Old Eggs

It was a Tuesday. I remember the walk across the car park and back to my car, the slow drip of blood between my legs.

I remember squeezing my pelvis, as if by this simple movement of my body I could hold on, hold onto my little Horatio.
Horatio, I said under my breath. Horatio, hold the bridge.

The doctor had told me it was too soon to know.
It’s not unusual to bleed in these first few weeks, she said.
It might not spell the inevitable.
The inevitable, she said, was not inevitable, though to hold my grief, or to help me to focus on something else, some greater grief perhaps, she offered her own story:
How she, at forty-two years, had stopped IVF, and finally made the decision to accept her fate.
‘You already have three children,’ she said.
‘Think on it. Even if the inevitable happens, you have something to fall back on.’

And I was thrown back in time.

A ten-year-old girl, I stood beside my mother in the front garden of our house.
The geraniums had wilted under the summer heat, and my mother picked at them carelessly.
She plucked off the dead ones and threw them away.

Mrs Bruyn from up the street stopped at our fence.
‘I was sorry to hear about your baby,’ she said, and my mother’s eyes filled with tears.
‘But you still you have your other children,’ Mrs Bruyn said. ‘They must be a comfort to you.’
My mother nodded and Mrs Bruyn walked away. I watched her floral dress billow in the breeze. I heard the clip clop of her heels on the concrete path.
Mrs Bruyn also came from Holland, the land of babies, my mother told me, the land where people wanted big families, but there was no room.

Mrs Bruyn had room for babies but she had not made any.
It was not her fault. My mother told me, something to do with her eggs.
Eggs, I thought, like chicken eggs, eggs that sit under the warmth of a hen for days and then one day crack open and out pops a chicken.

I thought again of my own eggs. Old eggs, the doctor told me.
‘You must not leave it too late to have your babies. Once you reach forty, your chances halve.’

But I had waited too long for this last one, as she had waited too long for her first. Our eggs were old.
The lottery of pregnancy, the doctor said. The later you leave it the less chance of success.

I did not tell my mother about my miscarriage.
She did not tell me of her still born until later, years later when we could share our grief.

My mother had another miscarriage, years before I was born, she told me. She had lost the baby in the toilet, like a penny doll. She could see its arms and legs, its little eyes.

Horatio did not hold the bridge. Ten weeks into the world and he was gone.

No matter what we do we cannot save them, these lost babies.
My husband has white lumpy bits on both his ankles. That’s where the babies were attached in utero, he tells me, or so his mother once told him.
All the dead babies that he managed to out live, as if his life cost theirs.

And Mrs Bruyn who lived up the street had wished my mother well.

The dead ones do not count as long as there are lives to take their place.
Even in Australia, where we have plenty of room, there is not room for everyone.

Someone has to go.

76 thoughts on “Old Eggs”

  1. Oh, Lis, this hit hard. I've never had a miscarriage, but I surely had egg problems. I tried to become pregnant for 20 years, to no avail. Some of the treatments were not very pleasant, and then disappointment every month. We ultimately gave up hoping. I think it's fair to say we grieved. I went off and got a career. I was nearly 40 the one and only time I became pregnant. It was a very difficult pregnancy and I never was 100% certain that three of us were going to come home from the birthing center. We did, though. She is 21 now.

    I don't believe children (or any people) are interchangeable. The loss of one child can't be remedied by the presence of another one. I count every human as an individual. And I've never known of any female who didn't suffer pain for the lost hope of a lost baby.

  2. This is beautifully written. As a labor and delivery nurse, one of my wife's saddest jobs is delivering dead babies. If they can be made presentable, she cleans and dresses them, and makes a little collection about their lives that consists of photographs, measurements, and prints of their feet and hands. She then lays the baby on its mother's breast, and, sometimes, she comes home and cries.

  3. My heart hurts.
    As a society we don't do death and grieving at all well. And no, a living child is not a replacement for one you lost before you knew them.
    I also grieve for the might-have-beens. The children that simply didn't happen for me/us.
    Thank you.

  4. My heart is heavy for you, tonight. I am sorry for your loss, your grief. The word miscarriage seems so unemotional, so understated. There should be a better word for the death of an unborn child. Peace to you.

  5. Well written. My mum had two. She never talked about it. It must be heartbreaking to loose a little life. Her in NZ is a lady who makes baskets with quilts as a memory to babies who died. Very nice.

  6. Dear Elisabeth,
    your story touched me today very deeply, for my own personal reasons. This kind of loss is the loss of the worst kind and no one really recovers.
    You have no idea how oddly serendipitous it is for me to wake up today and read this here…
    Have a lovely weekend,

  7. I agree Leslie, I don't think people are interchangeable. Everyone counts however seemingly insignificant, including all those dead babies. I was reflecting more on my sense as a child, as one of nine and my mother's muted responses to the death of at least two babies in my childhood that maybe the live ones could make up for the dead. Of course that cannot be.

    I'm so glad that you were eventually able to have your beautiful baby Leslie, after all those years of trying. It must have been a very difficult time for you.


  8. Your wife's job must be so difficult at times, Snow, however often offset by the joy of all those newborns she assists to deliver. To have to also assist with giving birth to the stillborn and damaged babies must be devastating.

    Thanks for your kind words here, Snow.

  9. I can understand that grief, Elephant's Child, for all the might-have-beens, yours and others.

    And as you say, the western world struggles to allow room for the grieving, not in all cases though too often I fear.

    Thanks, Elephant's Child.

  10. You may not be a woman, Windsmoke, but I'll bet you know some level of grief at the loss of a loved one, however distant.

    Miscarriages are like that. However early in the pregnancy, if it – the pregnancy – is known about and wanted, it's almost like grieving for a lost child, without any memories, only the sense of a lost future.

    Thanks, Windsmoke.

  11. There is no better word, Jane, for the loss of a child.

    Though these events for me happened a long time ago, I still remember the rawness of my grief.

    Thanks for your good wishes.

  12. Marja, the idea of an artist who makes quilts and baskets to acknowledge lost babies is lovely.

    The problem with miscarriages and still births too is that they tend to remain invisible and yet like your mother's two miscarriages they have an impact and continue to live on in our memories.

    Thanks, Marja. I hope you're okay there in NZ amidst all that grief.

  13. Rachel, I'm sorry it's so close to home. This must mean you know the pain of loss first hand and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

    Thanks for your comment then, especially given this post's resonance for you.

  14. I'm not sure what the serendipity means for you Zuzana. I can only imagine. Memories and events perhaps.

    Thanks for your series of comments on my blog today, Zuzana. I'll respond to each individually.

  15. This is so beautifully written, I could feel the breeze as her floral dress billow.

    It is human to offer condolences and comfort, sometimes not necessarily with the right words. I lost my baby girl at two days old. I think of her sometimes but she was my loss, I am not hers and that can be comforting.

  16. It's harsh, this grief. I'm sorry, Elisabeth, that you bore it, and still do. I wonder what bridges Horatio went on to conquer and hold.

    My daughter's best friend carried a baby full term, one she knew would live minutes or an hour or two at most, because the baby had anencephaly, when the brain stem doesn't close and the forebrain doesn't develop. They named her, welcomed her, took portraits of her, and gave her a beautiful, beloved life. It touched me deeply, and I'll never forget how no matter how short a life is, it's what we give it that matters.

    Thank you for sharing from this sorrow, Elisabeth. Big hugs.

  17. elisabeth so many of my friends have passed through this experience and the deep sense of loss that lingers long after is the most poignant and wrenching feature of who they are. it is so difficult to really and fully connect with the details of the process and yet i feel a depth of empathy for you and for all women who have known this very special and real sorrow. steven

  18. The phrase that jumped out in this piece was “you have something to fall back on”. It smacks of “well you didn’t get what you wanted and so you’ll have to make do”. I felt for the existing three children who now had to pick up the slack and do the work of four. I may or may not have some experience with miscarriages – my first wife may or may not have miscarried, it was really too early in the pregnancy to tell – but I don’t have any clear memories. She described what was lost as “matter” and that doesn’t sound much like “baby”. Soon after that one took (or “held the bridge” – wonderful way of putting it) and within the year our daughter was born. I think had she carried the first fœtus for any length of time then we both might have felt more loss than we did; I’m not even sure she cried. And that is my one and only experience – or near experience – of miscarriages other than reading about them or watching them fictionalised on TV. I’m usually quite empathetic with women but this is one area where I feel a bit distanced. I think the expression “lost a baby” doesn’t do it justice. People lose keys and teeth and virginities all the time.

  19. This was hard to read, and I imagine, hard to write. But that is perhaps the most important writing of all. Dear E, if ever you had doubts about what you do here in this blog, and why, and how, and the good in it, set them aside. This one alone is ample proof. Thank you.

  20. Elisabeth…what a touching, emotional post that I am sure has reverberated for many women who might read this. Grateful for your honest words from deep within…the mothering that is deep and entwined in your body as the pulsing of life is.

    Old eggs…I would like to share this with my daughter and other young women who keep thinking and waiting as though the ability to have children is endless. I can't though at this point…I don't think she would understand or that I might say more than I should. Sometimes we walk and have the path before us that only we can go upon.

    Thank you for this…thank you.

  21. I'm so sorry to hear that you lost your baby girl at only two days, Ocean Girl. It must have been almost unbearable. It adds another layer to my admiration for you, for anyone who has suffered so deeply.
    I thank you.

  22. These days people realise the importance of being able to spend time with a beloved lost baby, Ruth, but in my mother's day they did not. She never saw her still born child. This adds to the tragedy.
    Tthe story of your daughter's friend and her lost baby is all the more remarkable for the courage they showed in facing up to their loss and sharing it.

    Thanks, Ruth.

  23. Most people tend to know at least one person who has suffered this type of loss, Steven. It's the tragic loss of the future, the potential life that's most painful.

    Thanks, Steven

  24. That was the point I had tried to make here, Jim, the way I got the message that the living could make up for the dead. Of course they can't.

    I understand there are many women who miscarry without even realising they have done so. It's so common. One in five babies I think end up this way. Not babies so much as fetuses, maybe only zygotes.

    Your first wife sounds as though maybe she was trying to protect herself with this first possible miscarriage, trying to stop herself from feeling the emotional pain of loss.

    It's hard once you attach to the idea of your baby to then lose it. If you avoid attaching in thee early weeks then the pain of the loss might not seem so bad.

    Thanks, Jim.

  25. Thanks for your encouragement, Two Tigers.

    I had my doubts about putting up this post, as grim as it is, but then again it is a universal experience, the pain of such loss.

  26. Young women these days are tempted to wait longer before having babies than is ideal, Ellen. It's sometimes hard to tell them to take care. That biological clock ticks on regardless and it's sad to see so many miss out when they could have had a baby, if only they had started sooner.

    But life's like that. We cannot control these things. One thing makes way for something else.

    Thanks, Ellen.

  27. Let me just say that I have been pregnant more times than I have given birth. Sometimes I feel that all the souls together are what my born-children contain.
    Sometimes I do.

  28. I do think it's lousy that the early stages, and in many ways hardest stages, of pregnancy are kept so much a secret, because of the frequency of this very thing… leaving people to get through their tragedies isolated and alone.
    I wonder how that convention arose.
    Anyway, really sorry for your loss, long ago as it might be – I think it's a very brave piece of writing.

  29. Such a wonderfully written post.

    It's appropriate that they use the term "suffered a miscarriage." I've had 3 of them and the emotional/hormonal upheaval was worse than any postpartum depression.

    Again, the writing was tender, yet strong and compelling.

  30. You know what I'm talking about, Ms moon.

    When I went for the first check up on my last pregnancy, the midwife asked how many pregnancies I'd had and for a minute there I thought three, as if already I had forgotten Horatio.

    But the midwife said to me, we count all pregnancies, miscarriages as well. I'm glad for that.

    My mother lost two babies, one still born and one at five months. She also had that miscarriage. When we were little after my last brother was born we used to say that my mother had eleven and a half children, as if the miscarriage counted only as a half.

    Sad stuff, Ms Moon.


  31. Thanks for the endorsement, Antares. It's not easy to comment on these sadnesses, I think, especially for our men, who must stand by the sidelines and grieve.

  32. There's a lot of sadness in the world. Tomorrow is International Women's Day. A lot of women in the third world have babies which are not welcome. Some mothers have to give their babies away for adoption. Later when the child is older, it starts looking for their birthmother and father if possible.
    There are also countries where the only right of women is to bear children and if a woman is abused and wants to leave her husband, she has to leave her children behind with her husband's family.
    Life is very hard on women in Africa, Asia and in many countries where religion is very strict and where it is believed that women are inferior beings. I can go on and on…

  33. Elisabeth- what a powerful post- hits me right in my middle- so often these sorts of things are swept under the carpet (not literally, one would hope!) and not spoken of- like they don't really count, after all there are other children…whatever that means. I reckon that is just the speaker unable to deal with the grief of it and throws out some sort of feeble attempt at making the sufferer feel better. LAME! Yes, this post hits me in the center- I still well up even though it has been many years ago that the most wanted one left before I could even name her. Thank you!

  34. Reaader Wil, I can understand that you could go on and on about the inequalities meted out to women. Today now is International Women's Day. I hope it has made a difference, if only to increase our recognition of these inequalities. Thanks, Reader.

  35. Thank you, John from Penal Colony. So much of our writing draws on metaphor, myths, symbols and archetypes. It makes life through writing more bearable. Thanks for visiting.

  36. Oh dear, Linda Sue, the memories fade, though they never disappear. I'm so sorry to hear that you too lost a loved one before you were even able to name her.

    Another one of those babies floating through the ether of our lives and experience, invisible perhaps but nevertheless loved.

    Thanks, Linda Sue.

  37. Ah Niamh

    It was a long time ago, but it's amazing how much the memories stay alive. An event that at the time felt underestimated by all but me, and to a lesser extent my husband.

    Thanks for your kind words.

  38. I agree with The Elephant's Child, that as a society we don't do death well, but this is a sane, philosophical post, it seems to me. It will be timely for a lot of people, so well done.

  39. I'm reading a lot of posts about motherhood these days – maybe that's just the pack I run with on blogger? Dunno.

    Wish I could say something illuminating, or talk to you as one mother to another, but "mother" is one role (and relationship) I'm hesitating on for as long as I can.

    I am so deeply, incredibly sorry for your loss, even if it was years ago and you have turned it more into a scar than a fresh wound. But there is something about loss, the way it echoes down the halls of our mind – it never really goes away, it never really gets replaced.

    Be well, Elisabeth.

  40. Hi Elisabeth:
    I dont know if it is due of my current mood, but seems like when someone is broken, the fissures and cracks around become more visible than ever. And when i read your final quotation "Someone has to go" I couldnt anything but agree with resigned meekness. Someone has to go, may suffer the ones who remain.
    Thanks for being there and for your words. And as usual, for your sincerity and braveness for sharing this with us.
    Keep well dear Elisabeth. And have a nice day.

  41. We don't do death well, Dave. I notice this as I grow older, but I've always known it even when I was young.

    It's not surprising really. After sex, death is the great unmentionable. Thank goodness for writers and artists and all manner of creative types who try to give it an airing.

    Thanks, Dave.

  42. The pack you run with perhaps has something to do with your age and stage of life, Phoenix. It's instinctive. I'm amazed at the number of my followers who fit my age and position in life. We must be drawn to one another. You, Tracy, are one of those wonderful exceptions, more the age of my oldest daughter, but I straddle any worlds. I still have a school age child. I relish this, it keeps me in with the mainstream to some extent and with life in general. the danger as we grow older is that we drop out. We need not drop out and yet me must take care not to try to be what we here call 'mutton dressed as lamb'. All this is a gar cry from my post about loss and yet life and death evoke such sentiments in me.

    Thanks, Phoenix, T.

  43. Mrs Bruyn was a tough old dutch woman but comfort would have been welcome I'm sure. She's dead now, no doubt and I wonder about her legacy beyond these words.

    Thanks, Kath.

  44. Dear Alberto. I don't know what ails you but clearly something troubles you at the moment. Thank you for visiting here.

    This is a sad post, however much it relates to the past, but your thoughts at the moment seem sadder.

    Take care my friend and thank you.

  45. A very beautifully written and powerful memory here, Elisabeth, threading connections across time, spanning missed connections of sorts. By way of coincidence, I read this just as I was thinking of posting something about a striking feature of some older rural churches that I have seen here in certain parts of Spain. The stone churches have inner and outer doors, separated by a dark completely unadorned chamber that one must pass through after entering the outer door and before going into the church itself. There is a rectangular opening in one of the walls. On visiting one such church, in the home village of a good friend, I asked him what the opening was for. The answer came as a shock. Babies that were stillborn or died within the first few days of life before being baptized were deposited there. Since they were not baptized, the church rules did not allow them to be buried in the holy ground of the cemetery behind the church or inside the church itself. The chamber was a way of leaving their remains within the church structure, as close as possible to the temple and holy ground. I was stunned by the conflicting emotions of horror, tenderness, woe, cruelty, mercy. In the 12 years or so since that experience, I have often wondered what it was like for the women who had their children’s remains under the stone chamber and yet went into the church every week or even every day for years and decades. What thoughts and prayers, laments and longings went unuttered between those walls? Somehow, your post today has taken me back to that stony limbo and made me think I can hear some of those unuttered pleas.

  46. How poignantly you tell of such monumental events. And how could healthy, surviving children erase the loss of those unborn? Depth and truth, requirements, as I am learning, of poetry, the willingness to give all that we have to the craft, are certainly present here. Masterful writing.

  47. Elisabeth, there are many unborn out there; your lovely lament recalls the poem by Norma Houen in the collection Hidden Desires, in which you have a story. Do you remember the lovely little poem, 'Ungathered', after Wordsworth's 'ungathered now like sleeping flowers'?The consolation in the poem is that the poet dreams herself another child, 'her face a mirror of love …she will be held/she will be named/she will not be left to sleep/ungathered'.

  48. This is such a sad story, Lorenzo. When I was little I puzzled over the concept of limbo, it made no sense to me. It seemed wrong to blame the babies, at least that's how I saw it then.

    I think you're right to wonder about those mothers whose babies' bodies were sealed within the church. Perhaps it was a comfort to them, but then again a reminder that their babies had missed out on baptism. It's hard to know and to judge these things by contemporary standards.

    Thanks, Lorenzo.

  49. Monumental events indeed, Marylinn. They stay with us. Thanks for your kind words here. I'd like to think of it as poetry of a type, but I'm not so sure. I think I feel safer with the notion of poetic prose.

    Thanks, Marylinn.

  50. Wordsworth certainly captured the pain of such losses, Christina. I often reflect on his poem 'We are seven' about a little girl who considers her dead baby sister and brother as very much part of her family.

    We keep the lost ones alive in our memories.

    Thanks, Christina.

  51. Thanks for your comment. I've just heard that the Tsunami alarm for Australia has been dropped. Thanks God. My daughter lives in the northeast of Queensland.

  52. Dear Elisabeth, thank you for your comment on "Up". And for your remembering my previous posts, you say you are haunted by my earlier words: I think they are haunting because I am haunted by a terrible loss that has changed my life utterly and left me in a "desert", I mean a desert of feelings and affections. I am living with a haunting absence at my side.

    Your latest post is very engaging, ( as the others, actually, constituting a sort of memoir) for the intense, direct reality it conveys.

    All my best, Davide

  53. Lovely, raw, and true. Hits home for anyone who has suffered a miscarriage, or wished for a baby. Nice to meet you Elisabeth!

  54. March 4th, 1972 was the first one. That day is never forgotten. There were three others and three made it. It has been tough for all women and perhaps their partners too and for centuries.
    I love your writing style here. There's a gentle feeling about it.

  55. Lovely to see you here, C, from the Swiss family. The loss of a child resonates with all of us, whether from death or failure to conceive. I suppose it's about connection and the future,when we can no longer be here. No parent wants to outlive her child.

  56. I'm so sorry to hear that you too lost your babies, Kleinstemotte. It's amazing how long we remember, the dates, the feeling, the sadness and loss.

    Thank you for your kind words here.

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