Halia Hope

  Gentle Spirit,  8.15.10

 Gentle Spirit, 8.15.10

My parents arrived at our home early that summer solstice morning, bleary-eyed, shocked, and very sad. My lasting memory of their arrival was how eager I was to show them our baby there in the pot. I felt so much pride, and I wanted to show off. "Look, you can see a little ear!" I said, and there it was, a tiny ear visible through the semi-transparent amniotic sac. 

I find this memory almost unbelievable now, but I'm also grateful that I did not censor myself in that moment, that I allowed myself to feel all that pride. Before long, I was overcome with feelings of disappointment and guilt, an overwhelming sense of having failed Halia and my whole family, but for that moment I gloried in what James and I had created.

We quickly departed for the hospital, where we were first seen in the emergency room, back in the same room where I first came a month before. They took the pot from James, and the nurse gently told us what was going on with the body. When she learned that we did not know if it was a boy or a girl, she went to find out, and returned with the news, "It's a beautiful baby girl!" And with that news, I finally dissolved into tears.

Once they had her cleaned up, the nurse asked if we would like to see her, and I refused. The memory of holding her in my hands was still very fresh and pure, and I did not want some sanitized, hospital version clouding that memory. The nurse was very concerned by this response. She had clearly been trained that the best thing for the parents was to spend time with the body, and she did not want us to miss that opportunity. I was equally adamant that it was not the right thing for me right then. We agreed to wait and see.

Before long, we were admitted to the hospital and transferred, cruelly, to labor and delivery. They put us in a back room, where we would have the least chance of hearing any live births. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, a much calmer setting than the ER. All sorts of people came to talk to us, in and out, in and out, through a shift change, all urging us to be with the body. It was hard for me to find my own needs in all the hubbub, but eventually I had a quiet moment in the bathroom when I found that I was ready to see our baby girl. 


They brought her to us, wrapped in a wee hand-knit blanket, with a tiny hat on her head. Her skin was transparent, her eyes shut with lids that looked like they didn't yet open. She didn't really look like a baby. She was still a fetus, but she had ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, and two sweet arms, and two sweet legs, and tiny ears and a nose and a mouth. She was fully formed and beautiful. She weighed just 12 ounces and was so light in my arms, lighter than a doll. 


I held her, James held her, we cried, and we talked. We called our house and invited my parents and son to come see her too. We laid her in the bassinet when we had held her enough, and then we held her again.  

When I recall our time with her, I wish I had spent more time taking in her every detail, more time touching her. But it was hard. She seemed so fragile and almost unreal. A big part of me felt like I shouldn't be seeing her or touching her, not like this. I was used to having my hand on her, feeling her body through my flesh, but it just didn't seem right for me to hold her directly. Her unfolded body seemed all wrong to me. I kept thinking she should be curled up in the fetal position. And then, worst of all, she was cold, almost plastic-like. How could I take in what that meant? How could I allow myself to feel how terrible it was that these were the only glimpses I would ever get of her? So I did what I could.

And then, at some point, I knew that it was time for her to go. And the nurse took her away. We were given a beautiful memory box, as we reluctantly let her go into the realm of memory.


Meanwhile, we were informed that since the pregnancy had passed the 20 week mark, this was considered a stillbirth, not a miscarriage, and we were responsible for her body. We were told that we would have to find a funeral home to handle the arrangements. As soon as it was late enough in the morning, we called our rabbi, who had never handled a situation like this before. She told us she would do some research and get back to us. 

She called back a little while later and told us that she recommended that we give her a name and a burial. I hadn't realized it, but I had already been thinking about a name. I knew for certain that I did not want to give this baby the name that we had been planning for a girl. That name was for a living child, but since this child was to remain forever a fetus, I thought we could use her fetal name, Eagle, in some form.

When we were choosing the fetal name, "Halia" and "Leuco" had entered the conversation as derivitives of the latin haliaeetus leucocephalus  (bald eagle). Halia for a girl, leuco for a boy, we had thought. So now here we were with our Halia. I liked the sound of it.

Before she was born, through all the trouble, I had thought often about "Hope" as a name for her, but I wasn't sure about how Halia went with Hope. I said the two together out loud to the rabbi, "Halia Hope." She replied, "I think it sounds beautiful." James agreed, and so did I. Halia Hope.

When we arrived home from the hospital, we discovered that a baby name book had arrived in the mail that very morning. I quickly looked up "Halia" to find that it is a Hawaiian name meaning "in loving memory." What a marvel.

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Rabbi Elyse came to our home that evening to talk about the arrangements, and we spent time giving Halia a Hebrew name. We told the rabbi the whole story about Eagle and Halia, and she told us that the Hebrew word for eagle is "Naysher." She suggested the feminine "Nashira," which also means "We shall sing." And again, I was stunned by a beautiful connection. Singing is such a powerful conduit for my spiritual life that I had long thought about giving a daughter the Hebrew name of "Shira" for song.  We completed her Hebrew name with a middle name of "Tikvah," the Hebrew word for hope.

Names in the sand by my friend Jane and her daughter Clare

Names in the sand by my friend Jane and her daughter Clare


As this long, hard day came to a close, I was struck again by the beauty and wholeness of our experience. I had only just begun to understand the depth of our loss, but I also felt so supported and loved, filled with amazement at how so many details worked out with a perfection beyond anything we could have orchestrated.

Day 24 of 31, 20 Cheshvan 5774