Naming the Child

My son Andrew died exactly ten years ago today, October 23, 1999, nine days after his first birthday. No one would describe me as emotional. And yet the wound still remains remarkably raw.

Andrew’s short life isn’t a frequent conversation any more, except inside our family, because there is nothing new to talk about. When parents talk about children, it is almost always about how they are changing. Andrew, however, is forever our one-year-old.

Unfortunately for me, memories seem to fade faster than the sense of loss. For my wife, neither the memories nor the pain have faded. I know my wife’s memories remain vivid because they are beautifully captured in a recent book by Jenny Schroedel called Naming the Child: Hope-filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death. In the book, she recounts the experiences of a number of families who suffered losses like ours. Reading the book, I am amazed at all the things I have forgotten about both Andrew’s life and death.

The title of the book comes from a quote by one of the women who was interviewed who had an ectopic pregnancy: “Naming an unborn child is a powerful thing. It is a way to acknowledge to the world what God already knows. A way to say ‘life is precious — this life is precious.’”

This is not the sort of book you read for fun at the beach, but if you know someone who recently miscarried or lost a young child, I highly recommend it.


J Scott

I honestly don't think I would be able to cope

Caliphilosopher

My condolences for your loss. I hope that your family continues to find the strength to continue.

I also hope that more time will be able to alleviate the raw feelings that you still harbor.

I trust that you have a loving family, and a wonderful support group, and I truly wish you the best.

Josh

Sorry for your loss. As the father of two young boys, I can't imagine how that feels.

Jose Obiols

Thank you for the recomendation. My wife and I had a daughter this year, that was born premature. She fought for her life for 42 days, with a lot of complications, but finnaly she died. I know that it was a short time, but it still difficult to accept that something like this has to happen (and it's even more difficult for my wife). I already order a copy of the book.

Catherine

I am so sorry for your loss. I know these are wounds that never heal, although the pain may become not as acute. Now I can get through the day and breathe in and out. Now I can be a productive member of society and a good mother to my living children who need me. But this wasn't always the case. I appreciate the suggestion of this book and the warning to read it when I have solitude. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

Skidaddle

My sister died in 1991 at the age of 16, and her loss is still with my family every day. As hard as it was for me to lose my sister, now that I have children of my own I am beginning to understand just how devastating the loss of a child was for my parents. My deepest condolences to you and your wife.

Hammond

I am sorry for your loss.

Dai Hao

My son was born at 28 weeks and just under two pounds. 20 years ago he would have been a miscarriage. We were extremely fortunate. After 7 weeks in the NICU he went home. All of the children there did not all fair as well.

Mike L

My condolences to you and your family. I've always felt that the fading memory adds to the loss. I truly hope that your pain subsides.

Megan

Steven, Please accept my condolences to you and your wife on the staggering and heartbreaking loss of Andrew. What a devastating loss it must be.

I so wish this was an anniversary noone ever had to note.

Sheila

Steven - I am so sorry for your loss. I know the pain never goes away. My deepest condolences to you and your family.

jblog

I think men are conditioned by our society to put things like this behind us -- not to dwell on them and show our emotions. It's much more acceptable for women to continue thinking and feeling about such things.

My wife miscarried our fourth child nearly four years go. I think about that child only occasionally now, although the sadness returns when I do. My wife, I suspect, still thinks about weekly, if not daily.

My sincere sympathy for your loss, Steven.

Peggy

Thank you Steven for recommending that book and my sincere condolences for your loss. I have to admit that my sensitivity to the subject was heightened when one of the twins I was carrying12 years ago died during the pregnancy and I had to carry her and her brother to term and deliver them. I was stunned that no one understood and supported me for what I was feeling. I was told I was "lucky" in that the death of the first baby did not cause the loss of both of the babies at that time but these words did not assuage my sense of loss and grief. The memories of the delivery room are etched forever in my mind. For a while, everywhere I looked there were living healthy twins, a constant reminder of what had happened. I tried to cope by naming her and taking her home to bury her with some mementos from our family in a little cemetery across the street from our house. My son has known since he was little that he had a twin and that helps me sometimes because when he talks about her, it makes me think that not everyone has forgotten what happened. Nothing can take away the joy and love I have for my son and the gratitude that he is healthy and as the years have gone by I've learned to focus more on this. But the other memories will never leave entirely.

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William G

Prof Levitt, I'm not sure you read the comments, but today is my daughter's 4th birthday, and I have occasionally thought about what it would be like to lose her. The thought starts to evoke such a strong emotional response of grief I have to stop. So I can only imagine the pain that you and your family have endured, and I offer my heartfelt condolences and sorrow.

It's encouraging to see how you reflect on that loss, speak to others and still continue your work as a professor and author. Thank you for all of your contributions.

Tsunami

I'm sorry for your loss, Steven. I can't imagine how much it hurts.

Rich Wilson

My wife miscarried our first at only about 2 months. What made it worse was how completely callous the ob/gyn office staff was, including the doctor. It may be 'routine' to them, but it's not to us. We obviously found a different doctor for our 2nd.

adora

Very sorry for your loss. I imagine it must be the most painful feeling.
In my ancestral home in Fujian China, people traditionally do not name their children until they turn 1. It is believe to be more painful to lose a child that was acknowledged. Babies are given nasty pet names like "cow crap", "pig" or "little beggar". Maybe it is a way to cope in case of loss. I was named "stupid girl" for the first 8 months.

A Mom

My sympathy for your loss.

I buried a son sixteen years ago. After a few years, I decided to do something positive to honor his birthday. Every year, I call my local foodbank, and ask them what they need. I will then go to the store with my kids and buy a cart full of the items that the foodbank needs the most. When I walked in last year, they called me an Angel. Little did they know, I did it to honor my angel.

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Chip Overclock

There is nothing wrong or strange about carrying this kind of grief with you. It would be strange if you didn't. You just have to work hard to make sure it doesn't make you dysfunctional. Instead, you seems to have drawn some inspiration from it. Good for you.

2006 was a rough year for me: I lost my mom (no surprise: cancer) and two friends and former colleagues about my age (middle age). I think about all of them more now than I did when they were alive. But I drew inspiration from the sense of my own mortality that I got from those terrible events.

Time is short.
People are more important than things.

Best wishes.

Sabalil

@adora
Incidentally, the same tradition exists in some of the eastern parts of India. I was called "Pocha" (literally, "the rotten one") during my childhood.