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A Baby Alive

Heads up: this post may have triggers for you if you’ve experienced pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or neonatal death.  Tread carefully and close without reading if you’re in a raw space.

The ChickieNob made a potential gift list for her birthday; things she would love for someone to get her.  Josh warned me that the list would break my heart before he handed it to me.  I started reading it aloud:

I wish for a kitty for me and the Wolvog to share.

I wish for a sister.

I wish for a baby alive.

I wish for some nightgowns.

I wish for some new shoes.

I wish for some little plants.

I snorted on the first one (there is no chance in hell that I am getting yet another pet when I am the only person who truly cares for Cozy Jackson).  And I paused on the second.  And then I busted on through and read the third, adding in the word “gross” afterwards.

“Gross is your reaction?” Josh asked incredulously.

“I’ve heard horror stories from people who have them.  You feed it the ‘food’ and then it starts rotting on the inside of the doll and smells after a while.  I’m not getting her a Baby Alive unless she agrees not to feed it, and then what is the point?”

Josh stared at the list again and said, “It’s a doll?  I thought she meant she wants a baby… who is alive.”

“Oh.” I paused.  “No, Baby Alive is a doll.”

But isn’t it just six of one, half dozen of the other if we’re going to focus on the request for a sister?  The wish for a Baby Alive?


The ChickieNob knows vaguely about miscarriage.  By which I mean that she has asked what happened to all the other babies the doctor tried to put in my belly.  But the two of us had a girls night out a few weeks ago: just two ladies out on the town, getting dinner with one another, riding the train at the mall, trying on dresses just for the sake of trying on dresses, getting chocolate cake at the diner.  It was a night of questions.  We were talking about something else — I don’t even remember what; perhaps vacations we might want to take in the future — when she asked, “how can a baby die right after its born?”  She had read a biography of Betsy Ross which mentioned that she had two daughters who died in infancy.

Which brought us into an age-appropriate exploration of stillbirth and neonatal death.  The focus at first was on the baby, and then slowly she switched to thinking about the mother, essentially asking in thirty different ways how someone could possibly grieve through that.  How life could go on after that.  I didn’t have a good answer for her, but instead just let her ask the question as many times as she needed to ask it before she went on to the next thought.

I’ve always thought it was a failure by the medical community to not prepare women better for the possibility of pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or neonatal death.  That it does women a disservice to imply that all children are born.  It’s great if your life follows that continuum: sex = baby = birth = rest of life.  But for anyone who doesn’t, I feel like it’s an extra cleaving: not only is your heart split in half from the actual event, but in addition, you were essentially promised via language choices that this could never come to be.  And suddenly, it is.  How do you trust again after that?

My intense love for the ChickieNob turned me into a total hypocrite.  “I want you to know how rare it is,” I lie, knowing full well the statistics for miscarriage as well as stillbirth and neonatal death.  And beyond that, statistics don’t really matter when you fall on the wrong side of them.  Rare is only rare if it doesn’t happen to you.  “That you will most likely never experience that.  I don’t want you worrying about this.  But if it did ever happen, I would be there for you, I would hold you and love you and take care of anything I could take care of.”

Because what else do you say other than that?


Rather than focus on the doll or the request for a sister, we dissected the rest of her list, laughing that she sounded like a little girl living in the shtetl in 1914.  Just some nightgowns.  A new pair of shoes.  A little bit of green to brighten up the dreariness of the tenement house.  Part of me feels that we did something very very right if she is asking for clothing and ficuses rather than Bratz.  And part of me sometimes worries me that we’re doing something very very wrong.  Not for any one reason, but because I think all parents worry that they are doing or saying something that will forever change the fabric of their child.  And I want to walk that fine line between telling the truth and quelling fears, leaning heavier on the side of quelling fears with the hope that she will never know anything otherwise.  That I will not have inadvertently created the cleaving I judge the medical community for.


1 Courtney { 05.31.12 at 8:09 am }

My little sister is almost 11 and is still unsure about the birds and the bees. She has no idea where babies come from (that I know of). They were with us for a few days, and she had to go to the RE with us. Before she even asked questions, I told her that all of the people in the waiting room wanted to become parents. She’s always talking about my husband and I having babies, and she wants us to have all girls. I did tell her that we couldn’t have a baby easily. I’m afraid now that she thinks you have to go to the doctor to have a baby. =) I hope I haven’t filled her head with more questions. Maybe in the next few years I’ll be able to explain to her better…

2 Kristin { 05.31.12 at 8:13 am }

Wow. between you, Josh, and Miss ChickieNob, you had me laughing, feeling deep sadness, and sighing wistfully within the same post. I got a good giggle when you explained why Baby Alive’s were gross and when I read Josh’s misunderstanding of what a Baby Alive is. At the same time, my heart was filled with so much sadness that you’ve been down a path that led to Josh thinking that way.

And, reading about your girls day out with ChickieNob was where the wistfulness came in. While the conversation would be a tough one to deal with, the whole idea of a girls day out made me long for what I might never have. BTW, I think you handled the topic of loss brilliantly with ChickieNob.

3 a { 05.31.12 at 8:36 am }

My daughter recently discovered A Baby Story on TLC, and now she watches that every chance she gets. She’s not very interested in how the babies come about – she only wants to know how to get them out (she really doesn’t want to have a c-section). The other day, the woman had to have an emergency c-section because the baby’s heart rate was dropping and not coming back. We had a long discussion about what that meant, which eventually came around to “You mean the baby could die?” Yep. And that was that. We haven’t discussed miscarriage yet. I think I’ll save that for when she’s 20-something – although I doubt she’ll let me.

I saw the list, and it sounds like something my girl would write. And when I saw the “baby alive,” I thought “she means that disgusting doll, right?” I’m just relieved that, around here, the requests for a baby have dwindled to once every week or two these days…

4 Tiara { 05.31.12 at 8:46 am }

That list took my breath away. In my opinion, you’re doing something very right in your parenting of the ChickieNob & the Wolvog…mistakes & all.

5 Chickenpig { 05.31.12 at 9:25 am }

I had a Baby Alive when I was about 3 and I thought it was the bomb! I think, though, that there are cleaner alternatives these days.

I think you are doing something right. My daughter is an insatiable ball of neediness. Everything she sees she wants. And it’s not like we spoil her, so I don’t know how she got this way. The list of stuff she wants for her birthday now is longer than my arm, but she is only getting one or two things from us. I wish she only wanted a nightgown and a pair of shoes 🙁 She wants a baby brother or sister too, and my due date would have been a couple of weeks before her birthday this year. Yeah.

6 gwinne { 05.31.12 at 9:29 am }

Oh, yeah. My daughter also so desperately wanted a sibling, and we had many conversations about why that might not happen (distilled into soundbites like “old eggs that might not be able to make babies anymore”). But she never asked about miscarriage/baby loss, and I didn’t tell her. If she does, I’m sure I’ll end up saying something similar to what you told ChickieNob.

7 MeAndBaby { 05.31.12 at 10:46 am }

Wait, they still make Baby Alive? Ewe!

I love reading about your talks with the twins. I am taking notes for when my boys get older! Thanks for sharing.

8 Flmgodog { 05.31.12 at 10:53 am }

Having been through loss so many times after my daughter I didn’t give a second thought to “Baby Alive”. Before “the brothers” arrived we talked a lot about baby/babies alive. We had to have the discussion lots of times about why sometimes babies are in mom’s belly but then they don’t get to come home. It’s a hard discussion to have with your 3,4,5 year old.
Now that we have “the brothers’ she would probably put something like Baby Alive on her list and I would understand that it meant the doll.
This hits way too close to home for me. Hoo, deep breaths here.

9 noswimmers { 05.31.12 at 11:05 am }

Sounds like you have a mighty smart, compassionate girl on your hands. That in itself tells me what a fantastic mama you are.
Tough subject.

10 Tigger { 05.31.12 at 11:06 am }

I think you handled it well. You managed to give her the information she desires, with scaring her into never having children. I am thankful that I most likely wont’ have to have these discussions with Cole at an early age – maybe not even until he’s a teenager or married!! I hope that whenever it does come around, though, that I can handle it with such aplomb.

11 Jo { 05.31.12 at 11:16 am }

I love this post, right on down to the bottom of my toes. There is so much depth, and raw emotion, and yet it is so ordinary at the same time. I envy your ability to capture that and make it accessible to everyone else.

Oh, and clearly you re doing it “right” though I loathe putting value judgements on parenting styles. What works for one doesn’t work for everyone. Still, I could not have crafted a better response to the Chickienob than you did. I wish you worried less, though I myself would, too. You are a fantastic parent.

12 loribeth { 05.31.12 at 11:17 am }

Great, now I have the old “Baby Alive” TV ad jingle playing in my head. ; ) (“Baby Alive, soft and sweet… she can drink, she can eat…”)

Many of the parents who came to our pg loss support group had older children. I was just in awe of how they handled these tough questions, & of how well some of them integrated the lost baby brother or sister into the family. And then to see these kids together at some our group events, talking about their siblings to each other, all in a very matter of fact way, just blew my mind.

13 Denver Laura { 05.31.12 at 11:31 am }

Yeah, I used to have a Baby Alive when I was little. But I think all it did was drink and pee.

My daughter is too young to start asking for a sister. But since we’ve taken in a foster child who is the same age, my 20 month old daughter asks me everyday, “baby go bye-bye?” She is ready NOT to have a sister, lol.

14 KeAnne { 05.31.12 at 11:40 am }

Your children amaze me! Such old, wise souls in such little bodies. And I think you are doing it right.

15 Mud Hut Mama { 05.31.12 at 11:49 am }

I read the list the same way as Josh and it took my breath away. What a sweet girl you have and what a beautiful post. I hope I can handle all the hard questions as well as you when my girls are older and your bit about the tenement house cracked me up. It’s no small thing to have children who appreciate the little things in life.

16 Lacie { 05.31.12 at 12:02 pm }

Wow. This post had me all over the place. I was smiling at CN’s list (little plants and nightgowns? Bah! So cute!) and shaking my head at the request for a little sister and a kitten (because neither of those things come easily, maybe the kitten would come easily but with all kinds of baggage and the baby sister, well, not so easy). Then, there was this.
“But if it did ever happen, I would be there for you, I would hold you and love you and take care of anything I could take care of.”

Because what else do you say other than that?”
That brought tears. That is exactly what my mom did for me both times I had to endure the devastating process of a D&E. She was there for me for every step of the agonizing ordeals in a way that my husband could not have been. She let me stare in silence for long periods of time. She never asked me anything but rather waited, ready to listen to whatever I needed to say. She made sure that the medical staff was attentive. She came to my bedside with a basin when I vomited in recovery. She brushed the hair out of my face and let me cry and cry and cry when the nurses were too uncomfortable to make eye contact with me. She made sure that I was comfortable on the ride home and helped me onto my sofa. She set me up with plenty of fluids and snacks and got the t.v. ready for me. She left me and went home when I needed to be alone.

Your response was perfect. You are a good mom.

17 Sharon { 05.31.12 at 12:11 pm }

Wow, your little girl is a deep thinker. I remember hearing about my aunt’s multiple miscarriages when I was about her age and having no idea what that meant. And I never asked anyone.

Oh, and for what it’s worth: I had a Baby Alive when I was a little girl, and I don’t recall her living up to her billing. 🙂

18 It Is What It Is { 05.31.12 at 12:41 pm }

I had a Baby Alive. Go with your gut, don’t do it.

That said, after I read #2, it did cross my mind if #3 meant ‘live sister’, not knowing the mind of a 7 year old. I wonder if anyone who hasn’t struggled to get or stay pregnant would have ever read it that way.

I want her to have every one of those things but mostly to have a memorable birthday which with you and Josh as her parents is a given.

19 Heather { 05.31.12 at 12:48 pm }

I love her list. Looks like something Phoebe would write. She does want a cat, but DH is very very allergic. I’ve been giving Phoebe dribs and drabs of infertility issues I’ve had over the years. I hope she never has to experience any of them.

Hmmm, yes baby alive. It reminds me when I was pregnant with the twins and I was at a party. There was a woman there – friend of a friend – who I’d met before and didn’t care for too much. She seemed too abrasive. When she heard me talking about the pregnancy and she said, “You know just cause you’re pregnant with twins doesn’t mean you’re going to bring home twins.” Ouch. Especially since I had a close friend who lost one of her twins while she was even in the hospital being monitored. I knew that, but tried not to dwell on it, because DBTs don’t help a thing. I did tell her about that and told my friend her friend better stay away from me or I was going to deck her, LOL!

20 Trisha { 05.31.12 at 2:24 pm }

I think you handled it very well. There is a time to be honest and a time to protect for the harsh truths of life. Let her be an innocent child and not carry the burden of the world on her shoulders. I’d give anything to be that innocent again. To believe that sex=pregnant=birth=happily ever after.

Even after all I’ve gone through this year, seen the heartache of so many others, there was still a part of me that believed for me at least that pregnant=birth. But life does not work out that way and I lost my pregnancy after only a week and half of bliss. I’d give anything to be innocent again. I have to agree with you that the medical community does not prepare us for this, even my RE did not.

I think you are a great mother. Let ChickieNob think all the good things for now. And maybe get her some new shoes for her birthday. 😉

21 Alexicographer { 05.31.12 at 2:34 pm }

Like Mud Hut Mama, I read this the same way as Josh. But, either way …

I have a stepson and a stepdaughter and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that my son considers his adult half-siblings his brother and sister. The one time someone asked him if he wanted a sister (and it wasn’t an obnoxious question as it came from his same-age cousin whose mother was expecting a daughter) he looked at her as if she had just grown two heads and said, “I HAVE a sister [you moron].” Yes, you do, my love, and she is a delight, and I am so grateful you do not long for more, though I have longed for more.

I don’t know about the whole miscarriage/stillbirth/loss thing. I mean, I get it: knowledge is power. But then again, ignorance is bliss (except when it isn’t). I think there’s a fine line to walk (in many realms of life) between knowing what can go wrong and enjoying the possibility of things going right.

22 missohkay { 05.31.12 at 9:09 pm }

“Rare is only rare if it doesn’t happen to you.” – had me in tears.

23 jjiraffe { 06.01.12 at 12:05 am }

I am sobbing reading this. Oh, ChickieNob. I don’t know how the mothers survive such a thing either. And what touches me so much is that she thought of them.

I wish more people would 🙁

24 Esperanza { 06.01.12 at 12:33 am }

Oh Baby Alive. Those things are creepy, if I remember correctly.

I wonder about the conversations my mom and I had after my sister died, when we used to being her pinwheels when we visited her grave. I don’t remember much of that, just that she was a part of our life and made us sad and happy at the same time. I was always mad she couldn’t stay. I so wanted a sister.

I don’t remember being as upset about the sons my mom lost. I don’t think she talked about them as much, as they were late miscarriages/early still births. I just know that baby death had a huge presence in my own childhood. It was hard.

Chickienob is an amazing girl. Probably because she has such an amazing mother.

25 Justine { 06.01.12 at 9:17 am }

How I love this post.

(And weird … for some reason your posts didn’t pop up in my reader until today … !!! egad! I’ve missed my daily dose of Stirrup Queens!)

I have had a few talks with I. about miscarriage. One about neonatal loss. He doesn’t yet know that he has lost potential siblings, only that other mommies have lost their babies. He knows that when that happens, sometimes we send them packages, or cards, and that we are sad with them, and try to hold their hands, even if they’re far away. I haven’t given him a statistic, because I don’t think he can grasp that yet … but I do think that when the time comes, I will tell him the truth. Because as scary as it is, he needs to know. Because even though I love my husband, and he did his best, I want my son to be able to empathize even more if that ever happens to him.

That said, Chickienob *is* an amazing, compassionate, thoughtful little girl … which tells me that you’re doing one hell of an awesome job raising her to be a strong, amazing, compassionate, thoughtful woman … like you.

26 Erica { 06.01.12 at 7:14 pm }

Several of Dot’s classmates (well, daycare mates – they’re toddlers) have new younger siblings. She often says “My mommy has a little baby,” and it makes me smile and wince all at the same time. I wish I could fly through time and space and fix the universe and save her big brother for her. For me, too, but also for her.

I love the way you talk to the ChickieNob, the way you treat her questions with so much respect and thoughtfulness and insight. I feel like what you told her was just right. Her understanding of these things will grow as she does, and your conversations will reflect that, I think.

27 luna { 06.06.12 at 1:42 am }

I do think your response was spot on. what else can you say? what else can you do? and yours was the kind of lie that needs to be told to protect the fragility of innocence at her tender age. it’s hard enough to know it happens, to feel empathy for grieving mothers, to articulate those difficult questions. you not only held her hand through that harsh reality but also demonstrated through your own actions and words what “abiding” truly is, as she processed an ugly truth. what else could you do, indeed. bravo, once again.

and you are so right about the medical establishment. when so many millions suffer infertility and 1 in 3 pregnancies ends in miscarriage, there should be far greater focus on loss in family planning/building education.

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