When I was a preteen, we all had illusions of grandeur. The Partridge Family was our model as we formed a family band. Summer afternoons would find us gathering, each with our assigned instrument. Camielle was the oldest, so of course, she made the assignments. I wasn’t thrilled to be the tambourine player, but I still enjoyed being part of the group as we bellowed “The Sound of Silence” and “The Boxer.” Simon and Garfunkle’s album was played so often on our stereo that even the youngest of us knew the lyrics.
Even though it must have hurt her ears, it had to have been welcome respite for my mother to have all six of her children occupied at the same time. The family band didn’t last long before we moved on to other avenues to make us famous. At one point we turned one room in the family attic into an art studio. One day I climbed the stairs, breathing in the moist, hot summer air that had gathered and stagnated. The afternoon light, beaming through the gabled window, exposed dust particles, and it looked to me like a fairy habitat.
I sat in the art studio daydreaming about my future prince and the children we would one day have. It was all so clear to me–my upcoming fairy tale life. I took out the artist pad and charcoal and drew portraits of my children. All 13 of them. Each was given a popular name and then thumbtacked to the wall. We’d converted the room to an art studio months earlier, and everyone had gotten their fill and moved on to the next great venture, so I knew I was safe claiming the room. Each day I’d lumber up the stairs to continue my fairy tale fantasy.
Although I’d say my life is “charmed,” the fairy tale story has taken so many twists and turns that 13-year-old me wouldn’t even recognize it. Rather than being bestowed with children just for asking, each addition to our family was labor-intensive. By labor-intensive, I mean that we weren’t one of those families that got to plan when the children would come. Oh, how I envied my sisters-in-law and friends!
This is the story of child number five. A visit to the doctor confirmed that I was, indeed, expecting. It wasn’t the stomach flu that had been the cause of my discomfort. I kept this little secret blossoming inside of me until Christmas morning, when each family member, including my husband, opened a little, tiny gift box with the news: “We’re getting a new baby!”
My first ultrasound was scheduled, and I was excited to see the little beating heart. The big day came. I excitedly entered the room with a full bladder and donned in a hospital gown. As the technician squirted cold gel on my stomach, I craned my neck, but couldn’t quite see the monitor. It was only seconds before she excused herself, saying “I’m just going to get my supervisor– I’ll be right back.” Having experienced miscarriage, that phrase jolted me right out of my bliss.
I sat up, alone in the room, and examined the monitor myself. The technician had frozen the picture, and I looked hard to see what had concerned her. Everything looked so scrambled and blurred together . . . I just couldn’t tell. Was there nothing there? Was I not really pregnant?
The radiologist and technician entered the room, and I obediently reclined, exposing my stomach again. Relief flooded me as the radiologist found the baby. Then elation flooded me when they had me look at the screen that revealed, very clearly, TWO babies. Twins?! After all these years and all this heartache, I’m having TWINS?! But there was concern: one strong, another weak. It didn’t matter. It would be okay. I was carrying twins. Too early to reveal the gender, but twin boys. I just knew it!
Although my excitement at having twins was better than any good thing I could imagine, the weakness of the one baby dampened everything. It was like knowing in your head that Christmas is coming but your heart telling you that you’d sleep through it and miss it. I just couldn’t shake my concern.
At my next doctor visit, only one heartbeat was audible. We had lost the other twin.
How can one grieve and rejoice at the same time? I’m here to tell you that it’s possible. My tears reflected my heart– my heart that was both aching and cheering. The heartbeat reflected a strong, healthy baby growing as expected. Throughout my pregnancy, as I would feel a kick, or watch the twitch of my stomach when the baby had the hiccups, I was grateful beyond measure. And I was sad. I missed one baby as I got to know the other.
We chose to wait until birth to know the gender of our baby. But in my heart I knew it was a boy. I bought little boy socks and caps, baby-blue receiving blankets, and pacifiers. I stocked the dresser drawers with diapers designed for boys.
I had expected this labor to be shorter than the others, but it was a full 17 hours after my admittance to the hospital that our baby emerged. “Congratulations!” the doctor said. “You have a girl!”
Now a grandmother, the edge has worn off, and I enjoy my children without the heartache of those I lost. But every now and then, grief will slip in. And I’ll remember the children I almost had.