What must it be like to give birth to a stillborn child? To lose a child at any time is heart-wrenching, as we discovered some seven years ago. But there is a special pain that goes with losing a child whom you knew but never really got to meet. I imagine it’s hard to talk about, which makes Daniel Raeburn’s New Yorker essay about his stillborn daughter all the more moving. Even the subtitle is laden with sadness: “Irene Raeburn: born December 28, 2004; died December 24, 2004.” What hit me hardest was this:

In the middle of the night, I startled awake. A voice had sung Irene’s song to me, but with a twist. “Good night, Irene,” it sang. “I’ll see you, but only in my dreams.” That’s the chorus, I thought. Only in my dreams. Never in real life. By naming my daughter thoughtlessly, I had jinxed her. I had killed her.

I had no idea about the guilt that comes with fatherhood, the crazy irrational moments when you’re convinced of how bad a job you’re doing and how poorly your child is going to turn out. How much worse when you don’t have to wait for proof of the poor job you’re doing because the worst has already happened?

The New Yorker also published a follow-up essay: The Raeburns now have a daughter, Willa. Congratulations to them. Willa will not obviate their loss and pain, but she will provide them joy.

(Via Daddy Types)

1 thought on “Vessels

  1. No one in my family has ever, ever talked about it, but my father and uncle had a stillborn younger brother, born in 1952 (I think). I only know this because of the genealogy work done by one of Dad’s cousins. I remember running across it one day when I was eight or nine, and before my curious nature overtook my good sense, I almost asked my grandmother about it point blank.

    Every time I read of stillborn kids, I think about this: what would the dynamic of my father and uncle be with a third party to their sibling rivalry? How would this have affected the family dynamic that fooled my maternal grandparents into thinking that my mother was dating my uncle [14 months her senior] instead of my father [four years her senior] while she was still in high school?

    Yeah, I’m really thinking out loud at this point, but man … Dad turns 61 tomorrow, and those birthdays make you think.

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