Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tending To Our Wounds

"Don't you think it's unhealthy to talk about it all the time?"
"Don't you worry about what people will think if they read your blog?"
"Is writing about it really what you should be doing now? It's been over a year..."

When I was in college, my five roommates and I worked at a certain world famous theme park. One day I came home complaining about a man who I had called security on for having exposed himself. Nutty park patrons were something we all dealt with daily, and my story kicked off a sort of round table of griping about the weirdos that colored our days. I thought my story was the strangest, that was until one of my roommates, a hostess at a park restaurant blurted out, "you think you deal with weirdos, girl you don't know weird until you have dealt with the 'towel baby'. "

'Towel baby' was just that - a towel, dressed with sunglasses and a hat to resemble a baby. The park patrons who brought 'towel baby' were regulars at the parks, such regulars in fact that my roommate had been instructed during her training that she (and all the other employees) were to follow along with the couple's delusion.

When waiting on their table, staff were to comment on how cute 'towel baby' was, take food orders for 'towel baby', and treat 'towel baby' as they would any other child at the park. As they ate, the couple would sneak bits of food away from the table, to give the illusion that the child had eaten it himself. My roommate told me that she had heard that the couple had lost their child, and under the pressure of grief, the wife snapped one day and began treating the towel as it were her child. Not wanting to upset his wife's already delicate mental state, the husband went along with the front.

Many who heard the story of 'towel baby' would write her off as a wacko and laugh. I even came across a forum once devoted to making fun of this woman. In the years since I heard the story, I have often wondered how it was that someone could be driven to such a place mentally.

Nine years, and one dead child later, I have a little bit better idea.

I was telling the story of 'towel baby' over our IBMD lunch, when one of the mothers I was lunching with told me about a woman who lived on her street when she was a kid. She said the woman had lost her child, and would spend her days walking up and down the block, pushing a stroller with a doll in it. She believed the doll was her child. Neighborhood kids would taunt the woman, even going so far as to throw the doll into the river. "She believed it was her baby," this mother told me. "Can you imagine how traumatic that was for her to see what she thought was her baby being thrown into the river?"

The story was heartbreaking.

Images of bereaved mothers are often portrayed in movies and on television as women who have simply snapped. On the show One Tree Hill, a nanny went crazy and tried to replace her dead child, with the boy who was under her care. The villain in the movie The Hand That Rocks The Cradle went insane after, among other things, miscarrying a child.

Do you see a theme here?

Urban legends, literature, movies, the media, each offer depiction after depiction of women who have not only lost their children, but their minds, and honestly, having lived this nightmare of loss, the assumption that losing a child can send a woman over the edge doesn't feel all that far fetched.

There are no words to describe what it is to go on living after your child has died. No words to describe what that does to a person, or how it feels. For me, compound that loss with infertility, and the list of descriptors grows longer by the day.

Gut wrenching.

These are a few I would use, but even they don't do it justice.

My grandmother lost two babies back before women could talk about losing a baby. I thank God that she went on to have more children (one of which was my mother who went on to have me) but I don't really know how she did it. Especially not back then. Back then, some women would put on brave faces. Others became shut ins. Many, unfortunately, were unable to fall in line with society's expectations and grew too hopeless to go on living. Whenever I hear comments made to other BLM's about moving on, I think of these women, and I cringe. Is that what pushed them over the edge? One too many people passing judgement on their grief?

What society doesn't understand is that grief is not a phase, or a choice. Anyone who believes that the grieving have any choice in the matter are either incredibly lucky for having never faced anything so painful in their own life, or incredibly foolish. As a bereaved parent, you can choose to put your best face on, you can choose to put your best foot forward, and still end up drowning in your own tears because of the many varied day to day reminders of what you had with your child, what was lost with your child, and what never will be for your child. It is a long and nasty process, and if there were any choice in the matter, the bereaved would take it. We want to be free of our heartache but it just isn't that simple.

My child died.
It was horrific to watch.
There is no cure for that.

I started this blog nearly a year ago (5/17/09) with a poem I had written about Mother's Day. It was my first Mother's Day, a day I had envisioned during my pregnancy, and one that I was being forced to spend without her. That first Mother's Day was full of grief. My second was grief and anger at my lack of fertility. Sometimes I can't help but wonder how life can be so cruel.

This past year I have chronicled the occasional ups and many downs of surviving child loss while facing infertility. This blog has been my place, my catharsis. This has been my space to vent and be heard and understood and thank God for it, because it is only through being honest here, that I have maintained my sanity.

Some think that grieving openly is unhealthy but I beg to differ. It is suppressing our grief that is unhealthy.

Our grief is a wound, deep and in pain, and it has to be examined and cleaned and dressed for it to heal. Sometimes the same areas have to be cleaned two, and ten, and a hundred times, and if that is what it takes to heal, so be it. Not dealing with our grief would be like expecting a band-aid to heal a wound.

Placing a band-aid over a wound for the sake of not troubling others with the ugliness of what has happened is an invitation for infection. Sure it might look better on the outside, but beneath that clean, shiny bandage it would be festering (sorry, gross analogy) and could cause irreparable damage.

Damage that might make a woman believe a doll, or a towel, is her child.

I have been thinking alot about the 'towel baby', and the doll in the stroller. I have been wondering what makes them different than me, than you, than any of us in this God awful baby loss world.

Just like us, these women were at one point considered normal. They had their whole lives ahead of them. Just like us, these women rubbed their bellies, and anticipated their child's birth. Just like us, in some way or another, they witnessed the end of their child's life.

I think that is where the similarity ends.

Unlike these women, we have sought out the help and validation of others who are walking this path with us or have walked it before us. Unlike these women, we know how healing self expression can be. Unlike these women, we understand that what we are going through and feeling may not be the societal norm, but is perfectly normal under these circumstances. Unlike these women, we are lucky.

Yes, you read that right. Lucky.

Lucky because we are still here.

We know that we could try masking our grief, or ignoring it, but that doing so wouldn't make it go away, it would only cause it to manifest in other ways.

We are lucky because we are tending to our grief, and as impossible as it may feel at times, we will be better for it.

It is only through tending to the wounds of our grief that they can heal, and we can survive - sanity and all.


  1. This is one of the most haunting and beautiful things I've read. I'm proud to know you and call you my friend.

  2. This is so sad yet said so well. I absolutely agree, only through tending to our grief that we can survive it.

  3. I just came across your blog. This was very well written but very hard for me to read. I can only imagine what it must be like to lose my child. And that's scary enough. My heart goes out to you <3

  4. I agree. Expressing my grief, and knowing I wasn't alone- is what totally helped me stay sane. Beautiful post.

  5. Grief is one of the last societal taboos.

    Your writing is beautiful and you are very brave to share your story in such a public way. You have helped many through your writing, I'm sure.

    The day we arrived home from the hospital after losing our infant daughter I was told that "you can't dwell on these things". Grief, especially a mother's grief, makes people so uncomfortable.

    We have people in our lives who make sure that Abby is very much alive in our hearts and minds but many others choose to ignore the situation altogether. I'd rather have someone say the wrong thing than to deny that she was ever here.

    Great post. And thank you.

  6. Beautiful piece. Grief is something I live with daily and embrace. I learned a long time ago that grief moves through us - we don't move through it. Our relationship to it changes but it is forever a part of us.

    Be kind to you. Hugs

  7. All so very true. Beautifully put.
    Thank you.

  8. I was actually just thinking about this subject today. Great post.

  9. I am so sorry. :,( It was so difficult for me to read this through the end. I felt my chest burning and for a moment it became hard for me to breathe through my tears. I can't imagine what you and many other mothers who have lost their child are going through. I wouldn't know what I would do if I lost my son. This is so brave, so haunting, so honest. Thank you for sharing. You and Peyton will be in my prayers. *hugs*

  10. Thank God we have eachother to hold onto thru this difficult time in our lives. It's amazing how it has always been so taboo to talk of a dead child. *hugs*

  11. I so love reading what you write. I constantly watch for your updates on my list.

    I'm sorry that you are able to write so truthfully and sincerely because it's your life.

    Seriously, I was crying thinking about Towel Baby or the woman in with the doll in the stroller.
    And I can SO see where they are coming from...

    Lots of love and hugs to you....

  12. Well-said! I'm re-tweeting your link!


  13. This is an amazing post. You are such a great writer and have put so many of my own feelings into words. You are helping so many to heal and helping others to understand what it is like to walk in our shoes.

  14. Kristin, this was so beautiful. I can remember when I was first pregnant watching a news story about those dolls that are made to look exactly like new babies (reborns or something?) and having people at work comment on how wacko that lady was.
    But the thing is, ever since this happened, if you pay attention to the media, it always makes us out as wackos.
    My mom had a baby born still in the 70s and was encouraged to pretend like it never happened-didn't hold her, get a picture-her parents went home and took out the nursery before she got there. I do feel so "lucky" as well to have this-to have a way to get out my grief and take care of myself the best I can.
    So beautiful, and touching, as always, Kristin.
    Thinking of your beautiful Peyton.

  15. I also think there is healing for OTHERS when we openly grieve. It is best for us, but it touches others and helps them move through their grief as well. It only makes those uncomfortable who are not honest with themselves. I have found your authenticity refreshing, and it helps me move through my own broken heart.

  16. We are lucky. One of the things I've learned in this grief journey is that so many were- and still are- forced to endure in silence. We have each other. We have a place to turn. That is so wonderful indeed.

  17. Thank you for this. My 3 year anniversary is coming up and it's taking all I can muster just to want to celebrate it since that means 3 years of trying for a baby with lots of pain and loss to show for it. Thank you for reminding me I don't need to feel guilty for still grieving.

  18. Expressing our grief is vital. I would not be where I am in my grief journey if it weren't for the journal writing I've done.

    Thank you for this piece.

  19. I love how all of the trauma and pain you've faced has been blended and then channeled to come forth like this. It is so beautiful. Strange how pain can come forth so beautifully. But then, I always think that people look oddly beautiful after they've had a good cry. Maybe it's 'cause they've healed a little...

    This is one of the best pieces of yours I've ever read.

  20. after harvey died i was with some friends saying how i was finding it difficult to walk anymore because i was used to pushing a pram while i walked and that now that i didn't have harvey to push i felt completely immobilised. i then asked them if they thought anyone would think i was weird if i pushed an empty pram on a walk, or, dress up harveys ashes in a hat, and take him in the pram that way. they said that if someone came up to look at the cute baby they might think i was a bit weird. we all laughed in that grievy sympathetic kind of way. i don't know why i didn't do that and why towelbaby and dollbaby did, i do know its a very fine line and i for one had it within me to go either way.i think you are right and perhaps these other women didn't have the opportunity to grieve properly and share out loud like we do xxx anne

  21. I was captured by reading this post. Your words are so true, so real, so straight to the point. Sad but also hopeful - for me. Knowing I am not alone with all these thoughts and feelings, again.

    Thank you so much for writing it.

  22. My god that was a brilliant post!!!! I want to link to it on facebook!!!

  23. Blogging is a godsend. I'm not sure where I would be without it either. I don't like to think about it.

  24. A beautiful, thought provoking post. Thank you x

  25. I've noticed how many of the most shocking, gory horror films ever made, such as the Saw series of films or the French film Inside all have "babylost parent goes insane" storylines. Thought provoking post!

  26. There is a song... by Rob Thomas called "someday" The words state:

    "maybe someday we will live our lives outloud... and we will be better off somehow"

    I vote to live outloud. This post makes me want to walk outside and scream out all the babies who have died until my voice is raw and my everyone's eyes burn.

  27. What a wonderful post! As you point out, women who lost children decades ago had it much worse than us, but it's so frustrating that our grief over losing our children is still taboo. Like you, I have post-loss infertility which compounds everything to the point that I rarely talk about the situation other than on my blog for fear of being labeled "crazy" and harshly judged for my grief. So many people would have us be "over it" or "just give up" on trying again, all so they don't have to deal with the discomfort of seeing the grief you so eloquently describe.

  28. This is a beautiful post, thank you so much for summarizing the grief process. Some people will never get it I guess, but we have every right to it.

  29. Wow, hauntingly beautiful.
    I can just imagine your audience nodding their heads the whole way through this post.For those of us readers who seek to better understand what you've endured, this post helps tremendously. Thanks for all your honesty. This blog offers so much hope to all who are seeking it.

  30. Very very well said! I just posted the other day on how people critize blm blogs and I had found and article in Self magazine that said to blog for your health. It was pretty interesting. I love that you posted about the towel baby because it stresses the point of why our blogging is so so very important and even vital to our grieving. *HUGS*

  31. Is it okay if I link this post to my post about blogging for your health?

  32. This is beautiful! Do you mind if I link to your site? I would love for some of my "readers" to read this!

  33. You are amazing. This post has stopped me in my tracks. For my first Christmas, I took a stuffed frog from Lukas' room and carried it with me for most of the day. I just needed to hold something and I can so relate to 'towel baby' and stroller baby. I love your blog. It's nothing but the truth.

  34. Thank you for sharing this!! How true and powerful!! Thank you again

  35. What a strong, beautiful true post.

  36. Excellent post. I know that I have not been in your shoes but I work very hard at trying to know your heart and the hearts of all the baby lost mothers I know and will still meet. I truly believe that being able to blog about this is a way to help you. I have often thought about how terrible it must have been to be living in the past and not being able talk, holding it all inside. ((HUGS))

  37. This post made me cry. I would have been frightened of those women before I lost my own daughter. But now I just want to hug them. I honestly can't imagine how people survived all this and just kept all their thoughts and feelings inside. x

  38. I actually just happened by this blog and being a Mom I decided to read it. As I write this I am still drying my tears at your loss and am amazed at how you are able to go on. I am feeling angry at myself right now because I have 3 beautiful healthy children and I think that I may take this for granted on a daily basis. I changed in this moment and have decided to not ever assume they will be with me tomorrow or forever and make sure they know how much I love them everyday in every way, thank you for this,

  39. All so very true. Beautifully put.
    Excellent post. Thanks

  40. I so agree with you. Perhaps at one point in my life I would've consider those women crazy too. But not anymore. I know why they were driven to that now.

  41. I had never known about the towel baby, and the doll story...it is so traumatic, especially for those living with it.

    I would term this post excellent, and an eye-opener.

  42. Kristin, I am so behind on reading blogs due to Janessa's service & Jayden's bday. I cried through this whole post. That conversation we had stayed with me & I thought about it many many times since IBMD. I remember so clearly at my young age thinking that the lady pushing the stroller must be mad. I also remember hurting for her when I heard all the horrid stories of torment the kids would do to her. I understand her more now than I ever thought I would. This was a beautiful post. It expresses so much into the world we live in. Thank you for writing it.

  43. I found it interesting reading about how some people think you write too much about the loss of your daughter and if that isn't bad for you. I wonder about this because my good friend lost a daughter to unexplained stillbirth. Her 3rd anniversary is coming up this month. She died just after my own tiny son was released from hospital following a potentially life-threatening condition.

    I took my friend's loss very bad. I felt as if it had also partly happened to me. Almost losing my son led me to depression and made me very vigilant and anxious. I decided to be there for my friend in her time of need as much as I could.

    Almost two years after Marysia died I was still sending my friend information via email and trying to support her. When we saw each other she told me that she had accepted the loss and did not want me to bring it up with her anymore because she wanted to live for the future and try to be happy again. I know that her family and other friends ignore the fact the baby existed.

    Your post made me wonder if she really wants to stop talking about this baby or if she is forcing herself to try and move on? I will message her on the anniversary as usual but I am now hesitant to make any mention of Marysia. It helped my friend immensely that she already has an older child.

    Good luck, I was so happy to read you are pregnant :-))


  44. A very moving post, and even though I haven't walked in your shoes, what you write about grief sounds familiar.

    I wasn't here to congratulate you with the birth of your daughter, but perhaps it's never really too late to do so. Also, I want to offer my sympathy for your loss, a cruel twist of fate indeed.

    I'm pleased to read you're pregnant and want to wish you the best.

    (Arrived from the Crème de la Crème list)

  45. Thanks for posting this on Creme de la Creme~ it was beautiful! I'm so sorry for your loss. There is an older woman who lives around my area who carries around a baby doll with her and I can't help but wonder now if she lost a child. Congrats on your twins!!

  46. I read this post and thought to myself how easily this could have been me, needing a towel baby. Only a mother who has lost a child could sympathize with the woman nurturing something like a towel. ((hugs)) to you.

  47. Here from the Creme - and wow, just wow. Such powerful and amazing words. It's amazing what life experiences teach us; and what we can understand because of the things we live through.

  48. What a truly poignant post. Thank you for addressing grief in such a frank way.

  49. Here from Creme de la Creme. This was an amazing post, & so very true.

    I remember reading a book on grief, not perinatal grief specifically, but there was mention of a woman who had lost a baby, in the days before women got to see & hold their stillborns. She later sat rocking in a rocking chair, cradling a CUCUMBER.

    After that, the hospital started asking mothers if they wanted to see & hold their babies.

  50. This is an example of breaking a heart open so wide that it is able to love humanity more broadly and deeply because of the space created for compassion.

    It is also one of those posts that will stay with me long after I close the browser window.

  51. Here from the Creme de la Creme.

    This post really struck me. I can relate so much to the women who hold their grief in & then express it by fixating on an inanimate object. I have kept my miscarriages quiet, because I haven't been strong enough to deal with insensitivity. But lately, I have been wanting to start wearing my grief over them on my sleeve (so to speak). I haven't quite gotten there yet, but I'm moving closer to that point.

    I'm lucky that I have a few, very close friends, whom I have been able to share with. I could definitely see myself going down the road of the mothers' of "towel baby" and the baby-doll in the carriage, if I had to keep my grief entirely under wraps--if I had no one at all to talk to.

    Thank you for this post.

  52. This post is making me weep. There is no timeline for grief...and I think only those who know grief can understand that. Beautiful post. Thank you.

  53. What an absolutely amazing post...thank you for adding it to Creme de la Creme. I feel a connect to you so strong that it takes my breath away.. You are real, living proof that we are able to go on...and find happiness. ((hugs))

  54. Yup. Yes. Affirmative. Well-written, friend. Peace.

  55. This is seriously THE.BEST.POST.EVER that I have read about grieving the loss of a child. I can never thank you enough for your honesty and for putting to words so many emotions that most of us struggle with.

    Hope you don't mind but I linked it in my blog.

    Congratulations and so glad to hear you have the little snowflakes on the way :)


  56. wow, thank you so much for sharing this... the pain is unimaginable. As a young woman, I would have never understood the pain of this towel baby couple and now, almost 3 years into this infertility hell.. I understand completely.. I could be her.

  57. Wow, what a great post! I follow your blog, but am fairly new so hadn't read that post, coming from Creme De la creme.

  58. Just wanted to let you know that your post inspired a post of mine, at invisiblemother.blogspot.com. Aparently, I can't edit my previous comment to add, so I'm commenting again. :-)

  59. Here through Creme de la Creme... I've never experienced loss like you describe (only IF - HA, only time in my life I've said "only IF")... but this post made me weep. I'm so sorry for your loss.

    BTW - beautiful music on your page. Haunting. Beautiful.

  60. I watched a movie recently where a woman literally HIRED a nanny to care for her imaginary daughter. It is sad what grief can do and the fact that society ignoring our grief can just compound it. I also have a baby named Peyton that I lost. Maybe they are friends :) My first child I lost we named Riley. I lost them within 6 months of each other. I did not fully grieve them both until my second miscarriage. Now I KNOW that I must grieve even if it is the rest of my life. This was a beautiful post. Much love to you <3

  61. Word on all of that. One of the blogposts that last a lifetime.
    Beautifully written. *bows head*

    That one hits the nail so much it hurts:
    What society doesn't understand is that grief is not a phase, or a choice. Anyone who believes that the grieving have any choice in the matter are either incredibly lucky for having never faced anything so painful in their own life, or incredibly foolish.

    Thanks for starting to write this blog.

  62. I agree we are "lucky" that we can talk about it and write about our babies, I would probably become a towel baby mother if I had to pretend my baby never existed. Thank you

  63. here from creme de la creme...

    such a well written heart-felt post. everything you said is so true. i definitely understand why women would be pushed over the edge from this pain. it is definitely not a pain/heartbreak that i would wish on anyone. :(

  64. What a beautiful, well-written post. Thank you for sharing.

  65. Here from the creme.

    There is a stroller and doll woman in my neighborhood. I have never questioned why she ended up that way. I assumed it was tremendous loss.
    My grandmother had four stillbirths and many more earlier losses. After the loss of her full-term twins she had to "go away" for a few months. I often wonder how common this was back then. Women with no real support network having to "go away" for some time after such tragedies.

  66. Definitely a post worthy of the Creme...

  67. Thank you for this beautiful post. It was powerful and poinant.

    Now a Follower.

  68. Here from creme.

    I so appreciate this post. I have often wondered why I have to justify my grief to others (5 losses) and it has been very frustrating. Especially to my own mother. If you do 'the work', you get better. It's that simple. Thanks for reminding of that. Loved this.

  69. An amazing post. Beautifully written.

    Here from the Creme (#111)

  70. That was a very beautiful post. I think you're right that we have to tend to our wounds. Holding our pain and grief inside does nothing to help us heal. Unfortunately our society does not know how to recognize loss and people have a difficult time accepting other's pain. It is important that those of us who have experienced loss (though my loss can't compare to yours) speak up for our pain and make a space for it, otherwise we are the ones who suffer.

    Reading your story and the story of your daughter, it brought tears to my eyes. I've thought of you both ofter since I read your post yesterday. I'm so happy for the new hope you have growing inside of you. I know those boys can never take the place of your daughter, but I'm sure she is as happy as you are they will be in your life. My younger sister died at a very young age, she was so sick she never left the NICU and died before she turned three months old. I always talked to her and felt her close to me, especially as a young girl. I still share the most important parts of my life with her, even though I was very young when she died and don't remember much of her life. I tell you this so you can know that just because your baby girl isn't with you now, she can still be apart of your life, and your sons' lives.

    Thank you for sharing your story and your strength with all of us.

    Esperanza (Creme de la Creme #125)

  71. What a beautiful post - thank you for sharing yourself with us.

  72. All I can say is thank you for sharing that wonderful and moving story as well as the memory of little Peyton. Your strength and courage give me hope.

  73. Here from Creme de la Creme; I haven't experienced the loss of a child, but from your post I absolutely get how one could follow the path to the madness that produces "towel baby." Sometimes IF has me on the precipice of insanity.....I'm thinking losing a baby would push me over that edge. Unless I grieve openly. Thanks so much for the beauty in this post.

  74. Here from CDLC. my heart goes out to you. while my husband and I struggle with infertility, I often mention how grateful I am that we have not yet lost a child. We are exceedingly blessed. I, too, though, have approached insanity at times. Thank you for expressing this publicly. It was much needed today.

  75. I just came across your blog. It's beautiful and heartbreaking. My son's fourth stillbirthday was a couple weeks ago and I'm still a wreck. Yes, life goes on. But so does love.

    Thank you so much for writing. Your words have such impact. And I am so sorry that you ever had the need to write them.

    Also, I am so honored to meet your precious daughter through your words. It truly is an honor. Thank you.