A Safe Haven for Babies and Parents Alike
There is a cemetery on the way to Westley's preschool. It's an old cemetery; the town's first police chief and mayor are both buried there. I recently learned that the grounds include a newer area, called "Baby Haven." It's exactly what you think it is. Itty bitty plots with tiny headstones.
As soon as I learned about Baby Haven, I felt compelled to visit.
On Thursday afternoon, I drove to the cemetery and parked next to a row of little markers with teddy bears watching over them. It was the second day of Spring, but snow was starting to fall from the gray sky. Ivy was in the back seat, happily playing with her toes, so I took a moment to read the names and dates on the markers closest to me. A little boy, four days old: We will always love you. Mommy & Daddy. Another little boy, with only one date beneath his name: One sweet day. My heart started to ache. Next, a little girl, from 2007, the year Westley was born. My chest tightened, my eyes were hot. I felt like I'd swallowed a cinder block.
I quickly got back in the car.
When I miscarried, I was sure I would never not feel the hurt. My spirit had been destroyed, and I was sure -- absolutely certain -- that I would never feel whole again. Two years later, when I recall the experience, I mostly feel anger over the horrible way I was treated by medical personnel. And I feel a sort of narrative unease, contemplating what a festival of ironies it was: from Westley asking me, starting at about eight weeks (when any fetus that might have been there stopped developing), "Is the baby still inside you?" to my writing lists of baby names on the back of my grocery list the day before I began spotting, to miscarrying on the first day of Spring. It's awful to think about, but it's no longer the crushing darkness that consumed me two years ago. I can think about it without wanting to die. It's safe to go to that place in my head again.
As I drove away from the cemetery with tears in my eyes and my lovely, healthy baby daughter playing in the back seat, on my way to pick up my beautiful, healthy son from preschool, I wondered about the parents who went with those little plots and those tiny, dead babies. Do they visit the graves often? Do they feel safe inside their own heads?
I really wanted to talk to them and ask. I wanted to hear the parents tell the stories of their babies. And then I felt silly and ashamed and horribly selfish for ever having gotten upset over miscarrying a fetus-less pregnancy at 12 weeks. That, after all, is something a person could "get over." I got past it. Here I am, past it. How could someone ever get past losing a baby?
I know, with varying degrees of familiarity, several couples who have lost late- or full-term babies. Their faces flashed though my mind as I drove.
Last year, I reflected on being pregnant again after experiencing a loss. How I felt so unsafe in my body, even as I passed each of the pregnancy "milestones" -- but also how bolstered I'd felt in that year by other families' miscarriage stories. Talking about miscarriage was my refuge.
I hope that every parent whose pregnancy has ended too soon or whose child has come to the end of his or her life too early will find that kind of safe haven.
The idea of miscarriage being a "festival of ironies" is borrowed from the anthology About What Was Lost.