Say Their Names

The month of October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I actually didn’t know it existed until the year I miscarried, and it inspired me to share my experience. The one thing that healed me the most while trudging through the depths of grief was hearing and reading stories from other women who had also lost their babies. In one sense, it made the pain lighter knowing others were carrying the weight of such loss also. But as I encountered more stories, I also realized how much someone can go through without breaking. So many women have had miscarriage after miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancies, stillbirths, babies with fatal defects both known or unknown before birth, babies lost to SIDS. I realized that my one miscarriage was something that could make me stronger, and at the same time that even if I were to successfully carry a baby to term, there are no guarantees that everything will be okay. I don’t think people realize what a miracle babies really are.

Another thing that helped me heal was naming the baby. It’s very hard to name a baby you never knew, especially if you don’t know if that baby was a boy or a girl. Garth and I didn’t like any of the gender-neutral names we could find, so we gave up. We couldn’t give our unborn baby a name we wouldn’t choose had the baby been born.

Some PAIL organizations are encouraging mothers to “say the name” of their unborn or deceased babies. Garth and I haven’t shared the name with anyone who hasn’t asked, but today I want to share that story.

A few weeks after my miscarriage, while I was taking a shower, the name Henley crossed my mind. I obsessed over it for awhile and moved on to thinking of something else. The next day the name crossed my mind again, this time more clearly as a name for a girl. I thought about it a little more and wondered why this name had come to mind. The third day the name came to mind, I remembered it was the name of my favorite style shirt on Garth, again brushing it off and moving on to think of something else. For a month I thought of the name Henley every day, each time more strongly convinced that it was a good name for a girl.

For our date night that month, Garth and I went the homebody route and rented a movie from Redbox, made some popcorn, and turned the space in front of our TV into a fort in our living room. We started the movie Now You See Me and snuggled into the each other. Probably about fifteen minutes in, the lead female walked down a hall holding her to-go cup of coffee, the name Henley sprawled across the top of her cup. I paused the movie.

“Did you see her name?” I asked Garth.

“Uh… no?” he said.

I rewound the movie and had him look again.

“What do you think of her name?” I asked. I could feel my pulse in my fingertips.

“Henley? Like the shirt? I’ve never heard it as a name.”

“I hadn’t either, until recently. What do you think of it?”

“It doesn’t sound like a girl name.” He said after chewing on the inside of his cheek for awhile.

I had actually thought it sounded good for a girl. I told Garth about how the name had been haunting me in the shower, how I thought it sounded good for a girl and I felt like we should add it to our list of baby names. He finally agreed with me.

Before we could make a decision on the name, we had to look up its origin and meaning. The name is English, and it means “high hill” or “high meadow.” We found it was actually a boy name, which conflicted with my feeling that it sounded good for a girl. We spent months bringing the name up and debating whether it should “go on the list.” When we finally asked his sister what she thought of the name, she was a pretty harsh critic. We held off officially putting the name on our list.

February rolled around and so did my empty due date. I grieved quietly and didn’t mention it to anyone until the next day. My baby was still gone, my womb was still empty, and we still had no name to call our lost baby.

“Henley,” I said to Garth one morning as he woke up.

“You want it back on the list?” Garth asked groggily.

“What if God gave us the name?” I asked, pulling the covers to my chin, shrinking in insecurities. “It’s the only unisex name we’ve actually liked. What if that is the name of our baby.”

He rolled over and nibbled his cheek for a moment. “Yeah,” he said.

“Our baby’s name is Henley?”

“Our baby’s name is Henley.”


10 thoughts on “Say Their Names

  1. we lost our first at 13 weeks. If baby was a boy he would have been Clinton Joseph after both of our grandpas. If baby was a girl she would have been Ariya Katherine. Since we didn’t know, I found myself generally referring to baby as a “he” and call him Peanut. Thank you for sharing this. I didn’t know about October, which happens to be the month our sweet Aspen was born.


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