In the past eight years, we have sold our first house, moved to three different cities (in three states), changed jobs three times, added two dogs (and lost one) to our family. We vacationed in the Dominican Republic and Great Britain. We found our forever home (in a city at least) with an academic job that fits all of my husband’s hard work in his field of mathematics. I found my voice in my writing, publishing several pieces on sites like Scary Mommy and Tiny Buddha. I have connected with people who suffered pregnancy loss, child loss, and just loss (of all varieties). As we live lives rich with family, friends, love, and gratitude, we understand life’s peaks and valleys. Loss and gain. Miscarriage and babies.
In the past eight years, while we lost three babies, we gained one phenomenal daughter.
Eight years ago, we faced the news I couldn’t have dreamt in my wildest of nightmares (and those I do, in fact, have). We stood looking the impossible choice: carry on with a pregnancy not viable or end the horror that threatened both my unborn daughter and me.
It was December 16th, 2010 when the doctor was summoned into the ultrasound room. I was 18 weeks pregnant. This scan was routine–until it wasn’t. Until the technician turned the screen out of our view, bowed her head, and said, “excuse me while I go and get the doctor.”
In the state of Wisconsin, 20 weeks was the cutoff for terminating a pregnancy. We had two weeks to make a decision I had so casually told my husband merely a few months before that I wish I never had to make.
It had been the summer before Sophia was even a notion. We happily walked the neighborhood, his hand had clenched mine. I had thought about a news story that I had recently heard of a couple facing the realization that their child would not survive. “I know we haven’t really even tried having a baby yet, but I hope we are never in the position. I hope we never have to choose to take on the grief of relieving our child of a life of suffering,” I had said.
My husband had little to add, but his nodding head was enough.
Not long after, we stood in those very shoes. Shoes that were bigger, more scuffed and tattered than any of us could imagine–with soles barely hanging on by a thread and holes in the toes. Many of us have gone through this, even if we don’t talk about it. And that time it was our fate that brought us to the decision.
For two weeks we cried. We lost our thoughts, our happiness, our joy, our zest for life. We knew what we had to pick, yet we declined to hurry the words. Like the student who procrastinates writing a term paper until the half-hour before it’s due, we waited. Our house was often silent. There was nothing left to say.
While my trait anxiety doesn’t let me put off anything, my extreme hesitation (also anxiety-induced) allowed for the best outcome possible. Our daughter Sophia was born. Naturally. It was a day before I was officially 20 weeks.
In eight years, we lost two more pregnancies. Those losses may not have held the same gravity as did watching my Sophia perish in my husband’s hands. Still with no decisions left unmade by our destiny–one that included three angels–we sobbed for each one. While the losses became routine, the grief had a peculiar way of refreshing itself over and again. We packed up the remains of the third child, what would have been our son, and drove it to the doctor’s office in what looked like a paper lunch sack. If only it could have been so benign.
Yet we carried on with life riding the coattails of hope.
It led us to now. Eight years later. We sit with our three-year-old daughter watching her play with her magnet tiles and watching Daniel Tiger. We are teaching her to use the potty and to dress herself. And while hers are the only giggles to echo through our home, she knows she has a sister. When we ask who her sister is, she says, “–phia”.
So while we struggled a lot, and grieved our share, and feared for the future while clinging to hope, we had our valleys. And we had one huge peak.
During the rest of the year, we busy ourselves with birthday parties, play dates, school days, preschool homework, community gatherings, Super Bowl parties and family happy hours with friends. My thoughts often return to Sophia, but the grief is more fleeting. The pain that stabbed my heart so hard back then has softened to a pinch. But during her birthday month, the month in which we first learned she would die, the month in which we were told to decide if we wanted to end her suffering (and ours), the month in which she was born on a holiday and forever changed the face of New Year’s Eve, I cry a bit more than during the other 11 months.
But now, eight years later, as I wipe the tears away, my daughter says things like “I’m coming for you, Mommy!” She hugs my legs. She squeals through her baby teeth. My sadness and joy coexist. I can cry and smile. Feel warmth and chilled. Lose my breath and fill my lungs. Feel my heart break and burst with joy.
And in eight years from now, I hope I feel the same.