Skip to main content

Does not have to be a secret


The sadder the news, the less likely people are to mention it. The moment I lost my innocence about such things, I saw how careless I’d been myself.

Twice now I have heard the story of someone who knows someone who’s had a stillborn child since Pudding has died, and it’s all I can do not to book a flight immediately, to show up somewhere I’m not wanted, just so that I can say, It happened to me, too, because it meant so much to me to hear it. It happened to me, too, meant: It’s not your fault. And You are not a freak of nature. And This does not have to be a secret.

That’s how it works. When a baby dies, other dead children become suddenly visible: daughters and sons. First cousins. The neighbor kid. The first child. The last child.

All those dead children. Who knows what they want? In our better moments, we surely understand that the dead do not need anything. Afterlife, no afterlife: the dead have their needs taken care of. Oh, but isn’t wanting things something else again, and don’t we talk about it all the time. It’s what he would have wanted. Her last wishes. Thankfully someone is capable of making a decision in the worst of times: He would have liked it that way.

But a baby. Who’s to say? Babies are born needing everything. They’re a state of emergency. That’s what they’re for. Dead, there’s nothing we can do for them, and we don’t know what they’d want, we can’t even guess. I can pretend that I knew Pudding. No, I did know him, not with my brain but with my body, and yet I know nothing about him, not even the simplest thing: I have no idea of what he’d want. And so, in my grief I understand that mourning is a kind of ventriloquism; we put words into the mouths of our bereavers, but of course it’s all entirely about us, our wants, our needs, the dead are satisfied, we are greedy, greedy, greedy, unseemly, self-obsessed. If your child did not survive his birth, everyone can see that clearly. I want. I need. Not him. No pretending.

I thought stillbirth was a thing of history, and then it happened to me, and yet now when I hear of a baby dying, I’m just as incredulous. You mean they still haven’t figured this out? I want to hear about every dead baby, everywhere in the world. I want to know their names, Christopher, Strick, Jonathan. I want their mothers to know about Pudding.

The dead don’t need anything. The rest of us could use some company.

An Exact Replica of a figment of my imagination by Elizabeth McCracken