picture Credits: tapio-haaja

abuse, death, grief, motherhood, picture credits: tapio-haaja, stillborn, trauma


, January 24, 2024

Of course, no one knows how you feel if you’ve lost three children before you’re nineteen.

My first baby seemed so strong—always shouting and kicking his little legs; chubby, rolls of fat on his thighs. When I fed him, he’d grab at my breasts and pummel me with his fists. But one day he was hot and sick, then pale and floppy and he died within a week. It was a shock. Having seen death all around me, I should have known children are merely a loan. But.

I had my second baby a month later. And she never breathed at all. The shock of losing my little boy was like a punch to my heart and stopped hers as well. I kissed her cold, waxy little face and wrapped her in a silk scarf. It had tiny embroidered red flowers, that she’d never see. I was too ill to go to the burying. And no one speaks of her. I don’t speak of her either. I open my lips to say her name—but nothing comes. Then I close my mouth again.

I cried when I realized I was pregnant again. It seemed too much, too soon, too overwhelming. Those long months, saying nothing, my husband worried, annoyed—I didn’t look at his face, so it was hard to tell. The days when he’d kissed my belly and we’d spent afternoons naked, laughing at the absurdity of us having a child—we were just kids ourselves! Well, those days wouldn’t come again. He said I was moping.

“Well then,” he said one day. We were out in a small boat on the lake. His idea. It was hot and the light bounced off the water, silvery knives that sliced my sight, until the world was all sharp shards so I could barely see. He was a black shape against the light, his strong hands resting on the oars.

“Go on then,” he said. “Choose.” I sat in the boat, twisting my black silk scarf in my fingers.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.

“Me or them,” he said.

I turned my face away from him. It was a shock to feel his hands—shoving me—hard—and the water—cold—shocked more. He knew I couldn’t swim. Girls aren’t encouraged to. We remove our clothes for the husband only, we swim in our own salty body fluids only, drowning in the sheets as we wrestle with birth and death on our beds.

Cold slap.

Dark green serpent of ice.


ening round my body.

I gasped, inhaled jade liquid cold

that burnt my lungs.

So; death.

I thought I’d welcome it.

But the body fights. It struggles and flails.

It betrays love—

to take another gasp—

of air.

He pulled me out. He’s not gratuitously cruel.

“So?” he said. I lay shivering and sobbing, spitting water and duckweed onto the warm wooden boards of the rowing boat.

“So, no more of this. Be a good girl and you’ll have a new child to love soon.”

He picked up the oars, resting loosely in the rowlocks and started to row us back to the shore. His white shirt gleamed in the sunlight, the sleeves neatly rolled. I watched the muscles of his forearms ripple as he rowed steadily, stroke, stroke, stroke.

I closed my eyes, felt the sun on my body. The shaking and juddering slowly stilled. My heart pumped. My breasts ached. I turned my head so he wouldn’t see the tears sliding silently down my nose. With my eyes shut against the sun all the world was bathed in red.

I felt the third baby move, a tiny flutter of life, a flower moving in an evening breeze, so subtle, as if the cold water shock had reset my world. I wiped my face with the back of my hand. I put my wet fingers to my side, just for a moment. And dared to hope.

So when my third child died I cannot tell you how I felt.

And you don’t care to let me tell you. A girl who has made so many poor decisions. My story is famous. Infamous even. You think you know me. But somewhere, in the middle of it, I am wordless, clutching that bloody bundle in a torn white sheet, my voice a cracked whisper that doesn’t carry.


Karon Alderman

Karon Alderman

You may also like