“Mommy, you have pattern babies,” my oldest daughter likes to tell me. “Alive, dead, alive, dead.”
It stings to hear my story of love and loss and longing reduced to such concise mathematics, but she’s right. My journey of motherhood is one of alternate joy and grief, fullness and emptiness.
I have two beautiful living daughters, ages 6 and 3. And I have two beautiful daughters I never got to meet, daughters who should be 4 and 1.
After my first loss, a miscarriage at 15 weeks of a daughter we named Avaleen Hope, I was desperate to be pregnant again, but also terrified.
I’d left the hospital empty-handed once, and now, even though I had a healthy one-year-old, I couldn’t imagine bringing home a real, living baby I would actually get to keep.
But I did. She was beautiful and strong, and because no doctor had ever been able to give me a reason for my miscarriage, I assumed it was a fluke, unlikely to be repeated. After all, I’d now had one live birth on either side of my loss.
But it did happen again. In the same ultrasound room at the same obstetrician’s office, just three and a half years later. I knew as soon as the image of my baby appeared on the screen.
There was no movement, no flicker of a beating heart. Just stillness. Again.
“I don’t want to do this another time,” I’d cried to my husband a few days earlier, when I’d struggled to feel the movement inside of me that I’d grown to expect. Later, I’d thought I’d felt flutters again, and I’d convinced myself that everything was fine.
But it wasn’t fine. I’d lost another baby, and once again, no one could tell me why. She was born still on a cold January morning, and we named her Lily Mae.
Strangely enough, in those early days of grief, I found there were advantages to walking through the loss of a baby for the second time. Because I’d done it before, I knew what I wanted – and what I didn’t want. This time, I was able to deliver my baby girl, hold her, and bury her – all choices I’d wished I’d made the first time around, with Avaleen.
I also found that for me loss the second time was not nearly as isolating as it had been the first time. Then, I didn’t have any close friends who’d experienced a miscarriage, and I didn’t know anyone who’d lost a baby after the first trimester. But in the years between my two losses, I’d written a book about reproductive loss and built connections to many other families who’d experienced miscarriage and stillbirth. I knew I wasn’t alone, and I had many people to talk to, people who understood much of what I was feeling.
And yet, as the weeks turned into months, I found myself struggling to recover in a way I hadn’t after my first miscarriage.
Then, I’d grieved deeply, but I’d also bounced back quickly. Though we waited over six months to start trying for another baby, I’d been emotionally ready to get pregnant again right away. We’d chosen a delay only to pursue further testing and rule out any potential health issues.
I’d also jumped into my book project, determined to help create the kind of resource I’d wished to find in my own grief. I’d felt deeply sad, but I’d also had the energy to move forward, to make the best of a difficult situation.
But this time, my drive was gone. Months passed, and I couldn’t even think about trying for another baby, as much as I still wanted one.
My book was released the same month that Lily should have been born, and when people asked how I felt about such a wonderful achievement, I burst into tears. “I don’t really care about the book,” I told them. “I just want my baby back.”
Even now, some eighteen months after Lily’s death, I’m only beginning to emerge from a form of survival living. I’m sorting through the piles that have accumulated around my house, trying to start writing again, and thinking about the possibility of another pregnancy. But I still don’t have the resources to tackle big projects and dream the big dreams that characterized much of my adolescence and young adulthood.
My first loss changed me, but my second undid me.
Because I was cut in a place where I already had a scar, the pain runs deeper, the healing is slower.