"No, I would not give you false hope (no) On this strange and mournful day But the mother and child reunion Is only a moment away"
5:00 am. The moonlight pours into the bedroom as the moon emerges from a lunar eclipse. Wouldn’t it be magical to discover that I was pregnant during an eclipse? But at 1:00 am my partner Lavender had pulled back the curtains to find a cloudy sky and I decided it would be better to get a full night’s sleep then to check. Now the moonlight wakes me up and I silently roll out of bed, dress, and drive to the nearest 24 hour drug store. I haven’t gotten my period yet and I pray with every bit of my being that I am pregnant again.
Again. The first time I conceived was 4 years earlier. I was 36 and had spent the majority of my adulthood as a midwife helping other people create families. I wanted a chance to mother my own child. Fortunately I met my partner and her son and foster daughter 2 years before that first pregnancy. Dating a parent and connecting with her kids was difficult at times, but it reinforced the desire to start parenting with a baby of our own together.
I got pregnant on the first try. I was elated! I thought that it would be harder. It was. I found I could hold new life inside me, but not birth it. I started bleeding at 9 weeks into my pregnancy. Little Sam had stop developing long before, a fibroid in his or her way. After fibroid surgery, I got pregnant again. Oren Jasper died two weeks before his due date, probably due to an umbilical cord accident. “Accident”- I think of cars colliding, planes dropping out of the sky, slipping off a ladder, not a healthy baby who suddenly stops dancing.
Maybe the third time would be a charm. Isn’t that what they say? A week before I heard the song “I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone,” on the radio. “Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.” At the drug store I feel uncomfortable buying only pregnancy tests, so I get some juice and toothpaste as well. Back in the car, about 5 minutes from home, there is time for only one song to play on the radio-“The Mother and Child Reunion”. Astonished, I go inside and take a pregnancy test. Positive. I weep. It is April 15th. Sam was due on April 16th. Oren died on April 17th.
I babysat a three year old one morning a week. We go to the woods and the lake to celebrate the tiny life growing within me. “You’re my friend,” she tells me. “You’re mine too,” I reply. “You have a pretty good imagination Tanya,” she says. I do. I imagined her playing with a little baby, my baby. Running to the beach, laughing leaping down the path. Later, I play the guitar and sing to them, the toddler and my baby, “This little light of mine”, “You are my sunshine”. My songs are my prayer, “Please let this one live.”
I have a tiny hand-crank music box that Lavender gave me. I press it against my belly over my pubic bone and turn the crank around and around hearing “Imagine” by John Lennon and picturing my little ball of cells vibrating to the music. Later I would come to believe this linked my daughter with her great grandmother. “Imagine” was one of the songs playing when my Nana died.
7 weeks pregnant- sick, exhausted. I’ve never had morning sickness like this before. Maybe the baby is a girl? This is a good sign isn’t it? Planting trees at Lavender’s father’s land. Pines in honor of my stillborn son Oren Jasper. Oren means “pine” in Hebrew. Knowing I was pregnant again helped me get through the 2nd anniversary of his death and birth. Lavender names this baby “Snowdrop” for the first spring flower, hope after a long winter. A few days later someone posts this poem on the Bereaved Parents Group page:
The world may never notice
If a Snowdrop doesn’t bloom,
Or even pause to wonder
If the petals fall too soon.
But every life that ever forms,
Or ever comes to be,
Touches the world in some small way
For all eternity.
The little one we longed for
Was swiftly here and gone.
But the love that was then planted
Is a light that still shines on.
And though our arms are empty,
Our hearts know what to do.
For every beating of our hearts
Says that we love you
I freak out. Oh no! We have to change Snowdrop’s name! But after a breath I decide I am being foolish, superstitious, seeing messages where there are none. Besides, Snowdrop is the perfect name.
My first Mother’s Day pregnant. I want to tell people I am pregnant again, but I am scared. Will I jinx this one? Will another baby die? Can’t I just move into a cave to spend this pregnancy away from curious eyes? It is too much- the fear, the expectation, the flashbacks, the memories in my changing body. Tired, crampy, nauseated, counting the days, later counting the heartbeats… And then, of course, I come down with a cold. Body stress, mind stress, I pretend everything is fine. My stepson Derek doesn’t know I am pregnant for the third time. So much loss already, what if this one dies too. He is 14 and the world is a turbulent place for a pubescent boy. When I was pregnant with Oren he practiced swaddling dolls. He so wanted to be a big brother. A big brother of a living sibling of course. He tells me that he and his father are uncomfortable with the photo I put up on Facebook of me holding his brother Oren at the hospital. I cry and cry. His brother was beautiful. Holding heart break and hope simultaneously is exhausting.
I decline an ultrasound. The last ultrasound image I saw was of my dead son. Lavender and I decide to do a blood test to check for chromosomal abnormalities. I am 40 and the chances of a complication like this increases with maternal age. Fingers crossed this little one is healthy.
Second trimester! Finally feeling better I attend two weddings back to back with Lavender and Derek. The second wedding is my brother’s. Such a beautiful picture of all of us smiling, dressed in our best. My barely bigger belly hidden in a flowy floral dress. We buy a card for my parents, “It’s a Girl!” not for our baby, but to congratulate them on their new daughter in law. We want to tell them, we want to tell Derek, but we don’t want to pull the attention away from my brother and sister in law at such a happy time. We joke that maybe it will be a girl and we can laugh about the card with my parents someday. A huge rainbow splits the sky the day I make it to 14 weeks. Rainbow baby is a common name for a baby that lives after a loss. Lavender gives me a little yellow dress with a frog on it for the baby. We are finding happiness again after so much hard. Oh to hold this baby alive in my arms!
I am spotting. It is the beginning of July and a dark stain appears over and over in my underwear. I know something is wrong. Spotting was the first sign that I was losing Sam. I am coming around again, spiraling back to the end. I stand outside by the clothesline and envision it covered in baby clothing. I pray. I beg. Why? This time can’t I just stay in the happy world? The world where good things happen. I want to stay there! I don’t want to slip into a world of loss and pain again. But the “good” world is an illusion. My daughter is long dead.
The midwife can’t find a heartbeat. Again. We are heading out of town on a camping trip for a family reunion. I don’t want to know the baby is dead yet. If I know the grief will be overwhelming. I will miss the reunion. My wife will be torn, should she go and see her sister who she hasn’t seen in years, or stay with me? And what about Derek? He doesn’t even know I am pregnant. The night before the trip I lie on the couch sobbing. Lavender is angry. She yells at me, “Don’t give up on our baby!” She wants this child too. We lie together with my head in her lap as I struggle to contain my tears. “I am snuggling with my family,” she says. We go to the reunion. I put on my best smile, my happiest mask. I am fine. We are fine. Nothing is wrong. No one will know. I will keep changing my pads. It is all a bad dream. The baby is fine. I am fine. Life is good. Pretending…
Fireworks fill the night sky. It is the 4th of July. In the morning nothing will ever be the same. For one last night I can laugh, I can hope. I can revel in playing with my youngest niece and nephew who are 4. They should be playing with Sam or playing with Oren. Later, crampy, I am lying in a tent, tears dripping down my cheek while everyone else is getting drunk and being rowdy. Please, please…
I am bleeding now. Bright red blood. Lots of bright red blood. I can’t do this. I can’t miscarry in a tent or a porta potty. Lavender leaves Derek with her family and drives me back to town. On the way into the ultrasound clinic there is a mourning cloak butterfly on the windowsill inside the door. Butterflies are a symbol of infant loss. We have the same ultrasound tech we had when we found out we lost Sam in 2010, four years prior. Lying on the table I can’t look at the monitor. The room is silent. THE ROOM IS SILENT! SILENCE AGAIN. In desperation I call out “PLEASE SAY SOMETHING!!!!”
“I am sorry.”
The room is spinning. We are waking now from our happy four month dream, crashing head first back into the cruel world. She was our daughter and she was dead. It looked like she had died around a month or so before. Here I thought I had made it to 16 weeks; I had, she hadn’t. And just like my missed miscarriage with Sam, my body held on, not wanting to let go of my child. How is it possible that for the third time I could hold life and death inside of me?
Did I cry? Probably. I honestly don’t remember. I remember Lavender looking at the ultrasound monitor and seeing our dead baby. I couldn’t look. In some ways I am in shock, and in some ways I knew all along she wasn’t going to live. Babies never live who grow in me. Lavender is leaving to go back to the reunion to be with Derek. She will bring him back in the morning. My friend, a nurse, is taking me to the Emergency Room. It is surreal, nightmarish.
For 7 hours I wait in a triage room. The doctor needs more information. He does a pelvic exam, a urine test, blood draws, another ultrasound- HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU NEED TO LOOK AT MY DEAD BABY!, no food, no water, no information. I am cramping and bleeding and crying. Grateful my friend is with me and later, a second one too. These women were there for every loss. They watched me push a silent son into an equally silent hospital room two years ago.
The doctor tells me I need tests. Tests to find out why this baby died, to find out what is wrong with me. Maybe I had the same thing wrong with all the pregnancies and that was the cause of the deaths. “No,” I tell him. The other losses were for different reasons. He has me recount them all. Then he pushes, “What if you lose another? We need to know more about this one.” “I won’t ever get pregnant again,” I say. “How do you know that?” he asks. “My partner is a woman.”
He is surprised, uncomfortable. “How did you get pregnant?” “What doctor did you use?” “We did it ourselves.” He is flabbergasted, staring at me in disbelief. Here I am in pain and despair, reliving past trauma and he wants to know something personal that has nothing to do with the fact that my daughter is dead. He doesn’t understand what I tell him. He wants more details. Maybe the fact that we didn’t work with a fertility clinic has something to do with why she is dead, he says. Maybe the fact that we used a midwife with all my pregnancies is why the babies died. “NO,” I repeat. “I got exceptional care,” (unlike the invasive, disrespectful, unhelpful “care” I am getting now at this ER.)
Eventually after he has satisfied his curiosity to the point that I am in tears, he does yet another pelvic exam and announces that they don’t have a surgeon there who can help me anyway. I have to go home and schedule a D&E. WHY THE HELL DIDN’T HE TELL ME THAT 7 HOURS AGO!
My wife is at the reunion, drunk, heartbroken, angry that I can’t get the surgery, conflicted that she is not with me at the hospital. Her mother and siblings now know we have had a third loss. No one knows what to say to her. My parents don’t even know I was pregnant.
I spend the night sobbing at my friend’s apartment with a bag of chux pads, praying I don’t miscarry there as she has to work the next day. In the morning we go walking by the lake. The same place I took the little girl I babysat to celebrate the pregnancy. An enormous owl is sitting on a sign post near the water. Silently it lifts off and flies away. “Goodbye,” I say.
For the next three days I have more appointments, more phone calls, a procedure planned for the 9th. Everyone wonders if I will miscarry beforehand, but I am determined to hold her inside me so that Derek will not know what has happened. We tell him I am sick. I remove every trace of baby things from our house, reverse nesting. I lie in bed, bleeding and cramping, in and out of sleep. I dream I see three children standing at the foot of the bed. “Why? Why did you have to leave?” I ask them. But they are just silently staring at me. I dream of a toddler in a diaper leaning out the window reaching for a bird. “Don’t go.” You wanted to fly my Miriam. I wish you had wanted to stay here instead.
Somehow I stay pregnant. The morning of the surgery my wife takes me to the hospital. “This was a very wanted baby,” I tell the surgical team. “Her name is Miriam Lyra.” Miriam, sister of Moses, who helped lead her people to freedom. Lyra, a constellation of starts and a powerful protagonist from my favorite books. “Do you want her remains?” they ask me. I am startled. I hadn’t thought of that. I do not want Derek to know. I want to save him from more pain. “What will happen to her,” I inquire. The remains will be incinerated with others. I regret not taking them home with me, but I was afraid. I never got to hold her in my hands or see any of her but a grainy ultrasound photo after she had died.
When I wake up I am one again, not two. My best friend is with me as my wife had to go to work. “I miss you,” I say to my empty belly. After the baby died, we get the results from the blood test that was run for chromosomal abnormalities. Miriam is perfectly healthy.
“A black swallowtail butterfly just laid eggs on my dill!” It is the end of June and our daughter is still inside me. Lavender is excited to capture the caterpillars as they grow with her new camera. She is especially interested in photographing tiny things in her garden. The little hatchlings emerge a few days later. The day after we find out Miriam is gone so are the caterpillars. Distraught about the caterpillars and devastated about our daughter Lavender posts on Facebook:
“When I got up this morning, all the caterpillars were gone…it was too soon for them to pupate. They must have been some bird’s breakfast…Next time I will bring them inside. Enough of this nature taking its course crap.”
Almost no one knew she was also writing about losing our three babies. The summer we lost Sam we found two caterpillars that we kept in an empty oatmeal box with a screen glued on the side. They became butterflies though we missed the moments they enclose from the chrysalises. Later, when I am admitted to the hospital to be induced with Oren, the staff put a sign with a butterfly on my door. Be aware, death in this room.
After the agonizing ultrasound with Miriam, I am left at my friend’s place while Lavender returns to the reunion. Her 4 year old niece approaches her. “Is that your tent,” she asks. Lavender assures her it is. “There was a butterfly in your tent,” she states. “Butterflies must really like you.” Regardless of what Ruby actually saw, Lavender thinks this story is beautiful. I am enraged.
I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE BUTTERFLIES! I WANT TO HAVE LIVING BABIES!
But the butterflies keep coming. Again there is that cursed butterfly sign on my hospital room door when I am waiting for surgery. Then the little girl I babysat for comes to our house with a bedraggled queen Anne’s lace flower for me. I put it in water and discover a couple days later that it has a tiny caterpillar on it. The next week Lavender watches a monarch lay eggs in front of her. True to her word she brings the egg laden leaves inside. Soon we raise dozens of caterpillars. We watch their skin sluff off, marvel at their metamorphosis, place little tags on the monarchs wings. We learn much about the migrating monarchs who arrive in Mexico around the Day of the Dead. Some believe they are spirits of the ancestors, or spirits of babies who have left us too soon.
The butterflies become an obsession. In the years that follow, we have a special house made for them and learn to catch and tag wild monarchs too. Lavender turns out to be a talented photographer. Still I am angry, I did not want a beautiful story of butterflies, songs, and owls. I wanted my daughter. I still do.
A fresh fruit bouquet arrives at our house when some friends learn of our loss. It is just like the one we received from my aunt and uncle after Oren died. The card says “arranged by Sam.”
Winter Solstice, Miriam’s Due date. We are standing in the dark with a couple who also lost their baby at the same time we lost Miriam. Like us they had had a full term stillbirth right before this loss. We light sky lanterns in the dark and find comfort in our mutual grieving. I share the words of Christina Rossetti from “Echo”:
Come to me in the silence of the night
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream…
The lanterns travel up into the darkness and disappear.
Healing from this loss, from any of my losses, is an ongoing process. What does healing even mean? My wife spirals down into depression, alcoholism. Lost in my own grief I am barely aware. But I am fortunate, privileged enough to have access to resources and support systems. Miraculously, skilled therapists, a support group, and 12 step meetings are here to help us. Other bereaved parents reach out too. We save our relationship. It was not easy, but our love for each other carried us through the hardest times.
I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that we want to make reason, make meaning, out of everything that happens. That is our nature as humans. We want to understand. After losing Oren at 38 weeks I was struck by something another bereaved parent said. Taking a shower after her loss she cried out to God, “Why me?” An answer filled her mind, “Why NOT you?” In life we all have suffering and I have been blessed to find a hand to hold when things get hard. And although I may clutch at signs and wonders to show me that I am still connected to my children on the other side, in my heart I know that I will always be their mother, just as I am to my grown foster daughter, stepson, and now my rambunctious rainbow toddler, carried by my wife. I will always look up to the stars on clear summer nights and think of my Miriam Lyra.
Copywritten 2021 Tanya E Mudrick All Rights Reserved