fragments of an attempted writing.

At clinical recently we had a fetal demise - late third trimester.  

Some of the older nurses were sitting at one of the stations and I got a cup of coffee and listened for a while as they told stories of past dead babies.

The oldest nurse there told the story of a fetal demise that occurred a long time back.  Young, poor girl from Memphis, there without any family or friends with her.  Baby died at around 30 weeks.  The nurse and mother cried, the mother held her dead baby, and later went home.  The dead baby boy was put in the morgue.

Two days later the nurse gets a call from administration saying that the girl was on her way over to the hospital.  She wanted to dress the little boy up in his funeral clothes and take pictures of him.  Of course it was a terribly busy day.   The nurse thought, "what the hell I am going to do?"  The baby had been in a bucket of ice for two days.

So she goes down to the morgue and tries running warm water over the dead baby for a while.  Still the joints were stiff as could be.

The mother arrives.  She has a shoe box.  When she opened it, the nurse said "I had to sit down; I didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or burst out in tears!"

Inside the box was a suit, a doll's suit, like a Ken doll would wear - a sequenced black suit with a white very ruffled shirt and black trousers, even little shiny black and white dress shoes.  The nurse thought that there was no way they would ever get the clothes on the dead baby, and she caught herself shaking her head, but then she looked at the mother, composed herself, paused, and said, "honey, if you want to dress your baby in these clothes then we will do everything we can to try to make that happen."

They were able to get the pants on with less trouble than the nurse thought it would be, though they had to cut several inches in length from the pant legs for them to fit.  When it came to the shirt, the cold joints of the baby would not move easily.  The nurse was trying her best to get the shirt on without breaking the baby's tiny body.  At the sight of this struggle, the mother placed her hand on the nurse's shoulder, and looking her in the eyes said, "ma'am, it's not like you're going to hurt him."  They both laughed, though with rue.  Somehow, someway, the nurse said, they got the shirt on.  They had to cut the suit coat a little bit, and then sew it up again, but they got it on as well.  The shoes were huge on the dead baby, the nurse said they looked like bozo the clown shoes on his minuscule feet.

After getting the dead baby all decked out in his flamboyant 70s style threads, the mother held the baby and a ton of pictures were taken, the mother laughing and crying and saying over and over again how beautiful her little man was.  Eventually they put the dead baby into one of the little cheap caskets the hospital donated back then to people who couldn't afford them, and the funeral home came and took the remains of this preterm miscarried baby dressed in a Ken doll Liberace outfit to the little pentecostal church where he would be buried.

The nurse said the whole time she felt like she was in a Twilight Zone episode.

After she told this story there was a pause, and another nurse said "that was the one and only thing that mother would ever be able to give to her baby."  The other nurses all quietly agreed.  


  1. that knocked the wind out of me. Tarrying with the negative... man.

  2. Owen,
    have you ever thought of writing short stories/essays and publishing them? and/or just circulating them?

  3. That's what he is doing via the Internet. Who can afford to make print copies?

  4. @Anna
    I do think there is a difference between a edited and polished story/essay vs. blogging...

  5. Max Dan,

    Some years ago I bought a Writers Market Guide because I was interested in possibly seeking to have published some things of mine (this was before I went into blogging).

    The Guide was quite clear that the only way to get published today is to be good at selling yourself and the steps it outlined (in some detail) as to how one is to go about doing this sickened me. My sister-in-law is an editor and has done a bit of writing and what she has told me confirms my fears about the process of getting one's writing published. Thus I have zero motivation to pursue such things.

    Any more I have come to have little desire to make any money from my stories. My sense is that most of the stories I tell don't really belong to me. I would be pimping the narratives of other people's lives, and that is sort of disgusting.

    Pixels are like Jesus writing in the sand, more ethereal and less human that a finger in sand, sure, but still something that is obviously fleeting - here in an instant, gone in an instant. That is a quality of the new media I have appreciated.

  6. ....elsewhere, unbeknown to the Ochlophobist, some horribly misguided undergraduate of the northeast had begun distributing a collection of essays entitled: A Bourgeois Corrective by Owen White, out of his weekly 500 page printer quota at the library.....

  7. that wouldn't be my first joke to fall flat

  8. My fourth crime novel is coming out this coming December and I have never felt that I had to "sell myself." If you write a quality piece, especially a novel, and submit it to enough agents one will pick it up. It is not an instant process. As for writing something that is commercially marketable, why would anybody want to publish something that no one would want to read. Remember that Shakespeare wrote for a popular audience.

  9. Note that the market for short stories is just about gone. A shame, really.

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  11. if this is agitprop, then I need revisit Gorky.

  12. I have never met anyone in health care who didn't have a somewhat wry (at the least) attitude toward death. As someone doing the same I've seen the same happening to me.

    I thought this was a lovely story.

  13. I meant, as someone also entering a health care field... etc.

  14. It's amazing how personal experience makes this sort of thing real. My first child, a little girl, was born 2 1/2 months ago. Before then, this story would have made me a little sad. Now, I feel on the verge of tears. I don't think there'd be enough Zoloft in the whole world if something happened to my child. You tell this sad story beautifully.


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