Today is my eldest son’s birthday. I need to specify, because I have another child on the way, who is assumed to be a boy. My son Henry was stillborn one year ago. I miss him deeply. I feel his absence every day.
Putting the feelings around his birth and our loss into words is difficult. It’s a nearly impossible task. I can say it’s sad. I can say it was, and continues to be, deeply traumatic. But none of those words do it justice. Writing about it is very hard. Normally, writing comes much easier than speech for me. When talking about Henry, neither comes easily.
I feel a deep, physical aching in my arms when I write about it. The emotions are embodied. They cannot be properly put into words.
So why write about it? And why share it publicly?
Writing is therapeutic for me, among other things. Despite what I’ve just written, I can usually express myself and my feelings far better in writing than in speech. But with Henry, there is something more to it than that. Writing about him, writing his name and his story, is the only way he gets to go out into the world. And so, every so often, I must write about him and name him and share it with the world. He needs to be known. In this small way, he gets to have life.
What does all of this have to do with a picture of a magpie fledgling? About a year ago, sometime after learning Henry would not be born alive – possibly even after he had been born – I was opening the front door to let in my mother and daughter. They were still getting out of the van and when I opened the door a fledgling was on the front steps.
One of our cats started out the door, hungry for magpie. I scooped up the cat and threw it back in the house. When I turned back, the magpie was gone. It had jumped off the stairs and either hopped or flew to safety. Saving the bird’s life after losing my own child seemed very important to me and it has stuck with me.
Yesterday, which was a year to the day that we went to the hospital to induce labour (it was also Father’s Day, last year), my wife and daughter were sitting on the front step. I was standing in the doorway. We saw a magpie fledgling in the front garden. After a moment, the bird hopped up our walkway and up each stair until it was on the deck with us.
It walked around for a bit, before jumping off and going about its day (all the while, its parents were screaming down from the trees).
At the time, it just seemed like a neat experience with nature. Later that afternoon, I remembered the bird from last year and the two experiences came together and felt significant.
I know a magpie is just a magpie, but there is something a bit mysterious and mythological about them. They’re a powerful symbol and it felt a little like Henry had stopped by to say hello.
Happy birthday, Henry. I miss you.