Having a stillborn child is like losing part of your psychic self. The loss is unfathomable, unreachable, unconscious. Circumstances indicate that your child, conceived in darkness, has gently moved towards the light, the divine. Logic says that it’s not possible, for the beginning cannot equate the end. Your body remains confused and oblivious, going about its daily functions in abominable routine. There is a brokenness of self, and our hoodwinked consciousness feels tragically and unfairly responsible. When my body choked the breath from my baby, I knew I needed to begin to cope, but I had no idea how to reach my psychic Interior. The grief for a baby who never arrives
lives far beyond the scope of any neatly organized psychological process.
When we found out that our baby was a girl, a daughter for Mitch and me, a big sister for two-year-old Leila, we made lists of names for her. We knew she would be beautiful, we hoped she would be wise. We felt she would be energetic, vivacious. People would be drawn to her. After months of deliberation, we settled on Tya, the scientific acronym for a thousand years ago. She would be a woman of the ages, insightful, and intuitive. We liked the sound of ‘Ty’, the soft vowel sound in ‘y’ linked to tying a shoe, the swirl of a bow on a brown paper package, the knot that ties two people together in holy matrimony. She became our Tya, and she would tie us together for the rest of our lives in a complicated grief.
I have epilepsy. I am so electric that I stop watches, confusing them with extra charges. I’ve always considered myself to be intuitive, a seer. My brothers called it psychic, but Mom called it ‘the sense’. Mom had ‘the sense’ and so did her mother. I even had a great aunt who worked with the police in Boston in the eighties, as the unit’s psychic. This gave ‘the sense’ some validity for me. In college, I poured over both astrology and astrophysics texts with fervor, and became fascinated with the moments where science meets the infinite.
I blamed myself for not seeing Tya’s death. How could I not have predicted I would lose my baby, the child I had carried for thirty-nine weeks—wept for, prayed for, planned for?
In retrospect, there were signs that that something was wrong.
The week before she was born, the dreams started. They were violent and painful scenes of murder and suicide. And they didn’t just come to me. One friend called from Nova Scotia, warning me to drive carefully— she’d dreamt that I’d had a tragic car accident. Another called from Montreal with a feeling that I was in danger, predicting that I should not leave my husband’s side or something tragic might transpire. I did not observe her advice. Both warnings were disregarded.
I carried on absently, until the last fateful dream. In it, there was some emergency
and the baby had to be delivered early. The doctors told me it would be by Ceasarean section. There were some significant curiosities. My Ceasarean incision scar wasn’t a line; it was in the shape of a short, thick arrow. And it wasn’t under my belly. It was higher up on my tummy, and it pointed an odd angle—straight up to my heart. And I never got to meet the baby.
I played the reel over and over in my head.
“When was the last time that you felt her kick, Mo?” the doctor asked. I was frozen, distracted.
“I don’t … I don’t know,” I trailed off. I couldn’t remember when she had kicked last. A busy toddler at home, the finishing touches on the nursery. I didn’t pay attention.
The desperate call to my husband. The emergency hospital trip that followed, and finally, the ultrasound that gave us the undeniable evidence. Four tiny heart chambers. Zero beats.
“Your child has died,” the doctor on call said. I didn’t understand. My instinct was that somehow, I had murdered her. Cold meds. Anti-seizures. Something.
This is the psychic toll of stillbirth.
How can we forgive ourselves for not knowing what happened to our babies, helpless, inside the womb? After we lost Tya, I was shattered. I remember sitting in the tub one night until the candles ran to wax and the water went cold. I had become obsessed with the moment that she died— with what it had been like for her. They called it a ‘true knot’: a lethal cord knot. Had she struggled for breath, as I busily made breakfast for Leila? As I buttered toast and poured orange juice?
The days post birth ran into a week. We buried Tya, sang to her, read her poetry, and wished her safe travels. We told Leila that she became a shooting star. We made art — massive drawings in cerulean blue of a four-member family, probably not unlike the early cave paintings — posting the giant sheets all over the dining room. She had been here, with us, and we would honor her.
The shock was replaced by a rising grief. I had been violated —betrayed by the very body that wakes me in the morning and by the consciousness in which I keep my fondest memories. There bloomed in me a transcontinental psychic divide. The body I had always trusted made milk for a baby that arrived wrapped in her own hushed silence, my wounded soul left to explain to the body what had happened. The twin flames of body and soul torn apart. Would I ever trust my physique again?
The spiritual realm began to entrance me. I enlisted my powers of intuition to try to communicate with her somehow. I wore a quartz crystal that a friend had given me around my neck and rubbed it furiously when I missed her, needed her. Once, time stopped when I found a heart-shaped rock. I felt the weight of it in my hands, turned it over and over. Pointed at the edges but soft in the middle. Was it was a message from her? Was it eight pounds, was it her? I read tarot cards to guide me through tumultuous waters of grief. I wrote letters to her. I waited for a message.
Then one day, I chanted a mantra with my eyes closed until I felt her presence.
“I forgive you,” she said. My tears fell. Still, I couldn’t forgive myself.
Mitch and I talked about traveling. What if we took the year off and traveled to southeast Asia, refilled our spiritual cups with buddhas and temples and Balinese sea air? We deliberated for months, and finally made the choice to go, to leave our loneliness behind. We sold the house and made the arrangements to store our lives, poured over maps and travel books, packed our affairs and said goodbye to our families.
But you can’t run from grief.
Eventually, as the year passed though, there was —I believe —a psychic rekindling. I slowly learned to trust my body again, and over time and through silence, my broken spirit began to heal. The how still remains a mystery, although I have a vague notion that there were creative energies at work. I filled journals and journals, and eventually, wrote my way through the darkness.
Rebuilding my psychic self has been a long, wandering process in and around the streams, rivers, and brooks of grief. I am at peace with the fact that Tya will always be a part of us, of our family’s history. Each year we celebrate her with a birthday card collage of things we think she’d love – campfires and tree houses and hearts and glitter. This year, she would be five.
I don’t blame myself anymore.
So there is finally forgiveness.
First, I forgive Tya, for leaving me, her curtains hung in the nursery and a pile of tiny Pampers lined up on the change table— waiting. I blamed the Universe for a time, and all the people closest to me, as if they could have changed the outcome. I blamed my mom, for going back to her winter home in Florida soon after our baby’s birth. I blamed my husband, for moving on without me, painfully and with his own heavy heart. But most of all, I blamed myself, at least the part of me that surrendered my baby girl without my knowledge or consent.
Even the psychic injury of losing a babe heals after a while. We were lifted up by our collective and by our friends, and I communed with dozens of women who have had similar experiences. This alone has given me great solace. Our psychic selves slowly repair, building and weaving the fabric of love together again over time. Body and soul fall back into step and again dance as one, with the fragility and magnificence of life.