Grief is a funny thing. It’s a beast to master or a mountain to scale, I think to myself oftentimes; and then others, I sit with the notion that it’s nothing more than a monstrous shadow that lurks in the caverns of my heart, uncontrollable and unconquerable all the same.
I’d been doing so well. “Are you going to be having any more kids?” I was asked; and I replied with a simple, “Nope, we aren’t. I’m actually not able to have any more children.” I said it without crying—without so much as a quiver in my voice, even. I nailed that exchange and I was proud as hell. Do I get a prize for that? I asked myself; a one-up? Maybe a ribbon or a trophy? I’d settle even for just a soft pat on the back from someone who knows—someone who knows not per se what this is like, but what it’s like for me; for what it’s been like, and for what it’ll continue to be like as Margot continues to grow up alone. I wanted just a tiny outward acknowledgement from someone who’s been by my side.
I’d been doing so well. And so the advent of a fresh wave of sadness took me by surprise.
I wasn’t meant to be so sad. Not that day in particular, anyway. It was just two days ago; I was sitting in a doctor’s office at my clinic, talking to an OB physician I’d never met before about an impending surgery I’ll be undergoing at some point in the next month or so.
“Have you had any surgeries in the past?” she asked. We’d never met before. She was kind. Her eyes were intently focused on me.
“Um, I gave birth to my daughter four years ago and had a surgical team improperly repair the third-degree tear I sustained during childbirth… so at five months postpartum I had a second surgery to repair the damage they’d done… and… that’s about it, I guess,” I stammered. I had no idea whether or not to mention the D&C I’d been through a year and a half after all that, unsure as to whether such a thing quantified surgery at all, and oddly and irrationally unsure as to whether mentioning such a thing was appropriate or not.
“How many pregnancies have you had?” she continued.
“Two.” I was able to say that with confidence.
“And were they both vaginal births?” she asked. And oh, there it was – the punch in the gut. It knocked the wind clear out of me; I didn’t see it coming. In retrospect I’m not sure why it took me by such surprise – after all, I’d just told her I’d been pregnant twice. (I think, maybe, I just assumed she’d have followed her question up with how many live births I’d had rather than jumping right to the conclusion that both pregnancies were to-term.)
I sat in silence for what felt like five minutes, though I’m sure it was less than half a second. I faltered. My voice got caught in my throat. “Only one birth, actually,” I said. “I only have one daughter. I lost a baby…” I choked out, and kept going. “I lost one and then ended up with a diagnosis of secondary infertility; so no more.”
And just like that, my grief was in my lap. My sadness filled the room. My bottom lip quivered, my eyes filled with tears and I pinched that little bit of skin in between my thumb and my index finger with all the strength I could muster up in a last-ditch attempt to not weep outwardly and heavily in a stranger’s face.
Her reaction was gentle, soft and warm. I don’t know if she’d ever experienced any similar such grief herself, or if her bedside manner was impeccable—but either way, she was full of grace. I felt stuck between gratitude for who she was to me in that moment, and resentment for how she’d accidentally and unknowingly pushed me right over the precipice of my safe haven, throwing me head-first into my own heartache with no warning.
A few deep breaths and knowing nods later, I was composed. Our conversation carried on, and the further it got away from where it was, the better I started to feel. Once I got back out to my car, I was disappointed in myself for feeling such great and sudden sadness with such little warning; especially after having made what felt like such substantial progress of late.
Except I can’t stop looking at Margot and wistfully wishing for a different life for her. I don’t know if that sentiment will ever pass. I never meant to raise an only-child; and God knows we tried so hard to give that girl of ours a sibling. But I see her reaching and passing milestone after milestone, and mourn the fact that she’s doing it all with no tiny cohort by her side. Every night I creep into her bedroom to check on her before I go to sleep, and I swear in that dim light of the room I can see her growing—her features changing, her limbs stretching; there’s no baby lying in that bed any longer; she’s a girl now. She’s a girl with no siblings.
She’s a deep feeler and a sensitive soul; she routinely weeps when she finds herself missing her friends with particular severity – these friends of hers who live nearby and who she sees regularly but not quite enough – she cries at the thought of not getting to be with them at any given moment. And I curse her lot in life, not having any built-in friends who share her heart, her home and her life. I curse myself for not having the capacity to provide her with a remedy to her loneliness. I allow her no family-friends; no she-sized hands to hold. She gets nobody with which to squabble or throw punches in the backseat of the car. There will be no lines drawn down the middle of the bedroom.
There was another little person, I want to tell her—I was in the middle of making her. I need her to know. I’m so sorry, my dear daughter. I did everything I fathomably could.
I must choose grace for myself, though. I’m conscientiously remembering that grief is not linear—that my experiences have reshaped who I am, and that sadness is a part of me. It’s not a part of me I let dictate my actions, but it is a darkness that occupies a part of my heart. If it presents itself for a brief moment on any given day, it’s my responsibility to give it space and let it run its course.
So, baby girl, I am sorry. I’m sorry for what we’ll never have, though grateful for the depth of feeling I’ve been given in exchange. Onward I walk with you, small beauty, ever in gratitude for your life.