We'd have to get a bigger car if all your babies were still alive, Mama, Alice said to me the other day out of the blue. A minivan like you've always wanted. With a movie screen.
I don't know at what age we'll tell Arlo about his lost twin. I think about it a lot, actually. The girls think about it a lot, too. We told Alice and Lucy not long after my first miscarriage began (a process that took a horrific and long week) because they were so worried about why mama was curled up on the floor crying and sitting on the toilet moaning and bleeding and were scared. We were all scared, but I knew that hiding from them a natural and sad process in life would be detrimental to them later as they became women. We told them that we had a surprise new baby coming into the family and were very sad because it had died in mama's belly, which we hoped they could understand at ages 5 and 9. They were terrified by it being flushed down the toilet. We explained that it hadn't yet become a tiny recognizable baby but was still cells and tissue and blood at just around 8 weeks or so along in its growth cycle. This was something that was difficult for them to reconcile - for Eric and I too - because it had always been a real baby from the moment I saw those two pink lines.
When the same thing happened six months later, though, a visible teeny tiny baby came out of me in a gush into the toilet at 11 weeks along that I hysterically scooped out with a slotted spoon from the kitchen. After a grief-filled emergency ultrasound the next day we found that in a surprise turn of luck and extraordinary beauty, there was another visible teeny tiny baby with a heartbeat still thriving inside my belly. Apparently vanishing twin syndrome is quite common in pregnancies - often the mother has no idea that she's expecting twins and one will perish in utero, to be absorbed back into her system long before the first ultrasound with no one the wiser. Sometimes people do see their twins on an ultrasound, only to have a second ultrasound months later and find that baby vanished, as if into thin air. And in very, very rare situations, like mine, a mother will physically miscarry the aborted fetus while the other pregnancy remains viable inside. The remaining fetus (in this case my now thriving toddler Arlo) is classified as a high risk pregnancy at that point, as it is not clear if he/she will make it, either. Everyone hopes for the best, but in many cases that baby is lost, too. The remaining months of my pregnancy were so hard, not only on my emotions, but on my body, as it took a while to register that it was not, in fact, growing two babies any longer, so it didn't need such a ballooned space or so many hormones in my system, things which resulted in routinely measuring too large at appointments, advanced nausea with all day long vomiting, significant weight loss, placenta previa, excruciating sciatica, terror, exhaustion, anxiety and a breech baby. My body couldn't let go of the little ghost baby, and neither could my mind or my heart.
If your first dead baby had lived, Mama, we probably wouldn't have Arlo then, right? asks my astute 8yo daughter. You're right, I tell her. As much as I wanted that baby to live, it's as if she paved the way and left us so we could have our sweet little brother.
I was nearly four years into my body positive journey when my first miscarriage knocked the wind out of me. I had bravely started public performances and speaking engagements about fat acceptance and had been verbally attacked for it, by both anonymous strangers on Twitter and people I once considered friends. It was awful and heartbreaking and while I had previously felt powerful, I now felt confused and sad - about both the body I had worked so hard to love and the activism I had felt so strongly about. I found out, though, that while I was devastated I wasn't broken, although I was knocked flat on my back. It actually made me stronger in my beliefs about my body and I felt like I had just unlocked the key to true body acceptance and self-love - not letting these journeys and experiences in life destroy you, but treating yourself with kindness and compassion as you work through them with grace.
As most mothers know, pregnancy and parenthood is terrifying. You are always counting kicks and watching itty bitty chests raise and lower with each careful breath in bassinets cuddled up close to your own bed. As mothers who have previously lost babies know, these things intensify to an obsession that can make focusing on anything else in life nearly impossible. Pregnancies and children following loss are magical treasures and the gratitude you have for their very existence is staggering. And the thing is, you realize that any children you may have conceived pre-loss truly are miracles, too. These two lost babies of ours will haunt our little family for the rest of our lives, but that doesn't feel like a sad or scary thing. In fact, it feels like a beautiful and poignant reminder of how lucky we are to have each other each and every tenuous day on this earth.
I've written more details about my miscarriages before (here, here and here) and will continue writing about them every year. I’m honored to be joining forces with my friend and fellow body love advocate Jen McLellan of Plus Size Mommy Memoirs this week to celebrate and honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day on October 15th. All week long we’ll be sharing our stories on all our social media platforms with #mymiscarriagestory, about loss and death, fertility and grief, body acceptance and fear, love and joy, sadness and kindness.
Do you have a special necklace or a tree you planted or a pregnancy test in your top drawer or a marker at a cemetery to honor your baby and your loss? I do, and I’ll be sharing some of these hard and personal things with you this week on Facebook and Instagram, because I’ve found that opening my heart and being vulnerable and standing up and speaking out can help others, too. Courage is contagious and heartbreak is hard and community is important. It can be powerful to speak your truth and hear others say ME, TOO. We’d love for you to join us if you wish. And if you don’t? That’s fine, too. We hope you’ll read along and know you aren’t alone.