Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

The decision not to have a third child,
made so soon after the birth of our second,
launched us out into a dark abyss.

We were two hostages surprised by sudden liberty,
two divers strangling on twisted air lines;
the death awaiting us was not our own.

From that imagined loss appeared a small ghost
who flickered like an ultrasound and stayed
a moment too long to leave us unmoved.

We stood with trembling hands, longing
to touch you, while your two siblings
capered round our twilit garden.

O you, O you, an owl cried.
What shall become of us,
the parents who sloughed you off?

A strange, unspoken grief visits us at night,
as if we’d been given the chance
to save a single life—and flinched.

How is it possible to regret almost everything,
as the tiny clothes are given away
and the plush lares and penates taken from the crib?

Who were you, child? You were to be ours,
and you were perfect. Your loss is forever,
or at least as long as your mother’s life.

The moon face in the Moses basket was yours.
But I do not deserve to miss or mourn you;
I am not your mother after all.

—Margaret Bethray

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift