Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wednesday's Child: 'Marina': An elder sister who never was

Dedicated to every woman who has ever lost a baby...

When I was a little girl, rummaging as I sometimes did in the bottom right hand drawer of my mother's dresser — the drawer in which I had found other treasures — I came across a small blue notebook with a soft smudged cover. Within its pages, written in my mother's hand, was a name: Marina. On page after page, line upon line, the same name appeared: 'Marina, Marina, Marina'. Why had my mother written this name so many times? What did it mean? As a child, I didn't dare ask.

One afternoon many years later, I was searching through that drawer again, sifting through a pile of envelopes and other papers, helping my mother look for a document that had gone missing. Once again I noticed the little blue notebook, and I recollected the content of its pages. This time I decided to ask, 'who is Marina?'. A look of great surprise came over my mother's face, and there was a slight catch in her throat as she asked where I had come across the name.

Believing I had upset her, I held up the little blue notebook and timidly explained my long held curiosity since first finding it, its pages brimming with 'Marina'. I recall her pausing for a moment, taking the notebook from my hand and thumbing through its pages, then continuing to quietly work her way through the small pile of papers in her lap. After a couple of minutes she said, 'Marina is the name I gave to the baby who would have been your older sister'.

That look of surprise had now made its way over to my face, and after a while I asked my mother if she would please tell me more about Marina. Mom dismissed me at first, saying Marina was a lost baby, a miscarriage, someone who you were to forget and — as everyone told you 'back then' — something from which you were just to move on. Then, without further prompting from me, my mom went on to talk about Marina and what had happened to her.

It was 1956, and there was a lot going on as my mother and father prepared to emigrate away from Ireland with my brother. Mom said that when they learned she was expecting another baby not only did she and Dad feel overjoyed, but they felt certain the child would be a girl, a little sister for my brother Michael. For some inexplicable reason my mother had always loved the name 'Marina' — called Mari — a name which means 'of the sea'. Their little family soon would be travelling across the sea to a new life together, so perhaps that is why, together with my father, it was decided that if the baby was a girl, Marina would be her name.

The name was decided upon, but it would never come to pass.

On that spring morning perhaps the sun glowed a little less brightly, and the air did not smell so sweet. As my mother stood in her night dress, a single bright red drop fell upon her feet, and then another, signalling that life was bringing about a wretched sea change. There was the deeply frightening trip from their home in Belgrave Square to Holles Street Hospital, her fond hope that all would turn out well, and her increasing dread that it would not. For all one knows, it may have been due to the stress of preparing to leave Ireland, and the fear of the unknown that was building with the passage of time — life offered no rationale —but whatever the reason, my mom lost the baby. Marina was lost to our family.

My mother generously shared with me what she recollected about that day at the hospital. The room into which she had been taken was filled with bright light, the sheets on the bed were crisp and cold to the touch, and so white she had worried she would soil them. Afterward, the nurse charged with her care was very matter of fact, as she explained that yes it had been a girl, but the baby's gestation period had been too short to call her still-born, so 'it' would be 'termed a miscarriage'.

Mom didn't mention to them that she had already named her little daughter. It would be of no consequence to the nurse or to the doctor, who had briefly placed the baby's remains in 'a sort of glass jar' on a table just beyond my mother's reach, and then had taken them away, as protocol entailed. The nurse was kind, but dismissive, and said there would always be more babies.

The medical staff would never recollect, as my mother did, Marina's completely translucent bright pink skin, like a thin veil covering her soft bones, with bright blues and reds seeming to glow beneath. They were indifferent to the heartache that was stirred by gazing at the little eyes which were shut tight, never ever to be opened, and the tiniest hands and feet that would never know her mother's touch. They did not hear my mother whisper in prayer the name of her lost baby daughter, 'Marina'. Looking almost other worldly, Marina had come from heaven, but was not quite ready to be with her family on earth.

With a heavy sigh, my mother told me she was encouraged not to speak about her pain over the loss of Marina. Mom recalled feeling very sad for quite a while afterward, so perhaps it was her sadness that one day compelled her to write out Marina's name, time and again, in that little blue notebook. I did not press her for a reason.

It strikes me that her tender heart might have felt this as a way to almost call Marina back into existence, as each pass of the pen over the page sounded out her baby's name, like a kind of mantra. At the very least, the exercise of recording Marina's name may have helped to lessen the pain of losing her and ensure she would never be forgotten. Whatever became of that little blue notebook with the soft smudged cover, I cannot tell you.

After a while, when we talked about Marina again, I asked my mother, why they had not given me the name, since I was the next girl born. 'The name didn't belong to you', was Mom's simple reply.

©irisheyesjg2015.

12 comments:

  1. Oh, Jennifer, such a sad, but loving story. You have done your mother and your angel sister, Marina, proud, by sharing this poignant memory. We women have many stories tucked away in memory drawers. It's not easy to open those drawers at times. Thank you.

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    1. Chris, thanks very much for your comments. It is so true what you say about those memories that are tucked away. I felt honoured that my mother shared them with me.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. Jennifer, I’ve never known this heartache but know several women who have, and am sure they would appreciate this story. Catherine

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    1. Catherine, thanks very much for your comments. Many women have lived inside this story, and it's always heartening to know that we have friends with whom we can share it.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  3. Jenn, thank you for sharing this very personal story, beautifully written. Another way in which a family can be deeply changed.

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    1. Charlotte, thanks very much for your comments. It is a very personal story, and I debated with myself for quite a while over whether or not to share it. It is so true, as you say, that such a loss is another way in which a family can be deeply changed.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  4. Oh, Jennifer, how sad for your Mum and Dad. My parents went through a similar scenario although their first baby was full term but when he was born they were told straight away that he wouldn't survive more than a few hours. I was the next to be born. They gave him a name that they knew they would never re-use. We all knew about our brother from the time I was about 12 and they decided they had to tell us because they didn't want us finding out any other way. I'm so glad that they did. I have him in our family tree and I have a copy of his birth and death certificates. I even have his birth and death announcement from the newspaper - the one that Mum cut out and kept. She was told to go home and have lots more babies to keep her busy. She had the 5 of us in 6 years.

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    1. Jo, thanks very much for your comments. How very sad for your family as well, but so good of your parents to have told you about your brother. How wonderful that you have him as a part of your family tree. There would have been five of us as well, but my mum lost two more babies after Marina, so there's only my brother and me. Still in all, I believe those losses shaped our family in ways beyond loss.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  5. I can only say, that as always, your work, your writings, your tender touch, move me deeply. Thank you.

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    1. Carol, thanks very much for your lovely comments, always much appreciated.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  6. Such a touching story...full of pathos and internal drama. Your poor parents. Your mum was generous to share her story with you, woman to woman.

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    1. Pauleen, thanks very much for your comments. My mum was indeed generous to share her story. I don't believe she ever truly got over the loss of Marina. I think for both of my parents that year of 1956 was so filled with joy and hope, with everything seemingly going their way, that Marina's loss darkened it in a way they never expected. My mum used to say 'there's always something to cloud a sunny day'.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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Cheers, Jennifer

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