Grieving in Reverse
These days I am reading a lot about grief and the grieving process and half the time it makes me feel worse. The atypicality of pregnancy loss grief only seems to underscore the magnitude of what we have lost.
Common grief advice is to tell a story about how you remember the person you lost. Or to do something that you liked to do together. To honor the person lost by reflecting on the good times you had or their most positive traits. With the loss of a child that hasn’t yet been born there are no concrete memories. In our case it was just the fleeting failure of pregnancies too new to even be properly celebrated.
Here’s what I remember about baby L: after 2 years of trying we finally saw those two pink lines. It was after our first IVF embryo transfer. My wife and I stood by the bathroom sink staring in awe at the test delivering the news that we would be expecting our first child. Finally. Confirmation that this long process of trying and tests and IUI and failure and finally IVF was worth it. That success was possible. We dared to hope. We went to Target and for the first time in a year walked through the baby section without tearing up. We bought a onesie with a rainbow on it and a box of digital pregnancy tests. I took another test the second we arrived home. “Pregnant,” it read.
And then our baby was gone. Afterwards, I felt stupid for thinking it would work on our very first IVF attempt.
With our second baby, H, things happened pretty much like the first time, minus the unmitigated joy. I briefly wondered if the rainbow onesie we purchased previously could signify that this was our rainbow baby. That short pregnancy was clouded by fear and the longing for our first baby and terror that it would also end in disappointment. By the time I started to miscarry I already knew the signs well enough to know what was happening. Again. I tucked the onesie into the back of the closet where I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.
With baby O we were afraid to hope at all. We waited on pins and needles for bad news, and bad news came.
I will never know my babies or what they would have liked to do. I have no special memories to remember them by. Not even an early ultrasound. And worst of all, I don’t really have anyone besides my wife to share them with. To most people, it’s as if our babies never existed.
I worry I might break apart from grief. Three losses in less than 8 months is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. Is grief supposed to get better with distance from the loss? My grief comes in reverse waves, aching more with the passage of time rather than less. All of the milestones we will never experience. The due dates that will come and go. The pain of never being able to meet our babies and watch them grow up.
They were my first children. But I almost never say that out loud. With most people, we don’t use their names. We really aren’t supposed to talk about them at all or it’s considered “fixating” and we are perceived unable to move past the losses in the socially acceptable amount of time. I get the message loud and blunt and clear: these babies didn’t matter to anyone but us. Let’s put them aside so we don’t have to keep being sad, or seeing your sadness and pain. Other babies will surely come, people say. (Unless they don’t, I think.) But even if they do, they won’t replace the children we lost.
The hollowness of missing someone we never got to know feels debilitating. The whole lifetime of memories we won’t ever make as a family. The hole in my heart that feels gaping and eternal. As time passes the loss becomes even more profound, counted in the months and years that stretch ahead. Some days I fear the raw emotions will swallow up everything else in my life until there is nothing left. To cope I do the exact opposite of what every grief expert recommends. I stuff my feelings down and crumple them up into a minuscule ball, so small that it can fit inside the tiny box carved by my grief and pain.
I’ll keep writing about them because it’s the only way I know how to soothe this ache and make sure they aren’t forgotten entirely. I miss them, but just as much I miss the version of me that I’ve lost in all of this pain and hurt. I will live with this loss for the rest of my life, no matter what happens next.