The Child That Never Was

Photo of a beach and shovel alone in the sand with some seaweed surrounding it
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Photo of a beach and shovel alone in the sand with some seaweed surrounding itTHE CHILD WHO NEVER WAS

By Renée Henning

     I buried the child who never was in a fetid green pool in Guadeloupe.  It was not my first choice for the child’s final resting place.  Originally I had picked a rubbish-choked stretch of beach to serve as the junkyard of broken dreams.  However, when I arrived there, I discovered I was not alone, and I had planned a private funeral.

     The timing of the ceremony also posed a problem.  I did not want to hold the burial early in my vacation.  However, I had chosen the date five months before, prior to learning about the Caribbean trip.  I could not bear the thought of postponing the last rites and dreading them throughout my vacation.

     For a funeral there should be a religious service, and there was one.  It was the regular Sunday Mass in the old Catholic Church.  I wept behind my sunglasses during the service.  Occasionally I coughed, in the forlorn hope that the strangers in my pew would think I had a cold.

     The funeral differed from one I attended with 300 mourners.  I was the child’s only mourner in Guadeloupe because, except for my husband, I was the child’s only friend.

     After the church service I stepped into the glare of the tropical sun for the walk to the burial site.  Outside the church a tiny white goat was nibbling the grass of the town square.  The scene would have appeared totally charming, had it not been for goats’ links with kids and sacrificial rites of voodoo (still practiced on the island).

     What can I tell you about the deceased?  Almost nothing.  I do not know if the decedent was a boy or a girl, because you cannot tell pre-conception.  If the child took after its parents, it was blond with blue eyes, had an I.Q. high enough for Mensa, and loved life and sports.  But perhaps it did not take after its parents at all.  Perhaps it was better or worse than its parents.

     Most Americans do not realize how much it is possible to grieve for a child who never was.  In our society a mother is allowed to mourn for years the death of her child if the child was born alive.  Society also permits a brief period of grief in the case of a miscarriage, though even then the would-be mother may receive a get-well card rather than a sympathy note.  Yet society does not accept the idea that someone could mourn for an unconceived child, despite years of yearning, prayers, heartache, medical tests, drug treatments, and major surgery.

     It may sound crazy to stage a mock funeral for a mock child, but the funeral did make a difference.  There is a time to mourn, and a time to give up mourning.  You cannot begin the healing process while experiencing hope, then denial, and then piercing sadness with every menstrual cycle.  Because of the funeral, I was forced to face the truth: even though my husband and I had ultimately passed all of the medical tests, I would never bear a child, and we would never know why.

     Since the funeral I have begun to accept our barrenness.  I no longer weary heaven with prayers for the child, and I experience far less sadness at the start of each menstrual cycle.  I am even becoming reconciled to the approach of the menopause, with its impending months of delayed menstruation and thus of false hope.  The complications in setting up the funeral also worked out for the best.  Oddly, it has comforted me to imagine my baby curled in a dreamless sleep in a womb-like pond in the fertile lushness of Guadeloupe.

     I will be returning to the island about a year after the funeral.  I plan to stop by the fetid green pool for just a few minutes.  I am not going there to think about what might have been.  That time is past.  Instead, I will stop by to see for the last time the resting place of the child who never was.  I plan to float a cheery red hibiscus on the child’s watery grave.

POSTSCRIPT ADDED FIVE YEARS AFTERWARD

     The funeral took place in 1988.  The next year, after returning to Guadeloupe, my husband and I adopted a child from Latin America.  Two years later we adopted another child.  Both boys were infants at the time of the adoption referral, and for more than a year both used baby seats on car trips.  Words cannot express the joy I have known looking into the back of our automobile on car rides - because there sat two bonny sons snug in their baby seats.

     Our big boy is now four years old, and our baby is two.  Lively though they are, they still nestle together in my lap.  They are best friends.  Our beloved sons often sit with the older boy’s arm around his little brother.  My husband and I are blessed.

 

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