Friday, February 12, 2010

"No, 4 and 5"

As I watch them sleeping, in our bed, I am struck by their serenity... How peace and calm just fills every pore and they rest, gently, beside one another but in their own space. In the mornings, usually around 5:30 or so (depending on their last feeding), they will start to stir and we pick them up and cuddle them. Inevitably, we all fall back to sleep and then, around 7am, start the process of butts & bottles (i.e. changing diapers and talking the not-so-long trek to our washroom waiting area (I really dont know what else to call it, our upstairs bathroom is a three room deal with the shower and toilet in one room, the sink and closets in a second, and then an open space that houses more cabinets, a spare closet rod, my cedar chest, and a small fridge that is perfect for drinks and bottles) to get bottles and warm them in the bathroom sink). Then, they get cuddled some more, fed, burped, and cuddled until we (or sometimes just they) fall asleep. In these morning rituals, they are then placed in our bed (which is a sleep number and creates a perfect little depression around their bodies), buffered with pillows just in case, and lightly covered. And there they take their first nap of day, surrounded by the smells of mommy and daddy and within arms reach of each other. And it is such a beautiful image.

I watch them each morning, sometimes as I do laundry, sometimes after a shower when I am getting dressed, sometimes just sitting and doing nothing but watching them, and I am struck at the simplicity of life. I am grateful for getting this time, this stay at home mom time, where my day consists of taking care of them and, possibly, going out to get groceries or visit or do a mommy-and-me class (or in my case, mommy-and-me-and-her/him). I live in a bubble some days, oblivious to the world around me (yes, I know it snowed in places other than my backyard and that the Olympics are starting, but that is about the extent of my news knowledge right now). At home, it is just me and the kids (and Peter). Bobby and Maya and the feelings and memories of Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander.

As we've been doing since they were little (well, I guess they still are...), we take the kids out to dinner. They sit quietly while we eat and we usually get "Wow, they are so well behaved" by folks. And they are. Last night was no exception. We went to a local place, which was delicious, and people stopped by to say how well behaved the kids were and to ask the usual bevy of questions: are they twins, are they two boys/two girls, how old are they, is he bigger than her, etc. And, usually, are they your first...

"No, they are four and five."

Last night, it was Peter who answered and the woman just chuckled and said that we must have our hands full as she walked on by. Sometimes, I prefer the ignorance of baby death when we are out in public, but I really preferred it last night when I was on the verge of tears the entire evening because, really, in the grand scheme of have and have nots, there was a world where I was the mother of a nine year old. Sometimes, I just dont want to be the mother of the dead babies AND the infant twins. Because sometimes, I just dont want to be so damn different.

But I'm not. We might not talk about babies dying, but just because society ignores it doesnt mean it isnt true. 25% of all pregnancies- and some studies are saying up to 50%- end in miscarriage of the baby prior to 12weeks. (And that doesnt include the abortion statistics; in the U.S. in 2005, 1,206,200 babies were aborted.) Of those surviving pregnancies, 1%-5% end in a second trimester miscarriage and 1 out of every 200 ends in stillbirth. And of those babies that make it to being born alive, in the U.S., over 19,000 babies died EVERY YEAR in their first month of life (and that excludes infant murder). 6 out of every 1000 children dies before the age of a year old. So, it stands to reason that you know someone- several someones- who has lost a child. (edit: when I was compiling links for Sara for her speech, I came across another statistic that put stillbirth worldwide at approx 1 in 200, but in the U.S. at 1 in 115, or a child being born still every 20 minutes...)

My grandmother lost three. Peter's grandmother lost 1. Peter's mother lost an older child. It doesnt skip a generation. There's someone with loss in your life, even if you dont know it. Because, still, we dont talk about it. It makes us uncomfortable. It ruins our illusions: babies dont die.

But they do. And we are left behind to somehow sort through the pieces and create a puzzle that holds together even though it is missing pieces.

I've been introduced as "the woman with twins", with a postscript of "they are really blessings because they had babies die." In another world, I might be offended that this is how I am known, how I will be remembered. But then someone says to me. "Oh, I lost a baby too." and, suddenly, they have someone else who understands. And it strikes me that we are lucky- we have each other. There are so many others who suffer in silence and suffer alone. Who try to forget because no one remembers. Who, in spite of feeling their missing babies in their hearts, choose to not say "4 and 5" but rather "yes" because they cant stand the uncomfortable silence, the words that are stumbled through, the anguish that passes on faces, the sudden needing to go that follows. And somehow, in all of that, we who are aching and lost, make ourselves feel inadequate and perpetuate the same myth that, before our babies died, we all believed.

Last night, mourning the death of a baby who never saw this world through human eyes, never felt our arms around him, never smelled the safety of his parents, we smiled when people commented on our children and how perfect they were, and we all lived in the bubble of an evening out, just a random family of 4. A family with plates at the table missing. A table shy of a few high chairs. Last month, as we went to dinner with two dear friends, we took the babies to a non-child friendly whole in the wall but awesome place. I called ahead and they gave us a seat with a banquette for the carseats (since there was totally no room for a stroller or even high chairs). We went to an early seating to avoid the crowds and the waiter told us how great the kids were (they slept). As we walked in, I saw a woman, her very pregnant belly curled under her black dress, leaving the restroom. I was holding Maya in her carseat, waiting to be seated, and the woman's eyes skimmed the restaurant (which is terribly small) and rested on us before she sat down. She quickly looked away and I thought little of it. Throughout the evening, she stole glances our way, settling on Maya usually and looking away whenever our eyes met.

And it hit me.

Her baby died. I recognized that look. That longing. That pain. Why does she get 2 when I cant have my one? Cant I even go to a restaurant without seeing a baby? Who brings a baby here anyway? God, I miss my baby. The black dress that she pulled around her midsection. The table of friends. The bottle of wine that she kept sipping from. The deep breaths. The glances hidden. The tears she wiped away. The gentle hand her friend placed on her arm, brushing her belly as she leaned in and whispered something, perhaps along the line of it's okay... let's go...

And, it could have been something else completely. But the look on her face... The final stolen glance at Maya as she walked out the door. It was all so much like thoughts I've had, looks I've given, pain I've been crushed under.

Last night, in our small town restaurant, at a place where we didnt run into anyone we know, we were just the family who brought two babies out in the winter evening, who had iced tea in lieu of bringing our own bottle of wine, the couple who shared a dessert.

And it felt wrong to say "4 and 5" and let the woman make her glib comment that we must really have our hands full, when I wanted to say, "Not full enough; our children died."

Because even if they can move beyond it, I cant. I'll always hear "7" even when I ask for a table for 4. I'll always see 5 faces in the pictures that others see 2. They may not see me as the mother of dead children, but I'll always know it. Be that person. And I'm okay with that. I cant stop people from feeling sorry for me or from being shocked and uncomfortable when they find out. But I can respond in a way that, I hope, mitigates it and leaves the door open if they- or someone they know- understands that same pain. On the outside, to a stranger, they might only see the perfect picture we present, but if they look a little deeper... They'll see a card carrying infertile who happens to have a dual membership in the dead baby club. An orphaned mother with living children.


As we looked over the dessert menu last night, we were shocked to see one item: Peter's Plate (a selection of freshly baked cookies). It was almost as though he were saying "It's okay, Mommy and Daddy. I'm fine. We're fine."

And they are. And, in our skin, we are, too.


Mother Knows Best Reviews said...

I am just so moved by this that I can't even really comment except to say, "How beautiful." I'm sorry - it's probably better not to comment at all, but I just wanted to share with you how moving it was.

Jill said...

I agree with AKD, I am so moved by this post!

The picture of Bobby and Maya is so peaceful. They are simply beautiful.

I think that the name of the desert was a sign. Alexander, Sophia, and Nicholas are always with you and Bobby and Maya.


Fran said...

This post was amazing, like many you write. I am often that woman that looks at other's babies and longs for the smell of their hair...i hope one day I'll have my own, but for now yours are so beautiful it's difficult to look away!
Love, Fran

Anonymous said...

hey there ...
where did you get the following info?

"""We might not talk about babies dying, but just because society ignores it doesnt mean it isnt true. 25% of all pregnancies- and some studies are saying up to 50%- end in miscarriage of the baby prior to 12weeks. (And that doesnt include the abortion statistics; in the U.S. in 2005, 1,206,200 babies were aborted.) Of those surviving pregnancies, 1% end in a second trimester miscarriage and 1 out of every 200 ends in stillbirth. And of those babies that make it to being born alive, in the U.S., over 19,000 babies died EVERY YEAR in their first month of life (and that excludes infant murder). 6 out of every 1000 children dies before the age of a year old. So, it stands to reason that you know someone- several someones- who has lost a child."""

I would like to present this on Anthonys site as an awareness bullet ..

Thanks :)

Michele said...

k said...

beautifully articulated. i feel sad for the girl that looked at maya with longing. makes me wish we could wear something to identify ourselves so others who feel alone know they are not.

the picture of sleeping bobby and maya is adorable.

Heather said...

This is such a beautiful post, Michele. Many, many hugs.

trennia said...

This is a beautiful post.I catch myself looking at pregnany bellies,at new borns,and I have 5 earthly children and 3 heavenly one's but I still find myself looking...and yes sometimes my eyes fill up with tears.This is such a beautiful post thank you Michele.

missing_one said...

They will always be foremost in our mind, yet invisible to the world.

Bluebird said...

I can't stop crying.

Thank you.

Sophie said...



With Out My Punkin said...

Beautiful post, its interesting how we can see that is what that look is from other mommas.


Anonymous said...

You are ruminating over and over about your lost children and will eventually make yourself sick...unable to care for your precious children and kind husband unless you stop! Stop letting it take over your thoughts. Stop letting negative and sad memories rule your day, your head, your heart and your life. Happiness is a choice and you need to make a big effort to strive for peace of mind. Stop letting the past totally consume you. God has given you two gifts and instead of being joyful over them, you are in constant grief over what has happened to you in the past. Your kids deserve 100% from you right now, mom. Not just your left overs from past heartbreaks. Grow up and be the fabulous mother you have always wanted to be, girl! Be the joyous mother God wants you to be.

Anonymous said...

Oh Michele (written between sniffs) this is a beautiful post. There is just so much in it I want to talk to you about. I'm so glad for you and so sad at the same time. Lots of love to you xxx

Debby@Just Breathe said...

This is what needs to be on the news. It is what the people don't see as they walk past you. The deep sorrow within your heart and others like you. I think that the world needs a wake up call about this. Why is it that only the big disasters get noticed when the number of babies who die each year is huge yet know one wants to talk about it. ((HUGS))

Anonymous said...

Can't stop crying... I wish we could all have our large tables.

Anonymous said...

Michele, this is such a beautiful post. I can only imagine the heartbreak you must have felt for that woman. *hugs*

quadmom said...

What a moving post. After reading it, I took a few moments to gaze at your beautiful Alexander, Nicholas, and Sophia's photos. They are so perfect. Saying a prayer for your family of 7.

Catherine W said...

This is so beautiful Michele. Yours words, the photograph of Bobby and Maya, all of it. My heart breaks for that lady in the restaurant. After G died and J was still in hospital, I know I used to sneak looks at other babies. I still sneak looks at twins, especially twin girls. I just can't help myself.
I read this over and over last night but I just couldn't think of how to respond. I feel so honoured to read your words here and to share a small part of your precious children. x

MrsSpock said...

Oh Anonymous, I'm not sure you get it. It is by sharing the stark truth of grief that keeps it from consuming us.

The people who end up on the psych ward are the people who try to pretend it never happened.

Michele, who tends to her faith, her marriage, her living children, and her physical health, is not someone who is letting negative memories rule her.

It is not normal to forget about the children one has lost.

Sharing feelings and memories is part of the healthy process of grieving. And helping others who are in the acute phase of grief, by sharing her own experience, is the sign of a strong survivor who has learned to integrate the realities of being the mother of children both dead and living.

Glenda said...

Thank you, Michele. Your words help all of us who have children not with us. They give us breath. They say beautifully & truthfully what we haven't been able to explain to the "anonymous" people in our lives. You are a strong & yet vulnerable woman to let so many in on your true thoughts. Peace to you and your family - ALL of you on Earth & in heaven!