Child Death
Stillbirth > Poetry & Prose

By various contributing authors

KotaPress Editor's Note

This article includes many pieces of poetry and prose from authors like Barbara Crooker, Lisa Kunkel, Poppy Hullings, Brian Mayer and more. Please surf the entire length of the page to see all that is offered.

This first pieces comes from Yo'Mama! a one act play set in a post-natal yoga class. Each monologue explores some aspect of new motherhood. The extraordinary thing about this play is that it includes a monologue about new motherhood after stillbirth. Ms. Arnet has given equal weight and voice to the parenthood of all mothers -- regardless of the outcome of birth, live or still. That's pretty amazing considering how most stillbirth parents are simply ignored to shoved into silence. If you like what you see here, check out the Yo' website and find out how you can arrange a reading in your city!


by Heather Arnet

Someone asked earlier if Hope had had her baby yet? I know some of you know her from the pre-natal class. I did get a call a few days ago from Hope and she asked me to share with you her birth story. She had a little girl, Nevada, last week. Hope was about one week over her due date. This was her first child. Like most of you she was anticipating going into labor, looking forward to it, feeling like she couldn't possibly get any bigger. She could barely fit into any of her maternity clothes anymore, and she and Steven had finished painting and decorating the baby's room. Even the crib had arrived so they were all set. Like most first time moms she found the waiting unbearable. Each braxton hicks contraction brought images of a mad rush to the hospital. But she never did go into labor herself. On Thursday she went in for a routine stress test before work. They wrapped her tummy with a heart rate monitor for the baby and put that cold jelly on her stomach in preparation for the ultrasound. The doctor started to roll the ultrasound paddle over Hope's tummy. After several minutes she asked when the last time was that Hope felt the baby move. She said it had been a pretty quiet morning, but she remembered feeling kicks the night before. The doctor said, I'm sorry, Hope, but your baby has no heartbeat. They called Steve and the doctor gave Hope a choice of having a C-section or vaginal birth. She chose to bear her baby without surgery. She said that she had come so far she wanted to know what it felt like to bear a baby into this world. So, they induced with pitocin and twelve hours later Nevada was born still. She was 6 lbs. 10 oz., 19 inches long. Steve said that the silence that filled the delivery room as they handed Nevada to Hope to hold a first and final time was deafening. The baby had evidently gotten wrapped up in her umbilical chord, perhaps as she was preparing to enter the birth canal. Something they couldn't have predicted or stopped. Hope wanted me to share her story, the way I have told all of your birth stories in class, because she had been looking forward to joining this class after Nevada was born. I told her of course she was still welcome, her body has just gone through nine months of pregnancy and birth just as we did, and it too will need a way to heal itself, but she said hearing your stories of your children, would be too difficult for her. I visited with her yesterday at her home. She has been spending a lot of time in Nevada's lavender nursery. It is heartbreaking to see her sit in that rocking chair with empty arms surrounded by the bunny rabbits and teddy bears that she and Steve had painted on the walls to welcome their little girl home. Hope is now a mother too. A mother who will never get to hold her baby or sing to her or hear her first words but still she will always be Nevada's mother. I am telling you this because Hope wanted me to, but also because we talk so much in this class about our struggles with motherhood and our fatigue and confusion and our terror at being swallowed whole into motherhood and Hope has reminded me that indeed we are changed immediately from the moment we decide to become mothers. Whether we bear our children, outlive our children, adopt our children, or welcome a partner's children, we become mother's immediately when these children enter our lives. From that moment we are changed. I hope it doesn't mean we can never again be who we were before, or listen to loud music, or curse, or fit into a favorite pair of jeans, or stay out all night, or make wild love to our partners, or decide to have more children, or become famous. But it does mean that we are permanently changed. Our children are a part of us forever just as Nevada will always be a part of Hope and Steven's life. (pause) So, our hour is almost up. It's time to close our class with some toning. As always we will chant a round of Ohm, and then the primal sounds Ah and Ma and then conclude with another round of Ohm.

About the Author

Heather Arnet, the playwright and director of Yo' Mama! was honored in May 2003 with an award for "Art and Activism" from the Thomas Merton Center. Recently, she directed the world premiere of Yo' Mama! at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in June 2003, for which she was awarded a PA Partners grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to direct it again at the Center for Creative Play (where it will run from April 28 - May 16, 2004). Arnet also received support for this production from a Seed Award from the Sprout Fund. Other Pittsburgh credits include her direction of Beth Amsbary's Priestess of Plenty at the Frick Historical Museum, and the writing and direction of her play Superheroes, Artists, and Other Fly Things which she performed at Ground Zero's Making A Scene, UnBlurred 2002, and at the Gist Street Reading Series. She has directed for the NYC International Fringe Festival, New York New Playwrights Festival, NYC Shakespeare Festival and MOMA Stage to Screen Festival. Most recently in NYC, Arnet collaborated with Joyce Carol Oates, on a new stage adaptation of Oates' I Stand Before You Naked, produced by Women's Expressive Theatre at the Harold Clurman Theatre on 42nd Street. Heather is currently preparing to direct a new play by Sallie Patrick, Twelve, about population restrictions and resulting gender discrimination in China for the Half The Sky Foundation timed for the 2005 Chinese New Year. Arnet is a member of the executive staff of City Theatre and has a Bachelor's degree from Carnegie Mellon University in English and Drama.


Still Birth & Stillbirth

by Barbara Crooker


In night's shelter, beneath the crust
Of frozen earth, sleeps my first
Child, first love, part of the dust
And rocks, first bed a grave.

Do you sleep, child of sightless eyes,
Did you once in crystal lining
See the reds of my womb glow as the skies,
My heartbeat your wind and thunder?

Is there comfort in the covered earth,
Warmth more than my thin arms
That waited, to hold you at birth,
Could ever give you?

In the frozen ground, maples bud
Drawing sap from the steely earth.
You lie immured, my still heart's blood,
A sculpture, perfect in your purity.

They brought me flowers: iris, a rose
Into the cavern of my room:
Starched sheets, drifted pillows
The year that spring forgot my heart.

Never having seen your face,
Your memory in me shines
Like the band of prismed space
That always sets the evening sky.

Previously published in Bereavement, 1989


She said, "Your daughters
are so beautiful.
One's a copper penny,
the other's a chestnut colt."
But what about
my first daughter,
at term,

Ten years later
and I sift the ground
for clues: what was
it I did?
Guilt is part
of my patchwork;
grief folds me up
like an envelope.

In the hospital,
the doctors turned
their eyes, told me
not to leave
my room.
But I heard them,
those babies in the night,
saw women from Lamaze
in the corridor.
They would be wheeled home
with blossoms & blankets,
while I bled the same,
tore the same,
and came home, alone.

women showered me
with stories
of babies lost:
to crib death,
the baby
that my best friend
gave up at fourteen.

They wouldn't let me hold her:
all I saw were glimpses:
a dark head,
a doll's foot,
skin like a bruise,
They wouldn't let me name her,
or bury her,
or mourn her.
Ten years later
and I do not have
the distance:
I carry her death
like an egg
in my pocket.

Previously published in Conections, 1981

Author Biography

She has written several collections including The White Poems (reviewed here at KotaPress in September 2002), The Lost Children, and Ordinary Life.



by Lisa Kunkel

You can imagine--they are undone.
It's sad, profoundly sad,
having gone on this length of time in rescue mode,
up and down, agonizing, once
again hoping --
only to agonize again.

It took all this time for anyone to name the loss,
to bring the thing into a different perspective.
And maybe no one person said it firmly,
not the physician, not the midwife,
not the man and woman--
though certainly they must have felt it.

And spoken it
at odd moments
to themselves
and sometimes
out loud to each other.

Nobody disagreed
when the man said, We can't do this anymore.
Not the physician, not the midwife--
not even the woman
carrying this heart-strong,
growing fetus in her flawed sac.

And certainly none of us, out here,
outside the womb
of dopplers and scans and fluid measurement,
counting the hours between phone calls and waiting --
as though it were our own bellies
rising and flattening to the raw kick of life.


Lise Kunkel, 45, is a mother, wife, registered nurse & volunteer coordinator for Compassionate Care in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. She has been reading and writing poetry off and on for 30 years.


Still born?

by Poppy Hullings

Is a baby
born still
still born?

To preface Death,
one must honor Life.

All I want is recognition

because I am without, within.

Author Biography

Poppy, mother of an angel on earth (T. K., 9 y/o) and an angel in heaven (Samantha, b/d on July 23, 1999), loves writing poetry.


To a Stillborn Niece

by Jane Carlson

Oh, my Girl. You are not mine.

But we would have gone to Disneyland, you and I.
Cotton Candy. Roller coasters.
Our fists furled at the sky.

About the Author

Jane Carlson lives in Illinois and works in scholarly publishing. Her niece, Emma Jane Harper, was stillborn on Februrary 8, 2003.


French Doors

by Brian Mayer

It could have been yesterday

Yet it was decades ago

My collective self refuses to forget

That is was a spring day

If only it was like another other day

Yet Nancy had an appointment to keep

That would never need to be

Scheduled again

I remember standing in the kitchen

Or was it the living room

I remember being somewhere in the house

The same one I was born and raised in

The Brooklyn home we could have lived in forever

When the phone rang

Just the usual ring and I took the call that

Changed our lives in ways I cannot even begin to explain

We never discuss that day

Words of healing or sorrow are not exchanged

But I clearly remember sitting on the hallway floor

Leaning up against the closed French doors

Head in my hands crying for my wife, for myself

For our still born son

I still think about those French doors from time to time

About the Author

Brian Mayer is a stillbirth dad who lives with his wife Nancy, four beautiful children, and twelve guitars. Brian's son was stillborn 17 years ago and is remembered everyday.


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