Sunday, 3 March 2013

Something to hold on to

Of the weeks and months following when S died, there is one really clear recollection I have, a random little event of the kind that you always think shouldn't still stand out in your mind, but inexplicably does.

In the autumn after losing S, on the way to a work assignment abroad, we spent a few weeks in Vienna visiting with H's friends and family (well, not all: my heavily pregnant sister-in-law, due three weeks after me, refused to see us until her own babe was safely in her arms, for fear it would 'jinx' her own pregnancy. She said just that in an email to my husband. She shamelessly incarnates the hurtful but widespread fear and superstition of pregnancy loss as contagion. For people like her, there are no words really, and thus I'll waste no more. For this is a post about another, more hopeful topic).

It was a difficult visit for me; in the depths of my grief, caught in a whirlwind of inescapable social engagements, everyone around me resolutely pretending as if there had never been any baby, like I had not held my tiny, perfect, 200 gram son in my hand and stroked his warm pink skin not months before. I remember many a morning sobbing in the shower as we prepared to enter that world of indifference and quiet fear. It was exhausting.

One afternoon I caught a brief moment of reprieve and spent the day wandering aimlessly through the shops in one of my favourite Vienna neighbourhoods. Aimless, that is, until one item caught my eye and tore at my already ragged heart. A Barbapapa onesie like this. I have already professed my fondness for these cute characters, and this was the sort of colourful, quirky item we would have delighted in for S. The thought, however, of my tiny, fragile son and just how much his body contrasted with the norm of the chubby full term newborn that such a garment demonstrated, the knowledge that he'd never wear or need any chubby baby clothes, sent me running from the shop in a rush of hot tears. I've often thought about that afternoon, over the many months as the early pain has considerably softened. And as profane as it sounds, I've often thought of that little onsie also, with something like melancholy.

You know why I'm rueful about that day? I wish I'd bought it anyway. Not because I wanted the baby outfit; at the time I had thoughts and love only for the baby I could never have, would never hold again, and the thought of a future pregnancy was unthinkable.

No, it's because I wish I had told that version of myself, deep in her pit of black despair and and grief, that even then - yes, perhaps most of all then - it was ok to hope. Recklessly, defiantly so. Because as the months have accumulated behind me, with their potential for pulling me deeper and deeper into that pit, it's this hope that has at times been the only thing that sustained me.

For the longest time though, I never really allowed myself to imagine a a future where we would parent a living child, at least not actively or in too much detail. Items that so blatantly speak of babies used to hold a magical, dangerous allure for me, like mystical talismans the presence of which could somehow deter the very thing for which we longed. Like fire, I was almost afraid to touch. Afraid, I suppose, of the return of those hot tears. Afraid also that such items would never hold any other value for me.


This weekend, we did what I would have thought unthinkable only several months ago. We were out shopping for my nephew, the sweet little boy who should have been a playmate to our own sweet little boy, meant to be born just days after. When we'd selected and paid for a lovely set of books for him, our eyes both feel simultaneously on a very cool set of puppets. It was a large Peter Rabbit-like hand puppet who springs up from a series of individually quilted lettuce leaves, each of which nestles a tiny insect finger puppet - caterpillars and ladybugs and bumble bees. It was unique and adorable. And as we looked at each other, H did something very unexpected; he proposed we buy it, right then and there. Not for our adorable nephews, but for our own future child, something to remind and maybe even motivate us when the hope and optimism flags. And so we did. Mind boggling, really.

Again, it's not so much the item itself which holds significance, although I'm proud of us for boldly carrying it to the counter and buying it. Rather, it was the conversation and the realizations that followed, which felt like a profound juncture in our road to parenthood and our committments therein. I'll share the details later, as we process things, but suffice it to say that I was touched and amazed anew by the depth of feeling H expressed in our commitment to a family. 

I don't know yet what we'll do with this toy while we're waiting for a child to play with it. As I type, it sits on the table in the hallway, still in its paper shopping bag, unceremoniously deposited along with the rest of yesterday's purchases. And somehow the normality, the informality of that feels right. It feels brave even, like we're again defying the bad luck we might otherwise worry this cavalier attitude would bring. Stored away or out in the open, this item will be one that we can hold onto especially for our future child, for him or her only. S already has lots of adorable little things that have become just for him.

And so, we have a tangible symbol of our reckless, defiant hope and our determination to hold our one-day baby. What a long way we've come, (and how far we have still to go). But I've learned that no matter how much I try to distance myself from my secret heart, it won't make the disappointments that sometimes come any less painful, and I may be missing out on little moments of magic along the way.

For who we wish for. Source.

Bloggy friends, do you have a talisman of hope that you hold on to as a promise to your future self? That brings you hope for the children you will one day bring home? I'd love to hear about them, silly or symbolic or just plain random.


  1. When we saw and heard the heartbeat last August, I allowed myself to buy stuff for the first time in 3 years TTCing. I bought so many childrens books (we are big readers and not stuff people). When we lost the pregnancy I considered returning the books for store credit or even burning them. Instead - and mainly because I didn't have the energy for either of those ideas - I stored them safely in a random unused cabinet. They sit there, still, waiting and I am ever aware of their presence.

  2. I didn't expect this post to hit me so hard but I was holding back tears by the end - thanks for being so honest. We don't have a talisman of hope per se - unless you consider the countless things I've bookmarked on Etsy, Apartment Therapy, etc. That we don't have a physical, tangible thing is mostly out of self-protection, I guess. But I can't tell you how many adorable onesies, stuffed animals, toys and infant sized Patagonia wear I've stopped myself from buying...

  3. That's a big step and so great that you are allowing yourself to hope again. The only baby thing I ever allowed myself to buy were some pictures I found at a flea market last year. I then put them away in a drawer and haven't looked at them since. I think I am still a little too nervous to take them out yet.

  4. I crocheted a baby blanket. I knew I would want something hand-made for our future child(ren), and at the time, I needed something to keep my mind and hands busy while in limbo of having not yet begun treatments. I'm not sure I could have done such a thing in the last year or so, but maybe in the next few months, I'll have reason to begin again. I'm glad you have a physical reminder of hope inside that paper bag.

  5. Oh my heart goes to you, that was a very mean thing to say and do... refusing to see you. Anyhow, we all have our own superstitious, but I can only think how could she SAY it (or write it) to YOU in the middle of your pain. She could have pretty well invented an excuse, and then it would not have been so hurtful.

    I love Peter Rabbit, the drawings are beautiful as are the stories.

    I do not have a talisman of hope... but, I will finally tackle curtains on the yellow room (which is meant to be a nursery, and now lies empty, closed and waiting). And it is with this room that I have had the kind of feelings you describe. For a long time I would refuse to even go in it, or open it, as I saw it of a constant reminder of what was not happening , and what I could not yet do (go crazy decorating, preparing for the arrival of the little one). At some point we had friends visiting (a boy and a girl, who are not a couple) and Mark suggested one of them stay there (we have a guest room suitable for, 2, but for 2 sleeping together) and I irrationally refused, because no one but our baby should ever use that room (and I would also oppose turning it into something other). I suggested one of them sleep in the living room, though at one last moment of logic I told Mark that sure let's use the yellow room.

    Anyhow, trying to slowly get over all of that, grasping the hope that we will turn a page, that our baby will decide to come, we are in the process of making curtains for it (the only thing that's missing in that room).

    I also know this shop where they have all kinds of quirky onesies (Star Wars, Che Guevara, The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, Heidi....) and it has been hard not to by anything, but I'm waiting for that. (At least I know very well where it is).

    BTW I don't know if you read Fiona's post "What I want you to know about having a miscarriage", she was so brave putting it out there, and I hope more people would read it, so as to stop the insensitivity that floats around.

    I send you big hugs, and I am right there, fiercely and recklessly hoping with you.

  6. Oh Sadie, this brought tears to my eyes. You have come a long way indeed, and you are a brave woman. I love that you were in the shop and bought it together. May this year bring everything you wish for.

  7. I have two sets of "talismans" -- an adorable onesie that I bought before all of infertility stuff hit, and a collection of children's books that (because I'm a librarian) I can't help but add to now and then.

    I also deeply understand the sentiments about the baby room that Amanda wrote about above me in the comments. In the house we're now renting out to people since we moved, we had three bedrooms, and it was getting harder and harder to not feel immensely lonely in that house. After my miscarriage, we turned it into an office, because we didn't like seeing just a totally empty room there anymore.

  8. What a horrible time in Vienna that was. I can just imagine. I have found the shower an excellent place to cry in since Jacob died, and the floor. After losing Jacob and the having 3 miscarriages, I cant say that I really ever imagined parenting a living child. We just kept trying because what else were we going to do. I hoped it would work one day, but didn't really expect it to. Surprise, surprise, it did. I am very, very hopeful for you.

    I love that you bought the puppet.

    I bought sleepers when I was pregnant the third time, only to miscarry a few weeks later. Buying them was a big step. I washed them for Emily, but never used them. I just couldn't because they belonged to that baby that we lost and in a way, I was afraid to put them on her. My sister bought some socks for Jacob that we never used for Emily, they are in his memory box. I also bought a onesie that says Canada on it when I was pregnant once, but for some reason I am fine using that on Emily. I don't know why I feel scared to use some items that were meant for a lost baby and not for others.

    I know what sheets were on the bed when Jacob died and I haven't used them since I'm scared to. I don't know if he died while I was asleep, but just in case, I feel like I can't risk putting Emily on them and I certainly didn't put them on the bed when I was pregnant with her. I can't give them away either thought, because he was alive while I slept on them too.

    I have so much hope for you

  9. "Everyone around me resolutely pretending as if there had never been any baby..."

    That is one of the worst parts, isn't it?

    I can totally relate to the desire for physical reminders of the baby who didn't survive and the baby we hope will come. But I've been too cautious (and, OK, superstitious) to buy anything for a future child. Even when I was pregnant, the only thing I bought was one clearance-sale book about pregnancy, to better feed my anxieties about what not to eat, etc.

    But I LOVE the idea of you buying the puppet toy! It's not just an object to give a future child, it's proof that the bold and hopeful part of you (the part that can so easily get crushed by this struggle) still exists. I think it IS very brave and -- whatever the future holds -- meaningful.

    I wish you all the best!

  10. I so appreciate you all for sharing your thoughts on this; it was an important post for me to write. It's amazing the power and meaning we can attribute to inanimate objects, isn't it? I really do feel heartened by all your replies. If nothing else, it makes me feel a little less crazy and a LOT less alone. Thank you friends. I do so hope that all those spaces and objects will come to hold very happy meanings for each of us in the not-so-distant future!

  11. Sadie, I have just found your blog today. I had no idea what you have been through. My heart goes out to you. I know about the word, infertility. We struggled with that because I had endometriosis. Have you read in one of my first post about james and I going through adoption? I can't wait to read all of your posts. I am sending you warm (((hugs))) my friend to give you strength.

  12. I love this post. I've been tempted by baby things for years-- even when I was single, but never bought anything until right before my own wedding last year. I was buying an awesome picture for my (not yet born at that time) niece on Etsy and couldn't decide between two designs. My husband suggested I buy both and keep one for our future baby. I did. It sits in the closet upstairs, waiting to belong to our baby. I haven't had the emotional strength to actually start working on the nursery (now officially "The Messy Room We Don't Show Guests"), but I long for the day we hang that picture.
    And to satiate my need to buy cute baby things, I have a hidden Pinterest board dedicated to baby gear & ideas. Hopefully someday I can "unhide" it.
    I love the puppet. It's perfect.

  13. Sadie this is a beautiful post. I'm so glad you bought that puppet.

    I have been collecting baby clothes and items since before I was even TTC. I think I have at least one item from each cycle and a number of things from my twins. They're all tucked away in a dresser until the day comes that I can use them.


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