Monday, August 3, 2015

The Importance of Being Debra Susan

Note:  Deliberately leaving out my last name.

I am Debra Susan.  I am named for two brothers, Daniel and Stanton.  I know very little about them except that they were two thirds of identical triplets.  My brother, L., is the sole survivor, despite being the smallest of the three.

My mother told me that after the three babies were born, she was lying in her hospital bed when a grief stricken woman came to her doorway.  She asked my mother why her babies survived when her baby had been stillborn.  I don't think my mother had a good answer for her.  Little could she have known that she would soon lose two out of the three who had been born prematurely.

My mother told me that Daniel and Stanton caught cold before being placed in their incubators. They died from pneumonia at the age of two weeks.  L. is now in his sixties.

When I was in high school, a girl said to me, "You mean you have two brothers who are six feet under somewhere and you don't know where?"

I shrugged.  I was embarrassed that I didn't know what had happened to my namesakes.

I asked my mom.  She told me she had donated the bodies to science so they could study premature births.

My mother really didn't much want to talk about Daniel and Stanton.  I don't know if the grief was too much, or if she simply wanted to forget.  We only spoke about them one more time, when I was in my twenties.  At that time she showed me a document pertaining to their names.

My mother was a very pragmatic woman.  I imagine that if she grieved, she kept it to herself.  For my mom, life and death were a matter of fact, almost to the point of being cold about it.

Oddly enough, I never asked my dad about Daniel and Stanton.  Almost like I considered birth strictly a woman's domain.  In a way it is, since the mother is the one who does all of the growing and initial nurturing of a baby.

According to my mom, both my dad and my maternal grandpa tried very hard to convince her to try again. This time for a girl.  She must have resisted quite some time, because I wasn't born until little over seven years later.  I was my mother's only full-term baby.

I don't recall exactly how old I was when my mom told me whom I was named for, but I have often wondered about Daniel and Stanton.  I have questions that can never really be answered.  If they had lived, would I have been born?  What if I had had four brothers instead of two?  Would Daniel and Stanton had been like L, or would they have been different?  Do they watch over me, or is that just some story I tell myself to console myself?  Had they lived, whom then would I have been named after?

I don't know what the statistics are for women, who, like my mother, lose babies during or shortly after birth. I also don't know about what the impact is on children like me who grow up wondering what their lost siblings would have been like.  I do know that we are somehow important to our families.  We provide continuity.  In all likelihood we enable healing.  At least I'd like to think so.

For a long time I was perturbed that my mom and dad hadn't given me a more interesting name. As I got older, I often thought about changing my name to Danielle Stanley (for many years I thought my brother's name was Stanley instead of Stanton)  or perhaps using that as a nom de plume. Ultimately I decided that being  the ordinarily named Debra Susan suited me just fine.

It's important for me to be Debra Susan.  My being here and bearing the name Debra Susan directly and profoundly connects me to the memory of Daniel and Stanton.  Ties me to those two tiny beings for all eternity.  In a small way my being here honors their memory.

It doesn't matter that neither L. nor our older brother, B. know for whom Daniel and Stanton were named. They are as much a part of me as my husband is or my beloved Kid O and Kid Q.   I will never have  a sufficient explanation as to why they died as infants.  Perhaps being Debra Susan is enough.


  1. Did you ever feel like you were their representative in the world, that somehow you had to live "for" them and not entirely for yourself? Or did you feel like you were fully able to be you, but that you "just" carried their names forward?

  2. Interesting question. Mostly that I carried their names forward. I am aware of being their legacy. But me. Always me.

    1. That doesn't entirely surprise me. I would have a hard time imagining you somehow subsuming your own self to that extent. :-)

  3. To be honest, I never much considered, what would Daniel and Stanton do? Just wondering how life would have been if they had survived.

  4. I'm the baby who came next. I've also wondered how different my life would have been if my older brother had lived. My mother rarely talks about him, and we've never pressed having felt it was her pain to share or not. He died of respiratory distress, something my little bother had when he was born, and Linnea as well, for a different reason, but I saw the consequences of that death when, a few hours after Linnea's birth, I had to call 911 and my normally calm mother was freaking the hell out. I wish there had been time to help HER.

    One thing, Deb... As soon as I found out about that older brother, my small nuclear family felt forever incomplete. That now, I always knew that older brother was missing. Did you ever wonder at that?

  5. All the time, NW. I have always missed them.

    Weird that the same thing happened with Linnea. Goes to show ya how far things have come along.

    Best thing you can do for your mom is maybe try to open her up. I sometimes wish I had pressed my mom. And why didn't I ask my dad? He and I shared a similar emotional make up. He must have hurt like hell.

  6. Linnea's was for a different reason, though. Brothers (and my uncles who died at birth before them) appeared to have some development issues with their lungs. Still both manifested with breathing problems, and I think that was what triggered her.

    I know I should talk with my mother but it's so very hard. You're right though.

    And yes, it's hard on the fathers too, and there is even less support.

  7. Less support for men in general.

    No doubt that triggered your mom. I think similarly my mom had a certain empathy for L because she herself had been a preemie. No one had expected her to live. B had been a preemie, too, but for some reason she connected more with L. Not sure why.

    I just wish I had tried harder with my mom. I hate open questions.

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