By Carly Williams.
I’ve learned a new vocabulary.
Dead. Death. Dead baby. Stillbirth. Stillborn. Neonatal death. Miscarriage. Bereaved.
At times I surprise myself at the ease with which death rolls off my tongue.
This fresh plethora of words flows easily from my unsilenced lips, slips calmly from my soured mouth.
For some, my emerging voice rings discordant. I wear, for all to see, the dark grief of random loss. Who wants to look at me, when my son’s death reflects the frailty of all life? Who wants to hear a language they don’t ever want to learn?
Language spirals uselessly around the death of a child or baby. I watch as the eyes of observers dart around, in search of an alternative to my truth. There is no alternative.
My vocabulary is the truth, my truth.
In this word saturated world, there is no name for a mother like me. I wonder, is there no place for me here in the dictionary of our lives? Is my grief not valued? I am not a widow, nor an orphan. I am a mother living without her son. Why isn’t there a neat little sequence of letters for me?
Words. An unfamiliar glossary unfurling into my consciousness, sapping prior innocence:
Abnormality. Accident. Infection. Disease. Statistics. Post mortem. Baby + death.
Yes, I knew death. I knew sadness. I knew grief, and I knew love. But that was before.
‘Before’ has itself become a well-worn word. ‘Before Zephyr’ joins ‘Since Zephyr’ in my dictionary of truth and common phraseology. I gauge myself against these lines. I orient myself to them.
Yes, I knew death before, but it never read like this.
I had never known the extent to which grief can overwhelm and immerse –
deep well, echoing all that could have been, around my sensitive ears. Isolated, lonely, damp, dark. Silent. From within, I have found words to be my torch.
I refuse to remain unseen.
My words don’t fade; they won’t. I’ll form a stronger rock, a sculptural force from which I will continue to build myself, a mother without her child. I will. I will shape my words with soft taps from my mothering mallet. I will carve these deep troughs of love into my life.
The words I speak are my truth.
My baby is dead. My son died. I outlived my child – something people say we should never do. But I have. I do.
And my words need to match that truth, for me, for him, for the others that speak this new language, and those I hope never will.
The powerful lyrics of death were unknown to me ‘before,’ though I sing them as mother tongue now.
Whisperings of stillbirth are rife when you have been struck by it, but they are still whispers. Where are the folks with their loud speakers? Where are the costumed town criers, to call and yell of the devastation of birthing death? Where are the ones who refuse to be silent, ringing out their truth so that others may hear:
“Oyez Oyez, babies die. Pregnancy doesn’t just mean new life.”
I’ll ring that bell. I’ll wear the buttoned red costume, for all to see.
“Hear Ye, unheeding world, 17 babies die every day in this country. Hear Ye, Hear Ye, my baby died.”
These are my words, this is my truth. Utterly heartfelt expressions of love for my son. My dead son. My son who died before I gave birth. My words are my everything. My expression. My grief. My love. My words are me. My thoughts. My core. My heart.
These are my words. This is my truth. My son died. He is dead, and I love him.
I’ve learned a new vocabulary.
Carly Williams was a freelance participatory artist and maker for over ten years. She ran creative, therapeutic projects for folks from all walks of life. Carly stopped work to become a mother in December 2013, but her son Zephyr was stillborn. For a while everything stopped… Except her writing.
Through her work with Refuge in Grief she found her voice again and currently blogs at growingwithout.tumblr.com
I love you so much.
Carly, when this happened to me it was 1989 and I was 24. Twenty six weeks pregnant with my fourth child. Umbilical cord accident. Stillbirth was beginning to be talked about. Beginning to be recognized for the devastating loss that it is. I held my son against the wishes of his father. Once he was buried he was never discussed again between us. His name never said out loud. His name was Timothy. He weighed 1 pound 6 Oz. He fit in the palm of my hand. He was the first dead person I ever saw. You are a Mom. You are Zephyrs Mom. Bravo to you for writing about him. For speaking his name out loud. For sharing his story and yours. Thank you for that generosity and courage. Never stop. Hard hugs to you
i am so sorry. This was so beautiful in its sadness. So very beautiful.
I am so sorry for your loss. And so grateful for your courageous sharing.
Beautiful, heartbreaking and heartfelt piece. Carly, when I teach writing and ask people to write honestly but elegantly, this is what I mean. Thank you.