What would Cthulhu do?

We’ve achieved a little distance now, from October 15th, and the international candle-lighting in memory of lost pregnancies and babies. Let’s breathe out.

You know, it’s an awareness campaign I thoroughly approve of (there are so freaking many of us, and we may as well live in a biscuit tin at the back of the cupboard), and I, too, light my candles and think Dead Baby thoughts, as close to 7pm as I can make it. But I’m not sure its an awareness campaign that, in the end, is for or about me.

What? I hear you cry. But, May, dear girl, you’ve had seven miscarriages! Maybe more! OK, they were all ridiculously early, but they were miscarriages and this really is about you!

And all I can do is look uncomfortable and say, yes, you are quite right, it does include me, insofar as I have lost pregnancies. But there’s the problem right there. ‘Lost’. As if they’d gone down the back of the sofa or fallen out unnoticed in a taxi. As far as I’m concerned, my embryos died, and then I bled and bled and bled and wept and raged and went a bit weird and survived on Ben&Jerry’s and black humour for weeks.

And another problem – the sugar-pink and pastel-blue colour-schemes of these campaigns. I get why these colours – they are chosen to represent little baby girls, and little baby boys, and remind the world that what was ‘lost’ was just that – a child, with a gender, an identity, personhood.

However (and this is what I find… awkward) pastels, culturally, are used as a short-hand for ‘feminine’ – razors marketed for shaving legs, armpits and bikini-lines rather than chins are usually pastel-coloured; as are pens (*snort*), tampon boxes, bra-and-knicker sets, diet-food cartons, hair-clips, purses, vitamins for pregnant/menstruating/menopausal women, mobile phone cases ‘for the ladies’, and so forth. Note, things especially that relate to the more carnal, earthy, and bodily aspects of femaleness – armpit hair, periods, deodorants, being unacceptably zaftig despite the fact many women are supposed to have arses that shape oh my God – are marketed as pastel, as sweeter and daintier and cleaner and less fleshy than the actual reality. It’s unfeminine to have armpit hair and menstruate. And yet I cannot think of anything more female.

And so to the pastel colour-scheme of baby-loss. It is being presented as a feminine, dainty, bodiless thing. The babies are, euphemistically, ‘lost’, which is tragic, and remembered in soft sweet colours, which are non-threateningly not-ookie. And yet, every single woman who has miscarried or given birth to a dead child or had her baby die in her arms knows, really actually knows, that this was a bloody, bloody, painful, messy, ugly, process. It hurt physically as well as psychologically. There was blood and torn flesh and fluids and clots and snot and tears and vomit and no fucking dignity left whatsoever. It was not dainty. It was not ‘feminine’. It was intensely female, yes, and the female body is just that, a body. Made of meat. And this is terrifying.

Very well, so the non-threatening, babyish and feminine colours are ‘necessary’, to make the whole sorry mess publicly presentable – a ribbon you can wear on your coat without scaring small children, a subject you can raise without making your listeners rush away, fingers in ears. I do see that. But also, alas, it has the unfortunate side-effect of minimising miscarriage and infant death. They’re pastel. How can they possibly be a big deal? And anyway, they’re a lady thing, like periods.

So that’s another point – this pastel, feminine view of it all excludes not only the actual horrible truth of the experience, but it also excludes men.

You know, those human beings whose child it also would have been? Who were there when the woman they loved was bleeding and weeping and screaming? Who saw and held the tiny fragile body of their dead child? Who called the ambulance? Who paced the hospital corridors while the love of their life was having the remains of his DNA scraped out of her, away from him, away from anyone who would hold her with tenderness as it happened? The men who are also grieving? The men who already have no words, no place, no socially acceptable way of grieving? Who end up retreating into silence, anger, frustration, pretending it never happened? Because the only context in which the subject is dealt with is public is one of unrelenting, sanitised, saccharine, pastel femininity.

H and I were discussing my Halloween miscarriage of 2009, what with the anniversary approaching and me acting therefore like a harpy with PMS and a nettle in her knickers. H said he hadn’t really remembered it was that time of the year. And then he said he didn’t really ever think about it. And then he cried, because it had been so horrible, and he had been so scared. And it has taken him three years to say that out loud, even to me.

And a final point. The angels. There is a lot of talk, on miscarriage support sites that I have visited, of angels. The baby is now an angel. People say this even when they don’t seem to have any particular religious beliefs. And I do get it. How horrible to think your longed-for child has just… stopped. Ceased. Finished. Over. Gone. How necessary, how important, to be able to visualise them existing somewhere still, perfect in their innocence and freshness, waiting to be reunited with you.

But I am an atheist. And I don’t believe in an afterlife. So, actually, my longed-for children are passed on. These embryos are no more. They have ceased to be. They’ve expired and [not] gone to meet their maker! These are late embryos! They’re stiffs! Bereft of life, they rest in peace! If I hadn’t flushed them down the bog they would be pushing up the daisies! Their metabolical processes are of interest only to historians! They’ve hopped the twig! They’ve shuffled off this mortal coil! They’ve run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! These…. are EX-EMBRYOS!

And you know how much comfort all the ‘angels in heaven’ talk gives me? Absolutely bloody none. And not only that, it excludes me. I can’t talk about my totally tragically utterly dead embryos because that would be offensive to people who do believe in baby angels. And I very much do not want to offend and upset people who do believe in an afterlife, and who know their own babies actually really are angels in heaven. But that’s the point. I am never going to see mine again. They are not looking out for me in heaven, in the company of all the bloody-minded grouchy atheistical old bastards who they’re related to and who pre-deceased them.

I have a sadness that is full of rage and loneliness and black, black humour, and the organisations and support groups allegedly there to support women like me, well, simply don’t. And they have nothing to say to my husband either.

I am not feminine. I rarely shave my legs in winter. I don’t wear make-up unless someone’s getting married. I watch the rugby, I wear DMs, I drink Guinness. I wear sugar-pink and pastel-blue about as often as I pole-vault naked into crocodile enclosures. There is nothing demure or discreet about the way I menstruate. The only person I called an angel lately was H, when he cleaned the bath-tub and then ran a bath for me because my back was sore. At this candle-lighting virtual support meeting for pregnancy and infant loss, I am lurking at the back, clutching a glass of gin, lips firmly pressed together in case I start humming the Dead March from Saul. My husband hasn’t even been allowed in the room, and is, I think, sitting on the stairs in the cold, completely alone. And in a hydrangea sea of butterflies and cherubs, I am wearing a blood-red ‘What would Cthulhu do?’ teeshirt in Gothic black lettering, complete with tentacles.

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18 responses to “What would Cthulhu do?

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    This is so raw, so sad, so punchy… and yet you have moved seamlessly through John Cleese at his most iconic. Without losing an iota of meaning.

    It is not given to many to write this well.

    Cthulhu, I feel, would also lurk at the back, having donned a many-armholed t-shirt stating ‘May rules ok’.

  • Hat

    I do belive in God, and I want to scream and slap every idiot who says “God needed another angel” where they Heck to they GET that CRAP????? it is NOT COMFORTING TO ANYONE… and further more.. it is NOT supported by any actual scriptures in the Bible… Angels were created Angels.. No humans became angels, except for Jesus but he started as an Angel… but I digress

    May you deserve some peace… in what ever color you want. why would any one want to taint the colors that woudl inevitablty be plasterd all over actual baby shower wrapping should one be fortunate enough for an actual live birth happy healthy baby.

  • Jo.

    Love this so, so much. I, too, am an atheist and find no comfort at all in the idea of angels. My babies fucking died, and I willi not be a mother in heaven someday, even if I never manage it here on earth. They eu well have been my only chance, in any lifetime, and they are gone, totally and completely. Iam so glad you get that, and yet so fucking sad that you get that at the same time. Big hugs,May.

  • a

    And now, all I can picture is a parrot. A dead one. ;)

    I’m not much for group events or support – and I think of my losses differently. Some were of minor consequence. If I weren’t looking for it, I would never have known I was pregnant. Some were raw emotion, and they come to me at different times. My first loss was an actual baby – it was 11 weeks and I saw its (his, I am convinced) hand. Angels? Maybe that first one, but the rest were hardly even a few cells. My husband might do better in some sort of organized support thing…but probably not. He’s as bad as I am at expressing any emotion other than anger.

    Well, anyway. What I know is that there is no real comfort. At least not for me. There is just life, with a new dimension of regret for things entirely beyond my control.

  • manapan

    It secretly bugs me to no end since I am really quite the rabid atheist, but I call them angel babies anyway. I’ve gotten so used to blending in with the populace* that it just slips out. I often feel strange and like my support is lacking when I don’t offer prayers for healing and hope that they’ll one day be reunited with their supposed angels.

    There’s no real comfort anyone can offer to someone of any religious or non-religious persuasion in these situations anyway. Even if you eventually think, “Oh well. Another one in my deity of choice’s arms. We’ll be reunited one day.”, it hurts and it sucks that they’re not with you NOW. But I do agree that the nonbelievers get the short end of the stick, and definitely more so if they’re the father. I’m just not articulate enough to state it well.


    *Seriously, here the question “What religion are you?” has three choices: Methodist, Lutheran, or Catholic. Everyone else is believed to be part of a weird fringe group. And even the Catholics are thought of as “weird”, but they have numbers large enough that you can’t say it out loud.

  • chon

    There is so much pain here that can’t be fixed by I am sorry for your losses. Instead I send you screaming red and violet wishes to ease your pain.

  • Mina

    Even I have once been in your shoes, I still have no words of comfort. Especially since you were those bloody shoes so many times.
    I totally agree with you. And your stance on pastel colours is so spot on. And to think that red and its pale sister pink were the colours of boyhood in the beginning. Fickle humans we are.
    Abiding with you, my dear. And H.

  • elle

    I have only just discovered your blog and I am SO GLAD. There goes the rest of my weekend.

    As for this post, yes. You speak the truth most beautifully.

  • Valery Valentina

    Was there still some chocolate for H? (I hate how the crying can take it out of me) and for H, to carry that alone for 3 years…
    After the one twin vanished and I was terrified of losing the other, I dreamt of their funeral. Everyone was in black, formal. And wearing one blue and one pink pastel sock.
    In another dream I was pushing a double stroller, one side with a normal baby bed-thing the other with a tiny coffin.
    So in my dreams I dare to wear my grief on the outside, to share and shock. When awake though? DP just looks at me like I’m crazy, so haven’t dared to share this.
    Thank you for pointing out that grief is such an ugly thing, and that tying ribbons around it doesn’t work for non-angel people.

    BTW that Bic For Her Medium Pen *snort* indeed. It looks like it has some secret home (office?) pregnancy test built in or something.

    Hugs.
    and pumpkin muffins (glutenfree of course)

  • notundecided

    I’m an atheist, too, and so must heartily agree that the whole angel, angelversary terminology is nauseous. I get that it comforts some people, and that’s fine, but…yuck. I also am anti: winter-shaving, pastels, casual use of makeup. You’ve described very well how the October 15th activities, while I’m grateful for the opportunity to raise awareness and hopefully help others find much needed support, still make me squirm – it is the religiosity and femininity of it all that makes me feel like I don’t quite fit the mold. As usual, you’ve hit the nail on the head, precisely!

  • Emily Erin

    Thank you as always for an enlightening view of the deep suckatude. Your words are so accurate, and I, as someone religious finds the angel thing a bit off putting, to wrap it up in pastel ribbons and talk of angels makes it safe and tidy, not soul wrenching and bloody. Thank you for this post, and for pointing out again how invisible the men tend to be in these conversations.

  • Denise

    I love this post. We are women- hear us roar! ha ha. I’ve been glad that my hubby was stationed in Germany for several years as a late teen/early 20′s. He saw lots of german women at beaches (including nude beaches) with lots of normal body hair so not only does he think it’s Normal- he actually likes it! He also dislikes makeup so I don’t feel pressure to wear any (which I don’t like to anyway.) It’s so great to have a partner who likes me in my ‘natural’ state and I don’t have to do all this weird crap to my body to feel beautiful to him. And if I don’t look beautiful to anyone else- well I don’t care a bit. Like you, I’m an atheist and I’ve always felt somehow ‘guilty’ that I couldn’t jump in on all that ‘dead baby is an angel’ stuff. Now, I don’t rain on anyone’s parade and tell them they’re full of shit when they say that, because I get it- they’re trying to feel better about something awful. Sometimes I’m even jealous- I wish that stuff COULD make me feel better- that stuff being religion and thinking there’s some sort of higher order and ‘reason’ to how stuff works out- even the most awful stuff. I just don’t believe it. And I never will unless I have a stroke or go mad. Just to let you know that there are others of us out there- who know that this one turn on the earth is all we’ve got, and our dead embryos/babies are just…. gone. I’m with you in the back of the room- with my FSM shirt- probably with white wine though- and red is my FAVORITE color. It’s vivid- it’s for life blood- it’s for fire- it’s for passion- it’s for LIFE.

  • Teuchter

    Such powerful writing, May.
    Thinking of you all xx

  • Elizabeth :: Bébé Suisse

    This post speaks to me in a way that candle-lighting and pastel ribbons do not. I appreciate the sentiment of the Day and think public awareness could well be raised, but would find little comfort for myself in undergoing those rituals. I really appreciate your writing here.

  • Katie

    I do believe in God also, but babies do not become angels, and I actually regard it as insulting to my beliefs when people who don’t have any particular religious beliefs spout this sort of pap. It’s nothing to do with what I believe.

    I’m also a bit iffy about the cheesy term “Rainbow Babies” (don’t know if you’ve seen this, for babies born after a loss). Partly it’s that the expectation is almost always that the baby is a bio kid of the family and partly it’s just, well, cheesy.

  • Womb For Improvement

    I don’t hold with angels in heaven stuff either. If it helps folk great – for me it doesn’t.

    I was talking to the husband about what to do on the 21 of December – my due date – the other day. Our conclusion? Go to work. Have a normal day. Frankly I have enough shit to contend with than to add to the pile by creating a special day to mourn. I sure some people won’t think it is healthy but I do mourn, when it hits me and I feel like it, I’m not about to schedule in a grief day. Loss awareness if great for training people who aren’t aware, but we already are. I don’t want to be tied to that.

  • Kylie

    I don’t think that there is much more to say other than word, which is about ten years out of date. Thank you for expressing those thoughts so eloquently.

  • Laurel

    This is probably stating the totally obvious but I’m guessing you wouldn’t give a shit about the pastel colors and ridiculous theology if you felt, at the same time, that there was a truly open and honest (and, yes, all-inclusive of men) forum for discussing the brutal, bloody, grief-packed, fury-filled, insert the emotions here realities of pregnancy loss and infertility. The pastels and angels are precisely so vomitous because they’re another way of denying reality or of dictating the way we grieve (i.e. making it as palatable and friendly for everyone else as possible). It’s almost more offensive than plain silence because it’s so sanitized, and that bowdlerization of your deepest and most intimate grief and loss represents yet another attack.

    Your blog in all its bloody, grief-stricken detail (but also humor and excellent writing, it’s no trainwreck kind of thing) is, I think, a very important antidote to all that. I know it is probably not any solace whatsoever to be an antidote.

    I’m sorry it sucks so very hard.

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