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Modern Consolation

Consolation literature met a need when people did not openly discuss maternal grief. In the 1970s several books were published that addressed the loss of a baby or child, as well as the mother’s need to express, and have acknowledged, the grief that attends such a loss. Simonds and Katz Rothman, comparing these books and other consolation literature (self-help books, clippings from women’s magazines, poetry, newsletters) from the 1970s to poetry of the nineteenth century, ask: why was women’s grief addressed in the nineteenth century and not at other times? One explanation is that women’s grief was valued because it “could be used to respond to the excesses of industrialization”.29 In essence women and clergy men were working to “validate and glorify death in America” toward a greater good.30

In an example from 1900, the “Baby’s Drawer”, by Anonymous, a mother describes the joy of her son’s birth, the event of his death and her subsequent grief and the clothing he will never wear:

Ah, the radiant summer morning,

So full of a mother’s joy!

Thank God he is fair and perfect,

My beautiful, new-born boy.

Let him wear the pretty white garments I wrought while sitting apart;

Many and Many an evening I sit since my baby came,

Saying, “what do the angels call him?”

For he died without a name.

Sit while the hours are waning,

And the house is all at rest,

And fancy a baby nestling Close to my aching breast31

Sometimes poetry reflects a parent’s regrets. In “A Silent House” by Pearl Eyetinge, in 1988, the mother laments “How oft I stilled the noisy chatter.. .and

wished the song and play would cease, or prayed for just one moment’s peace____

Ah! God! That I may be forgiven, And meet my little child in Heaven.”32

In some of the more recent literature of the 1970s, the insensitivity to mothers who have had a miscarriage or stillbirth is acknowledged. Ignorant outsiders try to console the aggrieved mother by expressing statements such as: “at least you didn’t know it well” or “you can always have another”, as if these souls were fleeting thoughts caught and released, never to be visited again. Other poems describe the anguish a mother suffers during a miscarriage. Marion J. Helz Perry, in 1983, writes “I dreamed of a baby. ..Just at the time you would have been born...Why did that dream have to come when you should have.” In “The Lost Children” Barbara Crooker describes how miscarried children pervade lives of their parents. The loss is timeless:

The ones we never speak of- Miscarried, unborn, Removed by decree

Taken too soon, crossed over.

They slip red mittens in our hands,

Smell of warm wet wool,

Are always out of sight.

We glimpse them on escalators,

Over the shoulders of dark-haired women;

They return to us in dreams.

We hold them, as they evanesce;

We never speak their names How many children do you have?

Two, we answer, thinking three...

They are always with us

The lost children come to us at night And whisper in the shells of our ears.

They are waving goodbye on school buses,

Separated from us in stadiums,

Lost in shopping malls;

At the beach they disappear behind the first wave.33

Another poem, from 1990, represents the voice of a pregnant mother comforting her friend who had experienced ten miscarriages and a recent stillbirth. In this poem, “Giving away the Layette”, the grieving mother gives away the baby clothes that she has collected but were never worn. The poem concludes with a consolation by the author: “We will sit by you.For however long it takes. Your labor is not yet over. Mine will be light.”34

From these selections we can ascertain that while death of the young was frequent, grief was a natural and expected reaction. In ancient societies the literature indicates that there was a line that must not be crossed when it came to self-restraint; grief must be commensurate with the child’s age at death. Later, in the twentieth century, it became much more widely accepted to grieve openly.

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