Dear Maggie – Listen to Your Mother Edition

12 05 2013

Last week I performed in Utah’s first Listen to Your Mother show. It was an amazing experience, and since most of you were unable to be there, I’d like to share what I read.

Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality
– Emily Dickinson

You don’t know about Maggie.

You don’t know that years ago, I carried a little girl in my womb. For 20 weeks I cherished my unborn baby and dreamed of the bright future ahead.

Then I got sick. So very sick. After a week in the hospital, I returned home to the 1970s single-wide trailer with the bordello-red shag carpet. I brought with me flowers and cards and breasts aching with milk.

I did not bring home Maggie.

Dear Maggie,

I write a letter to you every October, because that’s when you were born. This year it occurred to me that if I’d carried you to term, your birthday would actually be in the springtime. For some reason that makes my heart a little lighter.

I’ve been thinking about you lately—about what it would be like to have a 12-year-old daughter. To be honest, I find the idea downright terrifying. Boys would be interested in you! You would be interested in boys! And Justin Bieber! (I guess technically he qualifies as a boy.) You would probably make me take you to a midnight showing of every Twilight movie!

A shudder just passed through my body.

But all might not be lost. Maybe I could convince you to listen to a little bit of Muse, or a few bars of The Black Keys. We could watch Pitch Perfect together and swoon when Jesse takes the microphone for the first time because oh my gosh Skylar Astin is just so adorable.

I often imagine what your personality would be like. I envision a real chatterbox—a girl I’d nickname “Magpie.” That’d probably piss you off and every time I called you that in front of your friends you’d say, “Mo-om” in that way that only tweens and teens can use to express utter mortification with their mothers.

And that would just make me do it more often, because I’m pretty much the most awesome mom ever.

Four months ago I got my first tattoo. It’s a magpie, and the words “alis volat propriis” – Latin for “she flies with her own wings.” It reminds me of you. I smile every time I see it.

Would you be a reader like I’ve always been? I’m pretty sure at 12 I was going through my Sweet Valley High phase. Yes, I just publicly admitted that. At least it wasn’t the Babysitter’s Club.

Would you be an athlete? That would be unusual, given the complete disinterest your father and I have in sports, but we’d encourage whatever you pursued. We’d want you to be well-rounded and happy. I’d even learn the rules for whatever sport you played so I could properly cheer you on.

Cheer. Oh, hell. What if you became a cheerleader? Do they do that at 12? That’s still too young, right? Or do they do some sort of junior cheer crap?

Wait. Deep breaths. I just got worked up that my dead daughter might want to be a cheerleader. It’s possible I have some issues.

12 was a terrible age for me. I felt ugly and lonely and picked on and sad. I withdrew into myself and hid in my books. What if you felt ugly and lonely and picked on and sad? How could I bear it? How could I possibly handle your pain? The thought is overwhelming.

There are times I look at the 12-year-old girls around me and I think that God knew what he was doing when he took you from me. I’m not cut out to raise a girl, much less a prepubescent one with hormonal mood swings.

I feel terrible when those thoughts enter my head. I should never think you being gone is for the best. Never.

I imagine your relationship with your little brothers. Big G is seven now, and a wonderful—though quirky—kid. He’s been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, you know, and I wonder if he’d annoy the living daylights out of you with his endless questions and complete lack of respect for personal space. I hope you’d see and embrace the beauty in him.

Little G is five, and he’s pretty easygoing as long as he’s getting his way. He has such a loving nature and wants to be everyone’s friend. I think he’d be your little buddy. I hope you’d be patient with him as he talked your ear off and told you about his new friends and sang the songs he learned in preschool yesterday.

During the last year I’ve told your brothers all about you. Little G asks where your house is and when he’ll get to meet you. He wants to buy extra toys so you can play with them when you’re alive again. I think he’s a little bit too young to grasp the whole death thing, but Big G mostly gets it.

When I found out I was pregnant, I hoped for a lifetime to watch you grow. I thought I’d rejoice at your first words and grow weary of your teenage chatter. I’d watch your hesitant steps as a toddler, then your initial wobbly steps in heels. I expected to grin at your first toothless smile and wince at the bill for your braces. I wanted laughter and dancing and joy  so incandescent it lit up the world.

I didn’t expect questions like, “Would you like pictures? Would you like handprints and footprints?Would you like to have a burial, or would you like us to take care of her remains for you?”

I’ve rapidly learned that motherhood is rarely what I expect.

Twelve years. Twelve years is a long time to miss someone. I don’t cry as much these days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. It just means I’ve learned to live without you. It’s a horrible thing to learn.

I miss you so very much, Magpie.



*This is not my usual funny footnote, and for that I apologize. As many of you know, I almost lost my life when I lost Maggie. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident, even in the United States. In fact, the US is the most dangerous industrialized nation in which to give birth. My dear friends Anne and Jennifer are currently working on a documentary called Unexpected that highlights this crisis. Anne asked that I share this with you:

save a mother 2




7 responses

7 06 2013

This is just beautiful. And so are you. Thank you for sharing this. Very moving. I bet you did a wonderful job at the reading/event. I can picture it in my mind. I am trying to be better at keeping up on blogging/commenting – sorry I’ve been remiss!

15 05 2013
Dear Maggie – Listen to your Mother | The Unexpected Project

[…] Guest Post by Jenny Gessel Smith. Jenny is a near-miss survivor, mother, and author of the blog: Like Swimming. […]

13 05 2013

I was so sorry to not make it on thursday. This piece is truely moving, you are amazing. Love you lots!!

13 05 2013
Alison Stangel Bulson

This is beautiful (and thanks for the reminder about Sweet Valley High, sheesh).

13 05 2013

Love the way you read it, love reading it again.
Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day!

13 05 2013

Jenny, Thank you so much! You continue to amaze me.

12 05 2013

I love you, Jenny!! I just want to cuddle you! This was superbly written!

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