An interview with Callie & Neil Kreutner
By Michelle J. Garwood
An empty bird feeder blows in the wind over a headstone on the northern Nebraska plain. It has been a long, frigid winter but on this early spring day, a few tiny blades of green grass peek through last year’s leaf pile that was blown into the corner of the fence. All day and night cars speed past on the highway, the only noise at this otherwise tranquil site nestled in the middle of pastures and fields.
But today a car slows, pulls in the gate and stops. Out bound two children, both under the age of ten, bubbling with energy and excitement. Their chatter happily breaks through the monotone traffic hum, along with the chirps of a flock of sparrows they frighten out of a nearby tree. For a moment the children begin arguing about who will get to pour the bird seed they have brought along, but their mother breaks in and helps them come to a shared solution. They take turns filling the feeder then linger for a while, pulling some dead foliage away; leaving some brightly colored silk flowers in the spirit of the emerging season. The children get distracted by a rabbit peeking out under the cedar tree across the plot and dart off between the other headstones.
Mom and dad stand together in silence for a few more moments, scarcely able to believe that nearly a decade has passed since they stood here with fresh earth at their toes. Then with a deep breath they call to their children, it is time to go home. The boy and girl stop for one last check of the bird feeder and then wave goodbye. “See you later Solomon”, says the boy. “Bye big brother” says the girl. And just like that, another year without him has gone by.
The scene above plays out vividly in my mind as Callie, Neil and I sit and chat at their dining room table, a scenic view of a Sandhills valley just outside the window. I smile as I see several bird feeders handing around her back yard. Callie and I became acquainted through our daughters and our shared love of nature. Our paths crossed pretty regularly between preschool drop-offs and our work in the natural resources field. It was only fitting that her first child lay in peace underneath the wings of such wild and lovely things stopping for some sustenance and rest. It was a beautiful picture of the circle of life.
Solomon was around 20 ½ weeks old in the womb when suddenly, for no apparent reason, Callie’s membrane ruptured. “There was no warning… there were no answers,” she recalls. “We spent an agonizing week in the hospital hoping that the membrane would reseal, but it never did. None of the large hospitals in the region would take me – at that time a fetus of that age was not considered viable.” So she delivered her lifeless son at only one pound and one ounce, laid him in the ground, and tried to make sense of how her life had just changed.
But she didn’t have much time to reflect. Three months later she found out that she was pregnant again, unexpectedly. The fear of the unknown was very difficult to face. Even her co-workers at NRCS were nervous – they wouldn’t allow her to do any field work and were constantly watching over her. Callie’s sister-in-law had also experienced a miscarriage and gifted her with a grief journal. Not being much of a writer, Callie didn’t really embrace the journal. But when she found out she was pregnant again, she immediately repurposed its pages, keeping detailed records of how she was feeling each and every day. If something was going to go wrong, she wanted to be completely in touch with her body and do everything within her power to get early care. But the pregnancy went smoothly and Callie gave birth to a baby boy. Not long after she was also given the gift of a little girl.
As Callie and Neil finished sharing their precious story, I asked them if many people knew about their son’s death. Callie said that it had been a very open experience and they even had a regular funeral. “We learned a lot about friends, family, and the community. People would come out of nowhere and share their stories. We received lots of meals, cards, and support. The care at the hospital was wonderful – they even gave us a blanket and some hand-knitted clothing for the burial. I don’t think I had to cook for almost two months.” Such refreshing words to hear! But Callie noted that not all women have had such tremendous support. Her mother lost two girls back in 1963 and 1964. “People ignored it back in that era. If you didn’t talk about it then it was like it didn’t really happen.”
But that is really what this special day is all about. Because even though we have made some significant progress in our society, there are still hundreds of women who suffer in silence. We are hoping that by sharing the stories of some of these incredible women and their families – the survivors – we can raise awareness for those unfamiliar with the experience, and offer comfort for those who have walked through it.