I had been pushing for three consecutive hours, my partner by my side from beginning to end, perspiring and coaching and nervous in a way that made me love him even more. It wasn’t the birth I had planned, not because my son was sunny side up or because I had decided on an epidural. It wasn’t because my mother couldn’t be there or because three hours of consecutive pushing is never anyone’s plan. It wasn’t because, instead of birthing one child, I was birthing two.
It was because only one child was alive.
21 weeks earlier I was in a hospital bed, staring into the sympathetic eyes of a kind yet exhausted doctor. He had pulled up a stool to sit beside me; a nurse behind him, capable of looking only at the toes fidgeting inside her clearly distressed sneakers. I knew what he was going to say before he said it. Call it a budding mother’s intuition or my glass-half-empty mentality; I just knew. Knowing, however, didn’t make hearing what he was about to say any easier. Until the words left his lips, a small part of me held onto hope like a child holds onto their mother. I desperately needed some inexplicable miracle. Some science-defying ending instead of the heartbreak that lied ahead. I looked at him with such pitiful hope, I can only imagine the strength and sadness he had to muster in the moments before he opened his mouth.
“Twin B is doing great. You have a healthy baby boy.”
“And my other son?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Twin A doesn’t have a heart beat.”
The final shred of my unadulterated faith turned on me, stabbing my heart in the most painful and sadistic of ways. As the devastation started to fill my lungs, I began to feel disconnected. While my tears continued to fall and my body continued to shake, the parts of myself reserved for quiet nights and solitary moments floated above my body. I looked at the situation that was now my reality, stunned and detached and numb. My body mourned the only way it knew how. The rest of me had questions. Painful, unending, accusatory questions.
“Was this my fault?”
“How did this happen?”
“How did my body fail?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“What could I have done differently?”
The guilt was overwhelming. It pushed aside the pain and cut ahead of the shock and stood defiantly in front of every path I felt I had to take next. I knew, even in those first moments, that there would be no healing without facing my guilt.
I wish I could tell you that the next few days and weeks and months were easy. I wish I could go into detail as to how I handled the idea of carrying both life and death inside of me. I wish I could explain all the ways I mourned and healed and found the strength to enjoy a pregnancy no one could have possibly prepared me for. In the end, though, I think that a person’s ability to heal is theirs and theirs alone. We are all so complex and different, in both our character and our experiences, so to tell you how I came out on the other side of loss would be more detrimental than helpful. My choices may not be yours, and that’s okay. We all heal differently. What’s important is that, eventually, we do heal.
So all I can say is that it is possible, and my son was monumental in making what at one time seemed improbable, possible.
So, when the pushing ended and I heard my son cry, I knew that he had to remain my one and only focus. Although I carried him for nine months, he carried me through a loss that left me crippled on a hospital bed in front of a sympathetic yet exhausted doctor. He was the reason I laughed after every necessary cry. He was the reason my time and energy and attitude were focused on the positive. He was the addition that negated the subtraction. He was the reason my mourning had an expiration date.
And he was my first lesson in motherhood:
It’s not about you. Not anymore.
Which is why, when the doctor asked me if I wanted to see the remains of my second son, I said no. While it was a decision I contemplated for months prior to that day, and it was a decision that left me feeling cold and heartless and cruel, it was a decision made for the betterment of my family. I will never forget the sound of his heartbeat or the small kicks and punches I saw him take at our ultrasound dates. I won’t forget the plans I had for him; the baseball games and the adventures and the playtimes and the cuddle sessions. And those moments are what I want to carry with me, as few and far between as they were. I want to see him as he was when he was thriving and growing; a part of me I only saw in fuzzy black and white pictures, that I cared for and nurtured and was forced to let go of.
I wish, in the seconds after telling the doctor no, I could have told her why. I wish I could have articulated every reason and explain every feeling so that she wouldn’t think me indifferent. I wish I could have stopped time and let everyone in that room know that I was torn between two places in time; the future laying on my chest and the past in the hands of those who would dispose of it. But there was no time. She took his remains away quickly and discretely, to be tested on in the hopes that future mothers wouldn’t be asked the same question I was.
I couldn’t look. Instead, I kept my focus on the son laying on my chest. The one who cried a little too late for my liking. The one that made me push for three consecutive hours. The one who is looking at me right now, with big brown eyes and a side-ways smile and the wild hair he’s had since the day he was born.
The one that I can’t stop looking at now.