The Longest Shortest Time – The Shortest Day
Before you read any further into this post I want you to know that this is the story of Day, a little boy who passed away at thirty-one weeks, inside his mother’s womb.
Day’s mother, Arielle, shows incredible strength whilst telling her little boy’s story but it is still a heartbreaking one and for some people, it could trigger some very strong emotions.
Why this podcast?
This one is fairly new to me. I subscribed a while ago and listened to a wonderful episode about coming of age with Down Syndrome, but just hadn’t got around to choosing an episode to feature yet.
The Longest Shortest Time describes itself as –
”a bold, daring podcast about parenthood in all of its forms”
It has won awards from various organisations including the New York Festival’s World’s Best Radio and The Academy of Podcasters. It was also named as one of the 50 Best Podcasts by The Atlantic a couple of years ago so I felt that it was high time it was featured here.
The host and creator, Hilary Frank, is an author and mother.
Hilary created The Longest Shortest Time so that parents could tune in and realise that they are not alone and that no stage of parenting lasts forever.
The majority of episodes focus on parenting but there are episodes about pregnancy and birth too.
Hilary has one of those voices that immediately relaxes you and puts you at ease and she is clearly very at home on the airwaves.
Episodes involve parents sharing their stories and Hilary intersperses those stories with comments, questions or extra information.
It sounds as if this could interrupt the flow but somehow, it doesn’t. It simply becomes more of a conversation and she does it in such a gentle way that there is never a doubt that it is the parent’s time and the parent’s story.
The fact that each episode is a window into someone else’s parenting world is so refreshing.
You realise that, no matter how different we may seem, we all have things in common.
Worries, annoyances, fears, funny moments….so many parents share these experience and it is reassuring to know that you are not alone.
How does it look?
Episodes are released weekly with the average episode being forty-five minutes to an hour and
there are, to date, nearly a hundred and thirty episodes to choose from.
Now, this is the part where I usually give you some examples of areas covered but, to be honest, I’m not sure how to do that here. Episodes tend to be interviews with parents, everyday, regular parents, about whatever it is they want to share.
Here are a few examples of episode descriptions –
Episode #9 – The Emperor’s New Onesie
”A naked toddler holds her mom hostage for over a month”
Episode #19 – The Mortality of Motherhood
”A war correspondent on childbirth vs dodging a sniper”
Episode #48 – The Parent’s Guide to Doing It
”Join guests Dan Savage and Jane Marie as they help listeners navigate sex and parenthood”
Episode #114 – Babymaking While Queer
”Two couples talk about family planning as queer people of color”
I think you probably just have to dive in and listen to an episode.
Why this episode?
Recently, someone I love lost her baby part way through her pregnancy. The courage and strength that she showed during this incredibly difficult time amazed me.
Something she said also stuck with me.
She had been worried about telling others of her loss but was surprised at just how many of the women she spoke to had experienced something similar.
It made me think that, although this is a very hard subject to talk about, maybe it would be helpful, and perhaps even healing, to do so.
Maybe, knowing that others had experienced such a loss, parents might not feel so alone with their emotions and might feel more able to talk about them openly.
The death of a baby is so hard to comprehend and so incredibly sad that it is almost taboo to discuss such a loss.
But it shouldn’t be.
When I saw this episode I felt that it was one I had to feature.
Who should listen to this episode?
Anyone who feels that they can.
This episode is, in essence, a birth story and an incredibly beautiful one but it is also heartbreakingly sad.
Please consider this before you listen.
Arielle tells the story of her son’s death and his birth so beautifully and with such grace that I don’t feel that I could, or should, try to replicate that story here.
There is something so absolutely pure about the way Arielle talks about this loss that you need to hear it from her.
After you have finished reading this post I sincerely hope that, if you feel able, you will listen to Arielle tell the story of Day, her little boy who was laid to rest on the shortest day.
Arielle begins by sharing how important it was for her to have a natural home birth with her first child, Willa. Due to Certified Professional Midwives (who are trained in home birth) being illegal in her state, Arielle hired a CPM who was practising illegally.
She got the wonderful birth experience that she had wanted and so when she discovered she was pregnant again, planned another home birth.
Unfortunately, CPMs were still illegal and many had left the state. Unwilling to give up, Arielle and her husband made the decision to travel out of state for the birth of their second baby.
They planned to rent a house and head out a few weeks before the baby was due and so, by thirty weeks, they had started packing for a Maine winter.
Arielle describes the soft, warm matching outfits that she had packed for her daughter and newborn son and how she planned to snuggle up with them in a cosy bed with the snow falling outside.
At thirty-one weeks, however, everything changed.
They made the discovery that Day’s heart had stopped beating.
Arielle knew though, that this did not change her plans for a home birth.
And so, the family went to Maine.
To some people, this may seem like an unusual, maybe even a strange thing to do, but Arielle offers a beautiful and poignant reason for her decision –
“At the end of this birth, there wasn’t going to be a baby…So, really all I had left since I wasn’t going to have a baby, was the birth.”
There are a few, as Arielle puts it, ”woo-woo moments” in this story.
Being well into her third trimester, Arielle was used to strangers commenting on her belly and asking questions about the baby. As soon as they learnt that Day had passed away, Arielle and her husband noticed that even people who knew nothing about Day’s death stopped commenting.
Nobody asked anything again until two and a half weeks later when Arielle entered a shop and the assistant asked when she was due.
Arielle went into labour the next day.
Day was born at their rented cottage, in a birthing pool and Arielle describes him as looking just like a sleeping baby.
They wrapped him in a blanket and Arielle’s husband went to get their daughter from a nearby inn.
She smiled glowingly at her little brother and then went up to bed.
I loved how Arielle talked about the fact that her daughter’s first experience of death was not something frightening or traumatic. It was a beautiful, still, baby, wrapped in blankets with everyone cooing and smiling over him.
After Day was born Arielle describes a quiet, respectful atmosphere but she also talks about the family eating and laughing together. It was, she says, ”like a really good wake.”
The shortest day
Day was born in the middle of a Maine winter. The ground was frozen and covered in snow so volunteers from a local church came out to the green cemetery to dig the grave.
His parents wrapped Day in silk and laid him in a tiny wooden box and the little coffin was drawn through the snow on a sledge.
Arielle’s description of the simple funeral and her and her husband’s experience of it is perhaps the hardest part of this story to listen to and for various reasons, I am not going to write about it here.
I will share that the only day that everything and everyone could come together to make the funeral possible was the winter solstice.
The shortest day.
Arielle goes on to talk about how she got through the days, weeks and months after the funeral and mentions that every year, during the anniversary of the week that Day stopped living, his family add one more sun ornament to their window.
I have only outlined a story that Arielle shares in much more detail. If you feel able, it really is beautiful to listen to and will likely stay with you for a long time to come.
If you do choose to listen to Arielle tell Day’s story in full and would like to share your thoughts, I would love for you to reach out.
Emily Wills is a doula based in Stockholm. She believes that birth can be a beautiful and empowering experience and started this blog as a way of sharing some really great podcasts. She is also a mother of three and an enthusiastic runner.