I am incredibly grateful. It simply does not occur to her to stand on the table. She watches other children do it with her mouth agape, then she looks back at me with an amazement and fear. Having grown up playing sports and watching sports, I want her to have a sense of her body, understand her center of gravity, and learn how to fall. Just not too far.

I'm sure it doesn't help that my husband works in a pediatric operating room. He regales me with stories of childhood accidents. I don't exactly mind. I would rather he talk about his day than internalize his work experiences. He sees things that people are not supposed to see. Ever. But it isn't always comforting to know how many children are in the operating room for jumping on couches, playing ball in the front yard, getting hit by vehicles even though they knew they weren't supposed to run into the street, or even say skewered with a television antennae after jumping off the couch. I am reminded daily that life can change in an instant to well-meaning, wonderful, loving parents.

So, all that being said, let me just admit that I am a hysterical wreck when other children are visiting our home. I have this urge, like when we leave the dog alone, to put tables and ottomans on all the furniture. But I have a much stronger urge to shake other parents by the shoulders.

Do not test the Gods. Do not experiment with the universe. Gravity works. On your child too. No one, not even highly intelligent people, are above the laws of physics.

I have always been prone to fatalism and magical thinking. I tend to read my world like Greek myth. "Oh, that hubris is NOT going to end well," I lean back, fold my arms over my chest and shake my head. "Oh, Goddesses, be kind this time."  In the last year, I have tried to reject thinking around larger plans of the universe, or learning lessons or any of that kind of crap. If Lucy died of a childhood disease, I would be out campaigning, educating people on the symptoms, talking to Congress about funding research, or doing anything to prevent another family from going through loss. But we don't know why she died. Nothing I could have done or not done would have prevented her death, even counting kicks, (at least that is what we are told.) I cannot exactly campaign against the random cruelty of the universe. And yet, I feel like I am on exactly that crusade sometimes.

On one hand, I would not wish this type of anxiety and worry over children on anyone, and on quite another, I feel like begging other parents not to challenge fate on the matter. I don't want them to live in fear, and yet I want them to be mindful of how quickly their lives can change. I know it sounds like I will never be satisfied, and it is true. There is nothing satisfying about dealing with this loss--no matter how many people stop complaining and start enjoying their pregnancies or no matter how many people hold their children a little tighter. I want my baby back, and I would give a thousand lessons and all my wisdom for her life. But since she is gone and I cannot bargain in that way, I think maybe I want people to lose some of their arrogance about the safety of their children. I am beginning to despise in them what I despise about my former self.

My daughter is two and three-quarters, so we hang out with other toddler-aged children. People that allow all manner of freedom and folly. And I find my stomach in great big knots. Later I feel a great deal of embarrassment and shame when I reflect on their blasé attitude. I internalize it and feel judged. It is as though what I hear when someone is letting their kid jump wantonly on my couch swinging a bat is that my child's death happened because of something inherent in my character or person. People seem to interact with the world as though suffering will not touch them. Sure, my child was stillborn. She wasn't jumping on the bed when she died, but I see it all colored with the same brush. It can happen. That thing you think could never happen to you. It happened to me. Regardless of class, intelligence, health, body size and race, it can happen. You cannot outsmart your way out of an accident. To see someone flaunt their confidence in nothing happening makes me feel so very Other. So very flawed. I want to scream, "Loss is not specific to me."

Yet, it feels impossible to say to my friend, "Sure, that incredibly dangerous thing your child is doing will probably end well, but what if it doesn't?" In some ways, I feel like Cassandra, screaming a future no one will heed. Or perhaps that is not fair, I cannot say that my hysterical accident-prone mind is the future. For a hundred incidents I imagine in my head, it could be the one hundred and first that breaks a bone. For the amount of reckless abandon, a child might not get hurt. I just want to spare the world this experience of having to learn to live without one of your babies, or even to live with the guilt of seeing one of your babies hurt. I feel so impotent. So unable to speak the words. So afraid of becoming one of those harping snooty mothers that sees disaster at every turn, lecturing other more laid-back mothers. Yet, each incident sort of haunts me for weeks, even months.

I cannot rid the world of suffering. I cannot prevent pain and accidents. No matter how much padded my house becomes.

I tend not to make new year resolutions as such. Rather I tend to make challenges or set goals for the new year. This year, I am taking on the Creative Every Day Challenge, and still life 365, which is about infusing my life with more art, creativity, healing and love. But personally, intellectually and emotionally, I want to stop this cycle of judging others, or trying to control their fate, their words, the ideas about loss, their ideas about parenting, or worrying whether or not they judge me for my daughter's death. I want to redirect my focus towards caring about my own fate and my own blame. And then I really really need to work on forgiveness and compassion.


  1. Oh, Angie, I hear and feel everything you say. I support you all the way.

    Thank you for sharing.

    365, every day afresh.

    much love

  2. I want to tell pregnant people how fragile is it and that the chances of something going wrong are much higher than they realise. I'm not sure why because it won't change anything in a lot of cases except to make them worry but I think a part of me does want them to worry like those of us who've lost babies do.

    There's always threads on the forum I read about 'can I eat this' and plenty of people reply saying 'I eat everything and my babies are fine. The risk of listeria is so low so don't worry about it.' I always want to tell them chance of Matilda having BWS was low (1 in 15 000) but when you're the '1' it doesn't matter how big the number on the other side is.

    My counsellor said she's overprotective but tries to apply an 'is it deadable?' frame of mind to it. Risk of falling a little way is OK, risk of falling a long way isn't. But as you've said, we can't remove all risk.

  3. Funny you should write this. My husband and I were talking about this topic yesterday. I am not sure if you saw in the news recently that 2 children in our area have had TV tip over accidents. One died and the other is permanently brain damaged. After seeing this, I went out and bought a lock for my TV that you screw to the wall. I told 2 of my girlfriends with babies the same age as Denis and they just thanked me for telling them but then said their husbands would never go for it. Their husbands think they are high strung enough and that nothing will happen. Their husbands think bad things only ever happen to other people. And I felt offended by this although no offense was meant. I get it that people think bad things only happen to others, but why do you want to chance it? And why do they think they are immune? Once again, I end up looking like the neurotic one and just feeling like a freak.

  4. Yes, it takes every fibre of my being to let Ava walk up down the stairs by herself, so I get where you're coming from.

    I'm actually really grateful in some ways that I didn't know or consider that Iris might die. Ignorance really was bliss. Now I just grit my teeth whenever anyone talks about odds or risk. I don't relish the Cassandra role either.


  5. Oh yes. You've gone and jumped right into my head. I think about these things everyday. Everyday, normal toddler/preschooler stuff becomes visualized as worst case scenario, because I've learned the worst can happen totally unexpectedly. Claire has always been a super physical & fearless girl, so it takes all my will to allow her some freedoms while still hovering. The big kid swing she insisted on swinging on yesterday....HIGHER and HIGHER...ack. And then she DID fall off and go kerplunk into the sand, I panicked but without a tear she promptly jumped up and said AGAIN. But when she complained an hour later her belly hurt, I was convinced she had some type of internal bleeding....nevermind she just needed a snack and the 'pain' was her belly growling. Iyiiyii.

    And I read about a young boy, hit and killed by a stray bullet while safely IN CHURCH and I wonder if we can ever really protect them at all?

  6. "Loss is not specific to me." yes! Just like Krisha Gotami when she lost her baby and went to the Buddha begging him to restore her little baby's life. Buddha said bascially if you can find one house in which there has never been a death, and bring a mustard seed back to him, her baby's life will be restored. So she went around and talked to the entire village, and not one house could answer her prayer. They had all seen countless deaths. And Buddha asked her why she still came back to him and she said,"Grief made me blind and I thought that only I suffered at the hands of death." Our hearts have been opened up by this terrible loss. Great post. thank you...

  7. Yes, this is a very good point. I am still trying hard to find a balance between too much and too little. It doesn't help that Elizabeth is a daredevil with no sense of fear. I am trying to let her fall a little now so that she learns not to fall far later.

  8. The walks to school get me this way, watching three children alternately running and dawdling down the busy busy road, keeping my eyes everywhere...exhausting! Don't even get me started on the teenager taking herself to school, across busy roads and on public transport, sometimes when it's still dark out!

  9. "I cannot exactly campaign against the random cruelty of the universe" grabbed me. I definitely feel as though my eyes are opened with respect to pregnancy and infant/maternal mortality after our son was stillborn last May....I've always been cautious with my older children and have one boy who climbed before he walked (seriously) and who is fearless. It's been hard, really hard, to mother the same way now as I did before. I can't even think about another loss and it's changed me. In so many ways. I love the Buddha story kb shared. I needed to read this and everyone's comments tonight. xo

  10. Sigh, yes to everything you said.
    I love your Creative Everyday challenge, what a wonderful idea. I also wish to be more creative this year and will look to you for inspiration. xo

  11. Actually, kb, the story of Kisa Gotami was one of the first posts I ever made on this blog. If y'all are interested in very early raw stuff...
    Kisa Gotami and the Mustard Seed

  12. Yes- I just read that beginning post. that is how I feel right now! I just read the Gotami story in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche, I thank you again for your blog, it has helped me.

  13. Fantastic post. I am often jealous of people who live life certain that everything will be fine, what are the chances. When you're on the wrong side of the stats time after time, you know it doesn't matter what the chances are. It can still happen.

  14. I'm so new to this but I'm so scared every day. So worried all of the time something is wrong, and it doesn't help that he screams. All the time. It is little wonder we rarely put him down for naps. I can watch him sleep when I hold him. I hope I can let some of my fears go and that Angus can have something that resembles a normal child hood. The poor kid, having a nutcase mother like me.

  15. i had a conversation with a friend who has 3 kids about the exact same thing. her child was swinging upside down on her yoga swing. i was cringing and said, "maybe we should put a mat under him?" and it led to a very very heated discussion.
    we are forever changed the way we view life. i don't want to be scared that a child in my presence can get hurt at any moment, but i am terrified of it.
    i wonder about this for my future children.
    this balancing act is so very tricky. and i'm not sure there is an answer.


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