Life in the Deadwood

by Katherine Ahl

      Most people thought that things had just gone back to my not being pregnant. There was going to be a baby, and now there wasn’t. People couldn’t grasp that there was a body to bury. I needed to talk to someone who had been through it and could say I know. I know!  So, a month after my daughter died, I was pleased to be introduced to Harriet, who had also suffered the death of her first baby in childbirth.
      We met at the Park Theatre Café, and Harriet was old. Possibly as old as me. She had coarse, greying hair and craggy skin, and when she smiled, she revealed a tangle of discolored teeth. I was relieved that she wasn’t one of the young, peachy-skinned mothers I’d met at my antenatal classes, with fragrant hair and Breton striped tops in organic cotton. But then, those women had all had healthy babies. Harriet and I had not.
      I bought a cup of tea and sat down, and Harriet looked at me earnestly before asking, “Would you like to tell me about your daughter?”
      This was a polite convention in baby loss circles—and there are “baby loss circles”: communities online, of people who sometimes refer to themselves as “the babylost,” who speak of their dead children as “angels” and their subsequent, living children as “rainbows,” and who periodically produce guidelines about how to support someone whose baby has died. Often these guidelines are presented on YouTube, in that format that became popular in the late 2000s, distantly inspired by Bob Dylan via Love, Actually, where the protagonist holds up cue cards with handwritten phrases, and whisks through them, unspeaking, while blinking into the camera.
      The people who uploaded these videos may not have been so much younger than me, but they had grown up with the internet and all that entails. I tried to remind myself that these women were suffering, even as they fluttered doe eyes and tossed their hair to a plinky, plonky soundtrack of ukuleles and glockenspiels. Presumably they thought they were helping.
      The words on the cards the babylost women held up read along the lines of:
      Things not to say
      To a bereaved mother
      “Everything happens for a reason”
      “Time is a healer”
      “You can always have another baby”