I was almost six months pregnant with twin boys after undergoing IVF when, at a routine anatomy ultrasound, we discovered one twin had died, and shortly after we got the rest of the bad news. I was suffering from preeclampsia, a severe case, and I had to be admitted to the hospital immediately. Twelve hours after I was admitted, the doctors surrounded my bed and told me that I was going to die unless the pregnancy was terminated. Either my son and I could both die, or I would just lose my son.
It was the worst day of my life.
After I came home from the hospital I disappeared into grief. For three weeks I lay on my couch, watching reruns of the vampire show Angel, and listlessly eating junk food. I spent most of my time in the gray of loneliness, a hand on my empty belly, feeling terribly lost. I remember handing out Halloween candy to the neighbor’s kids while silent tears ran down my face. I remember occasionally swimming out of the sadness long enough to be terribly fucking angry, full of a rage so violent I was afraid I’d hurt myself.
But, as it does, time passed. I lost my sons – posthumously named Nicholas and Zachary – 10 years ago last month. I was blessed in 2006 to give birth to my daughter Tori, a whirling dervish of energy and cleverness and creativity. The pain of the loss of my sons dimmed with time, although it’s still there, a dark river running at the bottom of my heart.
When I meet other women who have lost children… we always find ourselves leaning into each other, just slightly, so we can all help shoulder the burden of our losses.
Losing unborn children is a tricky thing; people often don’t understand that particular agony. I know, now that I have my daughter, that losing a living child would be a million times worse (not that I believe in the pain olympics, but you get what I mean, right?). But that doesn’t erase my grief over my sons, over the potential of their lives.
A couple of years ago I was at the zoo with my daughter when I saw two boys, obviously twins, casually walking together with their arms thrown over each others shoulders, their faces shining with love for each other. As they walked past me, I bent over like I’d been dealt a physical blow, pain searing through me once again, as fresh as the day it happened. Grief, I’ve found, is like that. Most of the time it’s that dark river, but sometimes that river floods, and I drown in it.
I was told many “helpful” things after I lost my sons, such as “At least they are with God now” and “They are in a better place”. Both of those statements, for the record, are bullshit. However, one person told me the Buddhist belief about miscarried and stillborn children: that they only need to touch on this earth long enough to be loved once more before they move on to Nirvana. I cannot tell you how much this comforted me.
A decade after losing Nicholas and Zachary, I can now see the gifts they’ve given me. I love my daughter far more fiercely because of losing the boys. I have a well of newfound empathy, allowing me to be far more tolerant of those around me. My story has touched many lives, even bringing shades of gray into discussions of reproductive rights with many that only see that issue in black and white. I learned about the power of my writing as I coped with the aftermath of my grief. My husband and I found we could survive a loss and still find joy in our relationship. My sons, in the brief time they were here, gave me much.
That said, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt. The end of October is always painful, as is the end of February/beginning of March (when the boys were due). The tears always come those days. I’ve learned to let them come.
While many will discuss the five stages of grief, no one talks about how the grief is eternal. Sure, eventually you arrive at acceptance, but that doesn’t make the situation or sadness disappear. For me, that acceptance element includes accepting the fact that I am still sad, 10 years later. When that river floods, I no longer fight it. I know that I need to let that grief sweep me away, for as long as it lasts, until I arrive back on dry land, hollowed out and exhausted.
My mother in law lost a child before my husband was born. Her name was Victoria (yes, my daughter is named after her), and she was a thalidomide baby, with birth defects so severe she could not survive. It was 1959, and she coped with the loss in only way she knew how. She refused to hold the baby (or perhaps the doctors recommended it), she went home after and removed every photo of her pregnant from the photo albums, and she never, ever spoke of it. Not once.
The loss of my sons has shaped me, molded me into who I am now, and the sadness will always be there, and this is completely fucking normal.
Today we process the loss of children differently, and we talk about it. When I meet other women who have lost children – whether from early miscarriages or SIDS or cancer – we always find ourselves leaning into each other, just slightly, so we can all help shoulder the burden of our losses. We recognize each other. We all swim in that river.
But there is still an expectation that, with time, that grief will disappear. At the first moment of loss, the grieving are offered soothing condolences, sent casseroles, but then abandoned. I’ve been told, more than once, that I need to “move on” from my grief. But 10 years in, I know this: I will never move on. The loss of my sons has shaped me, molded me into who I am now, and the sadness will always be there, and this is completely fucking normal.
Loss and grief are the backside of love. While the saying, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is often said about romance, it is far more true when you discuss the loss of a child. It was better to have known, and loved, my sons for their brief time on this planet, than to have never loved them at all. Their grace, and their loss, is my blessing.
Once again, I say goodnight to my sons, Nicholas and Zachary, loved and lost a decade ago. I hold you in my heart, even when it hurts.