Names and Faces: We Must Remember

7 months ago, at exactly this time, I gave birth to our fourth child: a sweet, silent baby boy who we named Malcolm. 7 months ago, at exactly this time, I was holding his perfect little self to my chest, barely catching my breath as I thought of the thousand reasons I would never hand him to the nurse.

Malcolm Ajani Kraus: we chose his name so intentionally, and we hoped, prophetically. “Malcolm” means “Dedicated Servant,” and “Ajani” means “Overcomer, Victorious in the Struggle.”  His name embodied everything we hoped and prayed for him: that he would serve people and the fight for justice single-mindedly, that he would be victorious, that he would overcome. But that night, 7 months ago, as I held his perfect body in my hands, as I memorized the features of his beautiful face, I didn’t find victory. Instead, I relived the nightmare I endured on that long 2010 night when I delivered his twin brothers, Isaac and John.

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Isaac and John were names we chose intentionally as well. Told I might not be able to get pregnant at all, we took our first pregnancy as a complete and utter miracle. In losing them, we still counted their conception as the light at the end of a dark tunnel, and so we chose names that we thought symbolized the miraculousness of their existence. In Scripture, 2 women struggled to conceive and only did so miraculously. These women, Sarah and Elizabeth, gave birth to two strong boys: the first to Isaac and the second to John (the Baptist). Their boys were miracles, and I so hoped that mine could be as well.

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It turns out that my prophetic notion was oddly misplaced — or so I initially thought.

2 stillbirths almost killed me.

Isaac and John didn’t live to symbolize God’s redemptive plan or restorative processes. Malcolm didn’t win his battle. And we didn’t win ours. In fact, more often than not, we wonder what kind of meaning can be found in the loss of such perfect babies. In many ways, I have tried to take up the mantle that their names represented: the twins cannot prepare the way of the Lord, and so I desperately want to. Malcolm couldn’t overcome, so I must find a way.

A noble thought, I’m sure. And in my case, it is one that has been far more theoretical than it has been practical.

You see, there’s nothing hopeful in the process of losing a child: everything about the experience is excruciating and haunting. Birth is long. Birth is painful. Recovering from birth is like pouring salt into an open wound: milk takes days to deplete, bleeding lasts for weeks, tummies never return to their initial form or function. Birth and death shouldn’t work together, and yet for women like me, the two are strangely synonymous: birth didn’t start a new life. Birth ended one.

But losing my sons has not — and will not — result in losing myself.

I am one of millions who survived. Even today, there exists a great cloud of women who have birthed and lost all at the same time. We cry. We ache. We think, dream, and remember our children. And yet, few of us speak of our babies because, to put it bluntly, we don’t know how.

We don’t know how to answer the question of how many children we have. We don’t know how to explain the ache we feel during holidays and would-be-birthdays. We try not to speak of them for fear of making our listener squirm. Because honestly, we can’t stand the awkwardness that we pass to others when we attempt to remember out loud — when we try to explain where our babies are, what happened to them, and why we lost them in the first place.

But this month, October, is all about eliminating that awkwardness. It’s all about creating the space and the freedom to remember — not just in our hearts, but to remember out loud. To remember publicly.

October 15th commemorates children lost to miscarriage or stillbirth. The entire month is dedicated, not just to breast cancer awareness, but to families who survived the death of a child, inside the womb or outside of it. Whether you fit into that category or not, yours is a voice that survivors need. We need you to remember our babies. We need you to remember them out loud and in public. We need you to remember with us.

This month, will you do something — will you say something — in honor of the multitude lost seemingly to chance? Will you remember the lives not meant for this world? And will you reach your hand to silently aching mothers and fathers who so want to know that their babies mattered, not just in the life beyond, but in the life that we have now?

For all those who remember and grieve tonight, I want you to know: I remember you. I remember your babies. They are not phantoms or ghosts. They are not figments of your imaginations or images on a wall. They are your children. They lived. They are worth remembering.

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One comment

  1. Susan Baker · October 7, 2014

    In 1964, when I was just nine years old, my mother gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. She was my parents fifth child. I wanted so badly to have a baby brother or sister. Back at that, people didn’t openly share grief over miscarriages or still births. I don’t think people really thought that a little nine year old girl would experience the kind of grief I did. My grief never manifested itself in ways that others could see, but it was and still does exist. From the moment of Nancy’s birth/death, I knew that the thing I wanted most in my life was to be a Mommy with my own babies. Fifteen years later, I welcomed my own first baby into my life and four years later I welcomed my second baby. But even now, 50 years after the birth/death of my baby sister, I talk about her. I visit her grave when I am visiting the Oxnard area. Her name is used as many of my various passwords. As my Mother was dying nine years ago, she asked if there was anything she could do for me. I told her that when she got to heaven to please keep an eye on Stephen, my younger son and to please hug Nancy for me. My 93 year old Father talks frequently of how he knows he won’t be living much longer. I always remind him that he will be reunited with my Mother, my older sister who died twelve years ago and he will finally get to meet Nancy. Even after 50 years, I miss the baby sister I never met in person, but I met her in my heart and held her in my heart and I continue to do so.

    With experiencing the grief of losing a baby sister still alive in my heart, I can’t even begin to comprehend what the grief is like for a Mother or Father. Hugs and love and prayers to all who have lived with this grief.

    Like

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