Wednesday, March 24, 2010


In the last five seasons without my daughter, I have blamed myself in a thousand different ways for her death. The autopsy never revealed a medical reason, and so I have been left to my own devices. Some days, it drives me absolutely insane. I have questioned just about every aspect of my life, my routine, my habits, and my disregard for the edicts and rules of What to Expect. No reason has been too silly or ridiculous for me to consider or blame myself. This is part of my experience with grief: a constant questioning of why my daughter died, near pathological examination of what I did to kill her, and the feeling that I have absolutely no control over keeping this baby in my belly alive.

A few months ago, I began writing the reasons down, when they crossed my mind, and adding them to this post. Seeing them written out like this gives them less power. I wanted to reveal to myself how silly some of these reasons are to myself. I want to let some of them go and put others in perspective. I rationally know a glass of wine didn't kill Lucy, but the passing thought has completely kept me from enjoying a glass during this pregnancy. Emailing with my dear friend Danielle, she said something so profound to me about guilt, "I think sometimes the only form of control we can exercise over all the horrible stuff that happens is to blame ourselves." Maybe this is the control freak's manifesto or the litany of self-loathing. If you can believe, there are one or two too personal and horrible to write on the list, but this is mostly the list. So without further ado...

In lieu of a real scientific reason for Lucy's death, here are a list of things I have come up with in exchange:

sleeping on my back
compressed cord from turning Lucy from breach position to head down with yoga
gaining weight
stress from losing a very close friendship
false labor
a broken collarbone
eating lunch meat once
going into labor then stopping
not riding my bike as much as did my first pregnancy
winter solstice 
living in a house with undetected bad mojo (I still live in this house.)
undiagnosed high blood pressure
acting indignant at the possibility of induction
sleeping on my right side
hot baths
the size and shape of my uterus
having everything I ever wanted
too many status updates about my pregnancy
eating sushi
talking about how strong and healthy I feel
thinking this could never happen to me (and maybe saying that out loud?)
not being able to carry a child past 37 weeks
sleeping on a wedge pillow where my belly sometimes touched the mattress
drug experimentation in the 1990s
having and enjoying sex (with my husband) during my pregnancy
a car accident two months before she died
faster than human gestational period unique only to me
too much cheese
hot showers
eating too much ice
a broken collarbone that made me sit on my ass for three weeks
genetic cause that is undetected by any test 
being fat
an angry goddess who I insulted with my hubris
wine on my anniversary
not being prepared for a second baby
too much computer time
being happily divorced
sleeping on the couch
lack of imagination
contentedness with my life
being as asshole


  1. Oh Angie, I have an equally inane list of reasons in my head. Danielle is absolutely right (as usual). The guilt/shame/blame is something I think I will carry with me always.

  2. I read your email first, then this post- proud of you for exorcising your demons, and I hope thy get the hint and stay away. Or at least farther away. I think I'll write my own list this week. Plenty in there that needs banishing.

  3. Angie, this is such a brave exercise. And now I wonder what my list would look like...

    Did it help? Did writing the words down and getting them on to a public space lessen their weight in your mind? It seems that it would. I hope it did.

  4. I relate to this post so much. Yep most of yours are on my list too. :(

    Wouldn't it be interesting to write a list of the things that we didn't do with this subsequent pregnancy because of this first list? I definately did a lot of things differently or not at all.


  5. I like to say I'm free of guilt, and in large part I am so I really truly feel for all the mamas who have to make lists and deal with this IN ADDITION to grieving. Kubler-Ross clearly missed a big chunk of a step.

    Having said that, now that I'm retracing my footsteps, I too have a similar list but it's more of wonder than of guilt in my case -- it also includes sleeping on my back, baths, baths that were too hot, not nearly enough exercise, and perhaps the biggest black hole: Genetic problem that can't be detected. (I keep thinking, what if they're right?! ) It also includes bitching about how close in age the kids would be, and asserting to anyone in listening distance that this would be my last pregnancy ever, period.

    I guess now I realize none of these things could've done it -- I figure the people at Children's have seen about everything under the sun and could pinpoint, "you know, we see this in women who sleep on their right side on firm mattresses." So I'm sort of staring fate in the face and saying, "well? Now what?"

    I'd tell you to hang tough and relax with a glass of wine and a bath, but that probably wouldn't relax me either.

  6. oh my dear. it is so hard to let go of the guilt. i certainly haven't. i still argue with my therapist about this. me: i am the mommy, so i must be in some way responsible. her: no, no, no, that way lies madness!

    apparently this is very common in babyloss: we would rather blame ourselves so we can have a reason, than believe that we live in a world where our babies can die for absolutely no reason.

    "living in a house with bad mojo" - that one is on my list too. i love that you wrote all this down. so brave. and like an exorcism. i may follow your lead. much love to you. xo

  7. Ahh, I am not crazy after all, since a lot of what you have on your list ramble through my brain at a far too regular clip. Add, "Proud that I could paint my own toes at 25 weeks" and we have a winner.

    I hope listing this helps relieve some of it. Never all, but some. Blame is too slippery of a slope to get back out of.


  8. I agree with your friend. I think that guilt is one of our ways of grabbing control.

  9. Oh yes! My list is a lot like yours!

  10. Many of those are on my list too. Thinking of you! xx

  11. Hmm. My list. Tick tick tick to everything here and more besides. I wish we could be kinder to ourselves. x

  12. Yup, if I wrote a list, it'd be a lot like yours. I know why the boys died and I still - STILL - think I did it. My body was their home. My one job was to keep them safe and alive for 9 whole months and I failed after 5 and 1/2. Sucks.

  13. I also have a lot of those in my list (my Ale's stillbirth was also unexplained). But I have a much bigger one which overwhelms all the others: thinking it was ok if my son was not moving so much since I were only 2 days from my EDD. The way I find to keep living with this guilt is to remind myself frequently that what happened was not normal. MOST babies are not stillborn and yet MOST mothers behave just the way we did. How could we prevent what happened? It immediately comes to my mind this picture where my mom is at about 37 weeks with me and is happily smoking a cigarette. And I am here.

  14. "Being an asshole" and "eating lunch meat once." Those were definitely the reasons.

    No, seriously though. Angie, GAWD I love this post, and I can't imagine anyone reading this - anyone who has lost a late-term baby - not loving it as well. It perfectly reflects what I (and zillions of other kukd mommas, I imagine) have thought and felt. Thanks for saying my own words back to me, and having the courage to list those reasons in public. For me, it was: 1) drinking 2 tablespoons of coffee a day; 2) the rum on that rumcake I ate once; 3) sex - baby's head got thumped with hubby's penis; and 4) the times I accidentally woke up lying on my stomach, squashing him to death.

    SO yeah. Great post.

  15. Oh I have a very similar list. Thanks for posting this too though so I know I'm not going crazy. :) I hope this let go at least some of your guilt and blame. I hate the guilt and wish it would just leave. Huge hugs to you! XO

  16. Yup, I think I'd have a list just like it. Too many cups of tea would be on it.
    But when I feel guilty or start blaming myself again, I am quick to remember I have medical people to point the finger at, too. If I'm to blame, they are equally at fault.
    I'm sorry you carry so much of this shame and guilt around, too. I wish we could all be free of it. More to the point, I wish we could just have them all back.
    With love.

  17. Hello Angie-

    My friend Faith Kleppinger pointed me to your blog, and I did not anticipate leaving comments, but I also did not anticipate being so thoroughly struck by how much your writing would hit home.

    My wife Terra and I also lost our 2nd child, daughter Roxy, at 37 weeks with no warning signs and nothing definitive noted to cause her death. Terra has spent a LOT of time searching for what she may have done to cause it, and I know this post will really help her when she reads it.

    We had our third child, Lila, last May, and the pregnancy was so harrowing, and you really nailed it when you said "he is growing big and strong, and I can't for the life of me see him in our lives. No matter how optimistic and wide-eyed I try to be, I still cannot see him." We felt very, very much the same way. Every terrifying moment, especially during those NST-twice-a-week last few weeks... but she was born healthy and she is now 10-months old, pulling up on furniture and learning to cackle properly. The fear of something bad happening is not totally gone, and I don't guess it ever will be. I think we'll always be a bit twitchy. Anyway, this is so long and rambling, but I wanted you to know that you sharing your story is amazing- the most eloquent and immediate that I have read and I feel lucky to have found it.

    Thank you,

    Kenny Childers

  18. Also, here is a note I recently wrote on the subject and put on my facebook page:

    On August 1st, 2007, Terra and I lost a daughter (and Mason a sister) named Roxy Jean. She was stillborn at 37 weeks. There were no warning signs, and there was nothing conclusive determined to cause her death in the autopsy. The day she was quietly stillborn into the Bloomington Hospital Labor and Delivery operating room via C-section is a scene that Terra and I relive and walk through, in some way, every day of our lives. The feeling of holding her is etched into my arms in a very permanent way, and remembering her thick black hair, closed eyes and inanimate pale arms can knock the breath out of me at any given time.

    I have considered writing about this in a public way for a couple of years, but I’ve never quite known whether it would help me… and it may not. But I know people that know about it probably do wonder sometimes where I am when I’m not quite there. Also, I often feel like I'm leaving someone out when I talk about my children and post their pictures. I guess this is my way of trying not to do that.

    It’s not something I talk about very well or often, mostly because I find myself exhausted from trying to manage the reaction of others. Not that these reactions are “wrong” or anything (okay, well a few are)… it’s just not an easy story for me to tell or for others to hear, I guess.

    I see her sometimes in my other two children. I see her sometimes in other children, period. She’s always, always, always there. I guess I just felt like announcing that I do not have 2 children, I have 3. One just isn’t physically here, but she follows me everywhere I go. Her name is Roxy Jean. She’s two years, 6 months and 21 days old.

    At a funeral for the beloved child of friends of ours this year, the reverend said something that hit me really hard about how each child carves out his own, completely unique space in our hearts. I feel very lucky to have all of my children, and they all have their own unique places carved deeply into the tissues of my tired, beating heart.

    Here's to them.

  19. Oh Angie... I think we all have lists... Guilt is a cruel bitch... I wish we could banish her forever.

    I know it goes without saying, but you did nothing to feel guilty about. Nothing at all.

  20. This post took my breath away. I have an insane list of reasons too. Some are the same as yours. Did it feel good to write this out? I might have to try this, to at least release some of the ideas. Because honestly, if a "normal" person read this, they would probably start laughing and tell you that there's no way that sitting on your ass killed Lucy. But as a mama in the same boat, I get each and every one of these reasons. I wish I could tell you to shrug it off, but I know that I still think of reasons every day.

  21. Thank you for posting this - one of the best parts about following others in this journey is knowing we are not along.

    When I read this my heart skipped a beat - I often think of this as well

    "having everything I ever wanted"

  22. Many of these feature on my list too.
    Right at the top of mine is 'being so damn smug.' Because I was. x

  23. I think it's because I'm the kind of person who attracts misfortune like a magnet attracts iron filings.

  24. Wow. What a list. Good for you for putting it down. I could put a list like this together too. It occurs to me that I could put a similar list together for my pregnancy with Dahlia, that would either justify why she was born healthy and well, or prove to myself how little a list like this (for me, at least) proves for why Tikva was born so sick...

  25. I don't really focus on the 'list' thing, although believe me I have thought about just about every thing you wrote in yours, because I am one who from the get go didn't ask 'why me?' but instead resigned myself to the 'why not me' frame of mind.
    Also, after the autopsy, we had fairly concrete 'answer' (no one can ever really be 100% certain) as to why we lost Caleb. A cord defect. That being said, I was still left to wonder if I had done something to cause it...but in the end there was nothing really to be gained by the constant second guessing so I stopped.

    But, man did I adjust mightily, my behaviors the next time I was pg. Although, I am still, absolutely, an asshole.

    I loved this post.

  26. Yeah, I am in the why not me camp too, but I just always want to know How. How did she die? What can I do to prevent this again?

  27. does a laptop on your lap kill babies? a cell phone in your pocket? dust? cleaning the shower? headaches? dirty carts at walmart? sleeping in a recliner? talking about the baby "being here by christmas"? forgetting to brush my teeth one night? being breech? wearing a seatbelt? taking an anti-depressant? drinking diet coke? unfiltered water?

    it's exhausting.

    do people who have never lost a child (those who i refer to as "the clueless") realize that we cant help but blame ourselves? if my child ran into the street and got hit by a car, i would blame myself. even if i wasnt right there. or even if i WAS right there and screamed and chased her and got hit too and did CPR and bandaged the wounds. i'm the mother. it's the mother's fault. so CERTAINLY a mother will feel responsible when the baby dies INSIDE OF HER.

    and yet, we all want to comfort each other and tell us "it's ok" and "dont be silly" when we reveal our own lists. OF COURSE yoga didnt kill your baby, Angie. or letting your stomach hit the mattress. of course not. you did everything right sleeping on your right side didnt kill your baby girl. but um, sleeping in the recliner definitely might have killed mine... im certain of it.


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