Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Who By Birth: The Girl Who Never Fully Was

There was a picture taken when she was delivered, but we did not see it; the gravemarker at her tiny plot says only "baby," followed by our family name. Instead of being surrounded by family, she lies in a section of the cemetary surrounded by other stillborns, and babies who lived for less than a week.

Our rabbi gave her a name, a name of comfort, given to many stillborns, but not allowed to be placed on the tombstone.

I remember very clearly the day my mother left pregnant and came home empty. That emptiness stretched for months, even years. When she went into labor, the baby had already died inside her. She knew it, and still she had to push.

I don't know how to think of the baby - literally. I sometimes wonder who she'd be, how her presence would have changed our family dynamic, how we would be eight children instead of seven, even numbered. Yet there is nothing from which to create or to build upon. She would have to be fully imagined, like a character in a novel or film. Only she is not fixed as any one thing, any one entity. There is no history, no memory, no good or bad. In that way, she is free, unencumbered.

Yesterday, she would have been 15. She was to have been the bridge between my 20 year old brother and my 12 year old sister, connecting the 80s to the 90s. And instead there is a gap. Eight years. Again, there is eight. Seven is shabbat, the days of the week, the days of creation. Seven is this world, but eight - eight is beyond this world. The number is disquietingly fitting for someone who never fully entered this world, who existed, who breathed, only in a womb, as a series of weak heartbeats and feeble kicks.

I have visited her grave, pulled out the stray weeds among the carefully arranged rock bed laid down by my parents to keep weeds at bay and to differentiate her grave from the other little ones no one seems to remember. I would like to acknowledge her in some way, but she is so intangible. I can't feel sad or miss her because I never saw or knew her. How do you mourn someone who never fully was, who never had the chance to be?

We do not speak of her in my family; we let the day of her stillbirth pass by without a word. Yet, she has an undeniable weight and presence. She is a heavy emptiness, a void that cannot be touched. She has come to represent for me all unfulfilled potential, all that is ephemeral, nameless, faceless, both the fear and the comfort of what is unknowable.

In Rabbinic literature, it is written that a stillbirth occurs when a soul only needs the mother's womb to achieve perfection. And so to my perfect sister who never fully was, I hope your soul is at peace. I don't know how to remember you, but I haven't forgotten you.

32 comments:

Genendy said...

Moving....beautifully written.

torontopearl said...

Beautiful, McAryeh. You have publicly remembered her now and that is wonderful/ And your private introspection about her life offers up its own sense of Kaddish.

Eshet Chayil said...

I lost a sister when she was a few months old. I know the feeling. I was small, and I still haven't forgotten. Very beautiful post.

Mirty said...

Wow. That's quite intense. Beautifully written.

An interesting family constellation -- seven children, spread over decades. You'll have to tell us more about that.

Stacey said...

Goodness -- how very, very moving. Your last paragraph was so beautiful (yet sad) that I am moved to tears.

Jack's Shack said...

I haven't the words to give but wanted to let you know that I was moved by your post.

Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear McAryeh, ...

Poignant! Just imagine (as I am sure you have!) how much more love between you and this 'lil sis' there would have been had this misfortune not occurred! It must have been so difficult for your mom!!!!!!!!!!!! I am,

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

MCAryeh: Thanks for sharing that with us. Wish I could write a comment as meaningful and poignant as your post.

MC Aryeh said...

Genendy - Thank you for the kind words and for stopping by the blog.

Pearl - I like the concept you suggest - introspection as kaddish for a stillborn baby. Thank you.

Eshet - I can't even imagine. Your poor parents. Losing a child is so devastating - the pain never goes away....how old were you at the time? how did they explain it to you?


Mirty - Family constellation has a nice ring to it. It has been very interesting growing up as one of 7. Because we were so spread out, I got to experience being a sibling in different stages. The older three of us grew up together, the next set came when I was almost a teenager, and my youngest sister arrived when I was already an adult. I will write more about the dynamic in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that I am an experienced diaper changer and have no fear of parenthood...

Stacey & Jack - Thank you. Your words are very kind and thoughtful.

Alan - I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for my mom. Thank God, I have had six siblings to form relationships with. I don't know what it would have been like had this baby lived, but I would like to think she would have fit in just right...

Jameel - This is one of those areas where it gets murky as to what to share on a blog, how personal to get. This felt right, though. Thank you for your words.

Ezzie said...

Wow.

my bald sheitel said...

Amazing post. I of course am crying. I think it is beautiful that you remember her birthday. It shows a fine level of caring for her and honoring her memory. I enjoy your writing so much.

tafka PP said...

Thank you for sharing this with all of us. You write so beautifully.

westbankmama said...

Very moving post.

R.x said...

McAryeh - a very moving post - beautifully written

Pragmatician said...

What a sad post, there's isn't much to add.

Sarah said...

I have tears in my eyes.

Wow.

A Simple Jew said...

MCAryeh. You have a wondeful talent and write beautifully. Thank you for sharing that moving posting. It touches me and scares me all at the same time.

Irina Tsukerman said...

Thank you for posting this. That's a poignant post.

Eshet Chayil said...

MC, I believe I was 6. All I remember is my mother in the middle of the night getting in a car with my father to take Her to the hospital. Guess it was too late. S.I.D.S. They never really did explain it to me. But I did have 9 other brothers and sisters to try and make me forget, b"h. Hashem knows what he's doing, and why.

Elster said...

Wow - very moving. Hits me especially hard these days. When one is coming, it is always so easy to imagine all of the things that can go wrong. You sweat every little test every cramp. All you can do is haven faith in Hashem.

Anyway, your sister's neshama definately got a boost from your moving trubute.

sistersoul said...

too weird for me to comment, but very moving post shmi... i dont know if i would recommend going into too much detail about our sibling constellation :-)

David_on_the_Lake said...

Beautiful rendition.
I remember after my wife had a miscarriage, reading somewhere that by techias Hameisim, all the miscarriages/stillborns will rise from the dead as complete tzadikim.

MC Aryeh said...

Ezzie, Her Baldness, TAFKAP, WestBankMama, R.X., Prag, Sarah - Thank you all so much for your kind comments. I don't really know how to respond to them, so I will just leave it at that...just know your words are appreciated...

ASJ - Thank you. As you are a parent, I can see why it would scare you. Please God it will not be something you will ever ever have to encounter.

Irina - Welcome to the blog. Thanks for your kind words.

Eshet - You are one of 11? And here I thought I came from a big family! I hope it has been as rewarding for you as it has been for me. It is so easy to forget that all HaShem does is for the good when tragedy strikes. You must have a very strong emunah...

Elster - I hope so. Yes, it is all in HaShem's hands. And He should bless your wife to have an easy, stress and complication-free and healthy pregnancy. Looking forward to welcoming the new Elster child in blogland...

SisterSoul - Don't worry, I will not mention anything about you and hair rollers:)....we must have had such different experiences of this event, as you were only 6 when it happened. ...I wonder what you were thinking at the time and how it effected you...

David - I have heard something similar, and it sounds right and true. It is weird that then will be the first time we meet them. Thanks for your words...

Mia said...

Thank you for sharing this very personal post with us. It is beautifully written and I am close to tears. Thank you.

Rebecca said...

That was really beautiful. It brought many tears to my eyes. I am sorry your family had to go through that. I am sure it was not easy for anyone, especially your mother. It is every mother's worst fear. I truly have no other words, you've eulogized the baby in ever sense of the word.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

The loss of someone
who lived only in the womb
what is there to say?

When I was starting to get more into learning, etc. and leaned towards being a rabbi someone in the neighborhood I grew up in threw a question at me at kiddush: He was friendly with a young rabbi who lost a baby to SIDS. How could there be a G-d, my acquaintance asked, if such a fine young couple could be put through that.

That young rabbi is middle aged and prominent today. Most people don't know. Someone from his community told me that once in a blue moon the rabbi will mention it privately onlt to say that it is a private and sacred thing. He goes to the grave alone. He doesn't talk about it. There's a house full of kids. I wonder what they know, feel?

There's a book by Rabbi Yamin Levy, who lost an infant, wrote a book on the subject (http://www.ktav.com/product_info.php?products_id=959).

Thank you opening your soul and whispering.

torontopearl said...

McAryeh, although I already commented on your post, I must second Reb Neil's words, his personal touch.
Yes, indeed THANK YOU for opening your soul and whispering... your secrets are safe with us.

oishkapipik said...

Amazing!!Thank you for sharing such a personal experience like that! It sure makes you think...

turquoiseblue said...

Very beautiful and touching post.

Genendy said...

David - Wow. I never heard of that! I had a miscarriage and although I was upset at the time, I didn't dwell much on the baby that could have been. I came to think of it as something that wasn't meant to be, that never could have been. Now what you said sheds a totally different light on it. This is something totally new to me. To think that I'll meet this baby when Moshiach comes? Wow...I don't know how to feel about that!

MC Aryeh said...

Mia - Thank you. I am really surprised and moved by people's reactions. I had only intended to write a tribute to a sister who never was...

Rebecca- My mom has tremendous reserves of strength, but this did hit her very hard. Thank you for your kind words.

Neil - I think what you describe is the common response in the frum world. There is a couple in my parents' community who lost a two year old, who strangled himself in his crib. They were able to say gam zu latovah, and move on, at least outwardly. They never talk about the child. Another friend of mine recommended the book you mention. I would like to check it out. Thank you for your words.

Pearl - I never really thought of it as sharing a secret. I am not sure I would have posted this had I thought of it that way. It was just something that came out. I appreciate the sentiment behind your words, though.

Oishkapipik- Welcome back! Hope the army was not too rough on you!

Turquoise Blue - Thank you.

Genendy- Both your initial feelings and what David said are true. Even though I say my sister would have been 15 this year, that is not exactly correct. She would never heave been 15, because she was never meant to be in this world. There is comfort in knowing that miscarried and stillborn babies will be reunited with their parents in the times of moshiach. What that will look like/be like, I do not know...

Ayelet said...

That whisper gave me chills and a warm feeling almost simultaneously. How old were you at the time? How did you handle it, especially since you say it wasn't talked about. Did you talk about it amongst your siblings? What was your dad's reaction. Who broke the news? How? Wow. I'm exhausted. That post was so...alive. That perfect baby girl ...