Raeburn, Daniel

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Annotated by:
Wear, Delese
  • Date of entry: Aug-23-2006
  • Last revised: Aug-22-2006


Daniel Raeburn tells the story of watching the birth of his infant daughter Irene who had died in utero three days before and the weeks and months following the event, spent at the intersection of immense grieving, trying to understand why, and attempting to live in a world without his daughter.


The story opens with his wife Rebekah's pregnancy, which was uneventful until well into her eighth month when baby Irene (of the song "Good Night, Irene") suddenly dies. Given the choice of a Cesarean or a hormonally-induced childbirth, Rebekah reluctantly chooses the latter and delivers Irene the next day.

The essay evokes the hideousness of such an event for both mother and father, particularly the moment of delivery of the lifeless infant, cries of a healthy newborn in the next room, clothing set aside for the baby, the question of photographing a dead baby, how to tell friends, the appearance of Rebekah's breast milk.

Because this story of loss is told not by the mother experiencing it in her body but by the father witnessing it, readers see the event and its aftermath from a perspective often not visible even as he heartbreakingly renders his wife's pain along with his: When the baby has been delivered he bends down to her and "whispered into her ear that she'd committed the bravest act [he] had ever witnessed."

The essay closes with Irene's cremains, which the couple decides to keep in a squat vase--a "vessel"--Rebekah has made. Readers watch the process as they fill it with her ashes, wondering with Raeburn about the relationship between these ashes and the fact of his daughter whose facial image he has already forgotten. The vase containing their daughter is, like all vessels, imperfect; mistakes are, Raeburn writes, what makes the clay "human" after all.

Primary Source

The New Yorker


Condé Nast

Place Published

New York


May 1, 2006, pp. 48-53

Page Count