Over the past week or so, my Facebook news feed has transformed into a wave of pink and blue profile shots to open up October, “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.” In some conversations happening online, I can’t tell one friend from another without a second look to read their name.
I wonder why I have no desire to turn my picture pink and blue.
Is it like the first time I re-entered the history department in the Spring of 2007, terrified of first encounters with people I hadn’t seen in months? Am I uncomfortable with the idea that people will apologize for the loss of our firstborn son that happened now before I even knew half the people on my friends’ list? Or is it because the blending of so many millions of lives, the erasing of cause and the assimilation of experiences doesn’t fit how I want to engage with his death?
I support my friends’ decisions to turn their profile shots pink and blue. I get it. I think their actions in the world probably do more good than my reticence. I can’t do it though.
I feel very particular that whoever knows we lost a child also knows he was born after labor and that his death wasn’t inevitable. He died because he was born breech after labor, which had been stopped for a week, suddenly restarted and progressed too quickly for him to be flipped or for me to have a c-section. Although he was premature, he could have lived had circumstances been just even a little different. I held him and I filled out paperwork giving him a name and a legal identity. I feel very differently about Natan’s death than I do my first-trimester miscarriage. That’s not a statement about others’ feelings and experiences — only my own. I don’t want to know people are looking at my face covered in pink and blue and scrolling on by. His life was fleeting enough. If someone’s going to see that part of me, I want our story linked to it as well. I want them to pause and at least abide a little bit with what’s particular about us.
Two weeks ago, Wise and I toured Elmwood Cemetery. Among the many graves stretching back to the 1850s, we saw a striking number of infant and child burials. When I saw graves with the same birth and death date and a name, I wanted to shout out, “See!”
It’s not universally true that when infant death was more common, parents took longer to bond with their babies. I know this from reading Anne’s House of Dreams as an adolescent. I know this from reading the 19th-century diary of a Philadelphia man housed in the historical society — he heartily mourned his stillborn first grandchild and spoke of shattered dreams. I know this from my historians’ soul that tells me we’re not the first generation to love our children.
So, as always, I didn’t stroll past the little graves lovingly marked in the same style as adult graves at the time, only smaller. I stopped for a moment, and read the names, and looked to see if their parents’ graves were near by. If not, I wondered if like Josh and I, the parents had been compelled by circumstance to move away and worried about whether the cemetery would hold up to the maintenance guarantees in their contract. I know that regardless of a contract, over time, almost everyone’s name fades and their bones turn to dust, but when I could, I wiped dirt and grass clippings off the stone and pronounced the remaining letters as best I could.