I don't know how many children I have. To strangers, to most of my family and friends, and even to my otherwise wonderful husband, I am and always will be a mother of two. One beautiful and talented and amazing daughter, and one silly and gorgeous sparkle-eyed son.
This hurts like hell because it feels wrong. Because there ought to be not two but somehow five, and because I know what happens when you're pregnant with triplets and then your babies are taken from you one at a time.
Babies A and B were destined to bring chaos into my life from the moment my midwife said "high-risk pregnancy." The ultrasound wasn't even finished and I was already over the moon, greedily imagining two car seats, two high chairs, round the clock breastfeeding, and double the diapers. Sisters sharing a room. Fighting and making up. My small house overstuffed with girls.
There was a third fetus, too, but it entered and exited my world simultaneously when the tech staring at the screen said (not to me but to the attending OB), "I'm not getting a heartbeat on Baby C."
So I didn't know there was a Baby C until there wasn't one anymore, but nonetheless I felt driven to tell people that my twin pregnancy had begun as a trio. Save for my dad, people treated the natural reduction as benign or even beneficial -- less risky for me, less risky for the two babies whose strong, speedy heartbeats told us they were going to make it.
Except they didn't. Baby A and Baby B brought chaos, just not the kind I was wishing for. Suddenly there were dead people inside of me. And no one understood that I felt like a grave.
Yes, there were hot meals delivered and beautiful handwritten letters from women who'd never shared their own stories of loss until I had my own. My husband brought me wine, food, and medication after I locked myself away in our finished basement to sob away the hours until my D&C. But not one person seemed to understand that at that point I was still home to three people who'd been -- who'd always be -- all potential.
A couple of casseroles can't wipe away the memory of people who smile as they say "At least you already have one healthy child" and "At least there must have been a reason" and "At least you know it's all part of God's plan" when they ought to have been sobbing along with me as they said, "I'm just so sorry you lost those babies."
That alone made the lifeless ache I felt that much worse. So many people trying to convince me that miscarrying three babies had a bright side I'd eventually see if I waited long enough. So many people telling me God must be some kind of rat bastard without really meaning to. Every statement came with its own "at least." but all of them together were not enough to dull my hurt. I had experienced every magnificent moment of my body cocooning those babies in the parts of me that were supposed to keep them safe. That were supposed to keep those strong, speedy hearts beating.
Now those hearts were still.
And worse, my body kept up its cocooning for weeks after someone took my hand and said, "I'm sorry, but your babies have passed." There was no gush of blood between my legs or spear of pain in my belly to give my mourning momentum. I stayed bloated, breasts swollen, the firm roundness of my uterus clearly visible whenever I lay down. I was empty of life but my body wouldn't believe it.
And so I couldn't believe it. In the most secret parts of myself I prayed it was a mistake. That I would feel some flutter of life that could prove a whole office of neonatologists wrong.
But there was nothing.
That nothingness manifested as cold medical jargon -- what had once been beautiful babies was now tissue to be evacuated before infection could set in. The nothingness was in the ambiguity, too. Miscarriage describes a messy, visceral process, not the abrupt and heartbreaking stillness of the loss that accompanies it. There's no word for what I was and no true reckoning. Could I be a mom of four when three had never drawn a breath and one was gone before I even knew it was there? If I hadn't already had a daughter, would I even be a mom?
It was as if from the moment the spark of life inside me was declared gone, everyone around me conspired to take away the humanity of the people who'd been nestled together in my womb. They took their personhood, not as it pertains to abortion rights (which should be a totally separate discussion) but as it existed as part of my own experience of motherhood. Some people believe a woman becomes a mother the moment she conceives. I think a woman is transformed into a mother when she begins weaving a unique life story for her baby after the reality of conception sets in.
In my fog of grief, I was not mourning a child I had. But neither was my grief for a pregnancy ended too soon. My tears weren't shed over the expedited D&C that I shouldn't even have needed. I cried unrelentingly then for the babies I lost; I sometimes still cry to this day for them and for the kind of sympathy that was denied to me.
When I miscarried, I lost a life -- the life my family and I would have lived if I'd had A and B and even C. And yet in the eyes of the world, I lost nothing because that imagined life was just that -- imaginary -- and so never really mine to lose.