lobsterchick's Diaryland Diary


Commencement Address

My favorite person in America right now.

10:49 AM - 05 June 2006



After one daughter (who is almost four) and two miscarriages since, my sister Lisa got pregnant in December.

She carried for five months.

Two Wednesdays ago, she called me.

"I hate to have to tell you this," she said, "but it's a boy."

"I don't care what he is, as long as you don't let him run wild."

Lisa called my mom last Friday, worried because she hadn't felt him move in a while. "I don't want to call the doctor, because it's still early to feel him move the way he has been. He'll think I'm crazy."

Saturday, when I asked her about it, she said he'd moved some, and that she felt better about the whole thing. We discussed names: Carter, Carson, Jack, Ethan...

Tuesday, my mom called me.

"I can't talk; I'm super busy."

"Okay, did Tom [my sister's husband] call you?"


"He Tom can't put your air conditioner in tonight. He -- hurt his foot."

"Okay. Then I'm not busy because I don't need to be out of here on time."

"And --"


Her voice broke. "The doctor can't find a heartbeat on the baby."

"Oh my God."

Struggling to keep it together, she went on, speaking with her breath instead of her voice. "Yeah... I'm sorry to call you with this at work."

"It's okay, Mom. What now?"

"She's going to the hospital tonight, and they're going to give her something... to make her... miscarry. I'm keeping Evie. In case you want to come over."

In my family, you don't ask for what you want. You plant obvious clues and wait for people to pick up on them.

So of course I went to my mom's house, and played store with Evie, who was buying a "pregnancy pillow." How would they tell her? I wondered. What would they say to a 4-year-old to make it make sense when it didn't make sense?

I went to work on Wednesday, on the edge of losing it. A conversation with Jamie on the way in sent me over the edge, and I started crying. I couldn't stop. No matter what I did, I couldn't stop crying. A coworker had to explain everything to my boss, who, of course, was like, what the hell?

"How far along was she?"

"Five months."

"Oh, yeah, they gave her something to induce."

I still didn't get it. Sometimes I'm not too quick.

She sent me home, for which I'm grateful. Things needed to be done, and my mom couldn't do them herself. The emotional burden was crushing her and she needed some shoring up. We dropped Evie off at my sister Kathy's; brought the dog to my mom's house; and finally, in the moment I didn't know if I could face, went to the hospital.

My sister wasn't as bad as I had imagined, mostly because she was on a morphine drip. She mentioned in an offhand way that it wasn't a miscarriage (saying that it wasn't fair to go through all that, and not get a baby out of it), and we continued to talk about what lay ahead, and all the stupid shit that was running through our heads, diverting us from what we would have to turn around and face ("I'm glad I didn't give my Six Flags ticket away," my sister said, "but damn... I just bought that maternity swimsuit").

As we left, I asked my mom what it was called, if it wasn't a miscarriage. "A stillbirth, I guess," my mom said.

The awful truth hit me. My sister would be forced to give birth to a dead baby. Obviously, I have no idea what normally happens in situations like this, but a Catholic hospital would never what would amount to an abortion, even though the fetus was dead, and even if that had been an option, my sister never would have done it. So she would go through labor. And give birth to a silent baby.

I took my sister's van back to her house, and as I drove down the highway, my phone rang.

"Hey," Tom said, "can you have your mom call me when you meet up with her? I need to find out who Kathy contacted with Cassandra."

Eighteen years ago, my sister gave birth to twins: One stillborn, the my niece Amanda, who is entering college in August. There had been a funeral.

I gave my mom the phone when I saw her, my explanation rushing out in a high-pitched breath, too afraid to trust my voice. She gave Tom the information he was looking for, then turned to me.

"He's crying."

"Can you at least hang up the damn phone before you start talking about him?"


"I'm sorry to snap, I just... they're going to have to name him."

And just like that, in my head, he wasn't a fetus, he was a real baby. Somehow the naming made him a baby, my sister's baby. My sister's dead child.

Later, my mom talked to Lisa. "That's a nice name," she said. "It's calming. Jack is too... hard. Rough."

She hung up. "They're naming him Ethan."

Oh, that was unbearable to me. It hardly seemed fair to have to name him, but to not would be tantamount to sacrilege. What a dark place to be in.

Out of necessity, certainly not choice, I had to be at Trivia Night that night. I had told Tom to leave me a message, and when I finally escaped the bar, I called him back.

"He was so cute," he said. "We got to hold him. He was so cute. He had a cleft palate. They said the cord was twisted, and that's why..." I struggled to hold it together until he told me his name, Ethan Thomas. Then I had to get off the phone, because a grieving parent doesn't need to hear other people cry.

Tonight I brought dinner to my sister's family, and after, when Lisa was giving Evie her bath, Tom showed me a box of things the hospital had given them, among which was a card with Ethan's footprints on it.

The one clear footprint was no bigger than the space between the knuckle and the tip of my thumb; I measured it. The tears came so quick they surprised me. "The smudge on the other footprint is courtesy of Evie," Tom said. I had to laugh.

"How big was he?"

"It says on there, nine inches long."

"I don't know how long that is." I've never been good with spatial relationships. "Show me."

So he held his hands apart, and I cried again.

The funeral is Monday, and in between now and then, and in the dark, dark days ahead, there will be more tears.

We will cry for what Ethan could have been, might have been, and for what he never knew. We will cry for the chances he wasn't given, for the many millions of lives he might have had. We will cry for the injustice of a tiny life, taken before given, built under the shadow of Death. We will cry for Ethan Thomas, who never got to cry.

12:01 AM - 03 June 2006


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