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Politicians Mourn, Too

Jan 30, 2012

In 1996 Rick Santorum and his wife Karen lost a baby boy, Gabriel, two hours after he was born. The couple took Gabriel home so that their other children could meet their baby brother. The children cuddled him, sang to him and took pictures. 

After Senator Santorum virtually tied with Mitt Romney in the Iowa Caucus, a couple of media luminaries passed judgment on how the Santorums dealt with their loss. Alan Colmes on Fox News opined that voters would regard it as crazy behavior, “taking his two-hour-old baby who died right after childbirth home and played with it for a couple of hours so his other children would know that the child was real.” 

Eugene Robinson, speaking on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC was equally hopeful that the story would turn into a scandal for Santorum. “He's not a little weird, he's really weird… Not everybody is not going to be down with the story of how he and his wife handled the stillborn child. It was a body that they took home to kind of sleep with it, introduce it to the rest of the family. It's a very weird story.” 

Ignorance speaks loudest when it is largest. Gabriel Santorum was born alive, not “stillborn.” The Santorums did not “play with it” nor did they “kind of sleep with it,” whatever that is supposed to imply. What they did was exactly what the American Pregnancy Association recommends for grieving parents. Those guidelines include bathing and dressing the baby, reading or singing to the baby, naming the baby and having the child christened. ‘You will be able to spend as much time as you need with your baby,” the guidelines explain, “but at some point you will need to say goodbye.”

Perhaps you have to have suffered the loss of a miscarriage, or stillbirth, or the death of a child after birth to have some idea what the Santorums faced. The American Pregnancy Association guidelines make sense to me. Loss is a natural part of human life and grieving is how the wounds of loss begin to heal. In the best cases, grieving is a part of loving and remembering. It can leave us richer in spirit, if a little or a lot sadder than before. 

One cannot properly grieve without coming to terms with the reality of the loss. Saying goodbye “will probably be one of the most challenging things to do because it is so final.” Yes. A real, live human being was here and now that person is really gone from here. It is as simple and as utterly unacceptable as that. 

Alan Colmes has apologized to Senator Santorum for his thoughtless remarks. I don’t know if Robinson has, but an apology was in order in both cases. They hoped to score cheap points against a candidate whose party and whose opinions they do not like. All they managed was to expose themselves as ignoramuses.  


Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.


11:25 am - Fri, February 3 2012
Elayne said:
Thank you for a lovely article. What the Santorum family did for the whole family was to personalize the loss; the parents not only lost a child but the children lost a brother, and by taking the baby home, he could be nurtured and loved. The children most likely will remember the day as a loving day, as valued members of a family, and not as a day where they were confused about where their baby brother was.

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