Our daughter died the day before she was born. Her room is still ready for her: empty clothes in the closet; a still rocking chair; the faint smell of new paint in the air, kept from dissipating by the closed door. Space that will never be filled. Stories we’ll never tell. A sentence that will never end, because it never started.

We scattered her ashes in the park; she would have loved it here, is what we told ourselves. I carved her initials into the wood of the bridge we laid her next to. Today they’re covered in snow, but they’re still the only part of her that takes up space. There are trails there I’d never walked before; now I have, and I wonder if I’d have found them walking with her. I wonder, and wonder, and wonder, because that’s all that’s left of her – that, and the ash under the snow near the bridge.

It’s unhealthy to want great accomplishments for your child. You want them to be happy, healthy, kind. Curious. You don’t want them to be cruel, or arrogant, or sad. Mileage may vary on the rest. As I got used to the idea of being the father to a daughter, I started to draw out some specifics. We were already sure she’d be fiercely independent; her brother is easy-going to the point of amazement, and she was scheduled to rebel. Secretly, I loved that about this version of her: a girl and a woman who would refuse to bow to what the world around her said she should do. It’s funny how what we want from our children as people often conflicts with what we want from them as parents – obedience is something we crave in transitory moments at the dinner table or as we get ready to leave the house, but what a horrible lifelong trait it can be. I was already preparing myself to endure the resistance so she could grow up in a world without restraint. I saw in this version of her a fighter: a person who would attack injustice with dignity, confidence and determination, but without moderation. This is how I came to fall in love with the name Ida.

Ida Tarbell
Grave of Ida Tarbell, Woodlawn Cemetery, Titusville, PA

It was a conceit of sorts. My wife took convincing; it is after all an old lady name, and with the middle name May – a certainty, named for her grandmothers – it sounded a little too country for a suburban Massachusetts kid. But there was too much power in it for me to leave it alone. She was named for rebels: Ida B. Wells. Ida Tarbell. Unquiet, disobedient women who saw the wrongs of power and lay siege with sharp mind and pen. I wanted to tell her about them, and so many others – men and women both who refused to be quiet. What she would do mattered less to me than how I wanted her to do it, unbowed, unafraid. Stronger than any man, any force or any society who tried to keep her down. Whatever she did, I wanted her to make some noise.

But she’ll never make a sound. She’ll never cry, never laugh, never rage or scream or learn to speak or sing. She’ll never prove me wrong. She’ll never become all the things I never expected her to be. And there’s nothing for me to fight now but the wind; there’s no reason here, no plot, no cruel workings. Just shitty luck and a pain that sucks air out of me. This injustice can’t be fought with the written word, it can only be chronicled and shared and shouted with it. I can use it to say only that I loved her, and I wish I’d known her.

Ida May Lipsett.
December 13, 2015.


4 thoughts on “Ida

  1. This made my heart swell and break at the same time. What a perfect, lovely tribute to your sweet Ida, but of course it's gut-wrenching that you had to write it. And even though written words can't fight the shitty luck of this injustice, you will be glad you wrote them. Glad to have captured a small piece of what you were feeling, when I'm sure it seems almost impossible to articulate. I wish you and Emily and Henry had known her, too.


  2. Very well written Sir! My wife and I lost triplets on January 5, 2012 and January 6, 2012. They were all girls. We named them Faith, Grace and Hope. I was getting excited about the thought of 3 “Daddy's Little Girls.” If they were anything like me they would have been similar to what you described. We had dreams that they would be great friends and grow up with more love than we could even imagine. We've never been able to take a pregnancy past 17 weeks. It just hasn't been in our “cards” I guess. At times I am angry that I wasn't given the opportunity to be a father but I am mostly sad that my wife wasn't able to be the great mother she would have been.

    My heart goes out to you, your wife, family and everyone else affected by this tragedy. It does get easier as time goes on but it doesn't get even close to forgetting about or getting over it. I wish your family health and happiness in the future and hope you get the opportunity to have a little girl added to your family.


  3. I also lost a baby girl the day she was born. I resonate with a lot of your words. The pain is so deep but 18 months out and there are glimpses of the healing. My Clara had an “old lady name” too 🙂


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