“Mama, my friend Emily had a baby brother, but something bad happened and he died.”
My six-year-old son delivered this information at bedtime one night. Grasping at how to reply, the best I could think of was, “Oh. That’s very sad.”
“Yes, it is,” he replied. “They don’t know if it was a boy or a girl, because the baby died before it could get big, but Emily wants a baby brother.”
It took a few more statements like that for me to realize my son was saying his friend’s mom had suffered a miscarriage. I didn’t use the word, but I explained to him that sometimes babies don’t grow and the pregnancy ends. I told him it happens to a lot of moms and it’s very sad but they usually can have another baby.
“Did that happen to you?” he asked. And my ability to be objective in my explanation kind of fell away. All I could say was, “Yes, it did. And we’ll talk about it sometime.”
I have never been so grateful for bedtime in my life.
I had three miscarriages before my sons were born and I have talked about it a lot with my doctors, my husband and my friends. I have even written about it, in the hopes that my experiences might resonate with and offer comfort to other women who have also suffered a loss.
Over the years, talking and writing about my miscarriages has given me perspective and helped me heal from the emotional loss, as has being able to give birth to two healthy children. But now that my kids are old enough to wonder about where babies come from, I find that it's a lot harder to explain the pregnancies—and the babies—I lost to the babies I was able to have.
For example, my older son is eight now, and he’s not as curious about babies and birth as his younger brother is. He’s particularly sensitive about the topic of death and asks not to talk about it whenever it comes up.
Likewise, he can’t stand the idea of anyone being in pain, so even the story of his own birth causes him to shake his head and say, “Let’s not talk about it.” He does know, and takes pride in, the fact that he is the one that made me a mother. This distinction is something we talk about on his birthday and Mother’s Day, and any other time he wants to be reminded of how precious he is to me.
I haven’t explained to my older son that he is my rainbow baby, the one who came after three losses. But one day I will and I do think it will make him happy to know what it means.
It’s a bittersweet truth for me, because I spent so much of my pregnancy with him fearful of suffering yet another loss. When I made it to the second trimester without losing him, I still couldn’t quite believe I might actually become a mother.
I don’t tell him any of that right now, though. I know he’s not ready to know and, to be honest I’m not ready to explain it to him. I thought I was over the grief of my miscarriages—as much as any woman can ever be over it, at least—but my youngest son’s simple question, and the rush of emotion that followed, let me know that I still have some unresolved feelings to process.
But unlike my older son, my youngest is curious about everything that relates to babies and becoming a family. I knew the time would come when I would have to explain not only pregnancy and childbirth, but also miscarriage. To have him bring up the topic was a surprise I wasn’t prepared for, and now that he understands the basics of what a miscarriage is, I know we’ll be talking about it again soon.
I have started building a reading list of books that cover pregnancy loss and grief so I can hopefully use someone else’s words when my own words fail me. I know the day will come when my sons will ask me about the older siblings who were never born and I will have to find a way to explain what I understand in theory, but not in my heart—where the emotions are still, and may always be, a little raw.
It doesn’t seem possible, but I sometimes forget that I have been pregnant five times.
Five positive pregnancy tests, three of them never meant to be. Time has blurred the memories of shock and grief, but it’s like a punch to the stomach when a simple question makes it all come rushing back.
I find myself wondering what those babies would have looked like and how they would have changed my life and added to our family. I am grateful for my little family of four, especially since I was told my chances of conceiving and carrying a baby to term were less than five percent.
After three losses, I was gifted with a double rainbow: two healthy babies born less than two years apart. No one, least of all me, could have imagined I would be so lucky. But I can’t help wondering what might have been and it’s a path I’ll have to wander down again one day with my two boys.
As they get older, I hope they will understand everything I went through to become their mother. But most of all I want to make sure they know they are loved all the more because of it.