I Held A Wild Animal In My Womb

Drea Rightsell Loss

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In the days immediately following the birth of my stillborn baby, I played a lot of baseball. My parents were in town and the bright spring weather lured my 8-year-old twin boys outside. Since the ground was too sloppy for much else, my we scrounged up old pieces of cardboard and made a makeshift diamond. The truth is that I did not so much play as hang around on the field, mostly in a daze, and shuffled towards the ball when it came near me (though somehow I still managed to earn the title “best third baseman ever” from my boys).

There  are some of us for whom baseball has a decidedly spiritual quality, like a balm to soothe all ails. The silliness of the ramshackle game made me laugh, which felt strange. Everything felt strange. We did not have enough people to cover all the bases, and we wanted the boys to practice hitting as much as possible, so we used imaginary “ghost runners”. It was confusing and whimsical to the point of hilarity. I stood in the warm sun, the sound of bat meeting ball ringing into the valley, and counted each happy thing around me. My parents, healthy and active. My beautiful boys, utterly radiant. My partner, whom I love, and our amazing, newly acquired land in the Bitterroot Valley, fulfilling our dreams for a home. I had so much to be thankful for. I waited for the next time the tears would come. Tears like a slow breeze, starting low in my core and sweeping me up and away.

They came at the strangest times, like all tears, I suppose. Getting vegetables out of the refrigerator. Taking out the compost. Driving. Always driving.

During those first weeks I think the disorientation was more overwhelming than the grief. I had been pregnant for 41 and a half weeks. The baby had been active and moving constantly through the last two trimesters; his death happened suddenly and the cause is still unknown. I chose to deliver him vaginally, laboring at home in our yurt as planned, but with none of the joy to soothe the pain. The birth was like a strange, grayish sort of dream, where dancers moved in familiar ways but for the wrong reasons.

In that first week,  I felt as if I had just completed a Herculean quest, only to arrive home with nothing to show except a slow, soggy body, exhausted and leaking blood and milk. What on earth was going on? Nothing made sense.

About a month before the birth, I had a dream. My baby opened a flap in my belly (dreams are so weird) and crawled out. He smiled happily and waved at me, giggling. He tried to crawl away, but he was connected by the umbilical cord. I pulled him back and tried to return him to my uterus, but he fought me, punching and kicking. I thought he was telling me that he was ready to be born. As I awoke from the dream, I heard a name. Feanu (Fee-ah-noo). When I was fully awake I knew right away where the name had come from, though I had never heard it before. I had been researching Gaelic names and had come across the name Feeah, which means wild creature, or deer. The name Feanu meant to me that this person had a wild, independent nature. Although I was a little scared of it, I knew it would be his name. Now, what it means to me is that Feanu not only had a wild nature, he was indeed a wild animal, come to visit me in my womb.

The day after the birth, I emailed to about 30 people who had been waiting to hear news. I told them that we were planning a ceremony at the local cemetery at the end of the week. Four days later, about 45 people arrived, all dear friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in many months. They enveloped me and together we drove the short distance to the cemetery.

A woman I had known years ago appeared, like a priestess from behind a mist, to lead the service. She was joined by three friends, and they knew exactly what songs I needed to sing, exactly what words needed to be said. They called in the elements, thanked Mother Earth for taking my baby back, sent blessings on his next journey. They created the ceremony I would have dreamed of if a person dreamed of such things. It was as if we had all been secretly waiting to shepherd this little spirit into and out of this realm all at the same time. I did not cry. I felt real peace, even joy. I felt honored to have been his host and to have a new connection with the spirit world. I felt like a good mother.

The days and months following the ceremony, as to be expected, have brought sobering realities. We took to visiting the grave site every Sunday. Situated above the river, frequented by deer and geese, it is the perfect resting place for a wild creature. The tears continued to show up unannounced (and still do). At first, sleeping was difficult, punctuated by sudden rapid heart beats and feelings of terror. I could not go near my bathtub, where I had spent a good part of the labor, for weeks. The feeling of loss was overwhelming at times, and several times I nearly screamed at couples on the street with babies.

Certain reminders of babyhood are still unbearable. I cannot have baby clothes or diapers around me. I shun friends with newborns. I feel a pang every time I see a family with three boys.

Interestingly, though, I find that reminders of pregnancy make me smile – I loved almost every minute of my pregnancy. I loved watching the bump grow, feeling the first movements, talking to the baby (who we called Frankie, an androgynous name since we didn't know the gender). I loved that I had an excuse to buy the best organic food, but also to eat ice cream whenever I wanted. Being pregnant is such an important job.

I loved how my boys would hug my belly and stroke the place where I showed them he was. I loved the feeling that our family was getting larger.  And though I am tearful when I think about those moments, it also brings me great joy. It was the time that I was able to spend with my baby.  A time that we spent growing together.  

I believe that we all have a purpose for being in this human form. None of us ever get to know what another's path is really about, I guess, or even our own for that matter. But I know that, for whatever reason, Frankie spent his only time in that body with me. As part of me, as intimate as any two people can ever be. We shared the silent conversation only mothers and babies know. When I saw him in that dream he was happy, glowing, mischievous.

You cannot keep wild animals. I learned this as a child. Most of the time you do not even get to see them. But the world is immeasurably more exciting, more rich, when you sense their presence. They are an essential mystery. I sense Feanu's spirit everywhere, in every wild place, and I am blessed to live in a most wild place. I did not get to be with him in the way I expected, and I will continue to mourn that loss. But, in a way, I get to be with him all the time, in all the best ways. I am eternally grateful for that.  




About the Author

Drea Rightsell

I have lived in Montana for 18 years, and currently reside in Hamilton. I live in a yurt with my two boys, partner, dog and cat. I am studying creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University and lead groups in a somatic trauma therapy called Somatic Experiencing. I love gardening, hiking, playing music, and playing games with my boys!

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