“Oh hi, Finn. Say hi to Finn, Ada,” the mom gently instructed her one-year-old as our children climbed around each other on the gym mats.
“This is Lochlan …” I said with a small smile.
Her cheeks blushed, “I’m so sorry,” as she scrambled to catch her wobbling toddler, “He looks just like a Finn …”
I looked down at L as he ducked through a tunnel and smiled at me on the other side. He does look like a Finn too. A little spunky with a slight tint of auburn to his brunette locks that are just starting to push through and curl. Rounded cheeks, long lashes, and a full toothed smile at only 15 months.
She tried to continue to apologize and say something about still getting to know the kids, etc. But I stopped her with a smile.
“Actually, I had a Finn – Finnian,” the name felt at home in my mouth, “we lost twins before him. So Finnian was his brother.”
“Oh I am so …” she started but I stopped her, “no … thank you … I imagine they would look a like so it’s nice to hear.”
The gym teacher, who knows our story because we chat often, smiled and asked, “What was your daughter’s name again?”
“Maisie,” I said feeling full.
“Gosh you have such great names!” The teacher rubbed her pregnant belly and I felt proud.
You could tell the other mom was beginning to relax that she hadn’t actually made an awkward moment and that all was well. And we laughed about the kiddos trying to figure out the social graces of passing each other on the tumbling equipment.
I thought - I’m really doing okay at this mom and loss mom thing. The whole incident felt like a God-nudge, see they are still connected to L, they are all siblings.
I pushed the stroller up the sidewalk before slowing pace behind a mom and her son. Our little dog pulled forward a little like, hey let’s keep going.
The boy was holding his mom’s hand and swinging it around. With his backpack slung over her shoulder, she was listening to him chatter about his day. She peeked over her shoulder, “Oh there’s a little one behind us!”
“Excuse us we will just scoot around,” I said as she pulled to the side and we smiled. Her son poked his head into the stroller and exclaimed, “he’s so so cute, oh he’s so cute, I just love him.”
“Okay,” she said kind of pulling him back and giving me somewhat of a sorry and pleading look. I could tell he was somewhat precocious and probably prone to over-crowding others. So I smiled at him and said, “thank you he is so cute. You’re sweet.”
We pushed ahead and the boy shouted at us, “what’s his name?”
So I looked over my shoulder, “Lochlan and this is his friend Oreo.” He then asked my name so I told him while I continued to walk just a few steps ahead. The boy continued to chatter telling me his name, his mom's name, his dad’s name and his sister’s name.
“What a nice set of family names,“ I said. His mom looked at me grateful kind of shaking her head. L peeked around the stroller fascinated by the older boy. The air was perfect and nearly fall like. Other kids were zooming past on bicycles, backpack clad and heading home from school. Our little dog was trotting along with a happy pant.
“I assume your married, so what’s your husband's name?” The mom’s eyes widened and I kinda laughed. “Yes I am, his name is Daniel, pretty simple.”
“So Lochlan is a boy right,” they were side by side with us now on the sidewalk, “so does that mean he has a brother or a sister?”
“Oh,” my voice stuck as the boy looked right into my eyes, “he doesn’t have a brother or a sister ..” and it caught, here, I couldn’t get it out before his mom started to explain …
“That’s their first baby, see some families only have one and some just have one to start…”
I started moving faster ahead. I’m sure she thought I was running from them.
I was. But not because of him. Because of me. I pushed across the crosswalk and turned the corner as fast as I could. The air felt stuck in my lungs. I won’t hyperventilate.
I won’t say I made it home without tears streaming down my face. Or I didn’t pretend I was laughing when L turned around in the stroller. I won’t say that I didn’t talk to my husband and that my voice didn’t disappear into a fit of tears. I’m failing them. "Of course you aren’t," he reasoned, "you are doing what is right for the situation." He’s right - you can’t tell random kids on the street about dead babies. And L doesn’t know they were his siblings. He can’t comprehend that. May never. He IS growing up as the oldest child, essentially a first.
But the thought just sat in the pit of my stomach all day, I’m letting them disappear.
I can remember the first wave of grief after bringing L home from the hospital. I laid him down briefly in his crib and looked down on him. It hit me with such great force that I did not have siblings for him. I wept for his lost brotherhood. Raging postpartum hormones didn’t help me to put into perspective that we would try again. At this time, I had considered him our last, our youngest, our planned third.
But as he would grow and change and monopolize more and more of my time, the waves of grief would spread. I’d often take a deep breath and push across the surface of them, surfing into a place of joyfulness in order to parent my living son. Then, somewhere in the last few months, as his independence has increased little by little, I’ve had moments to feel the spray of water. I’ve had secret cry sessions in the bathroom. I’ve felt the absence of his siblinghood.
If things had been different, if they’d made it to term, Finnian and Maisie would be turning two this month. If things had been different I would’ve said, “Oh no, this is Loch, Finn is his older brother.” Or “He has a brother AND a sister, how fun.” If I close my eyes and imagine the three of them together the chaos seems delightful to me.
I’m not sure why I’m sharing these stories now other than to illustrate the ongoing nature of infant loss. After we lost our twins I sat across the office from a well-respected counselor that specializes in perinatal issues. And she reminded me that pregnancy and infancy loss falls under the category of ‘marginalized grief.’ Meaning the hidden or unexpected nature of it often pushes it to the outskirts – the experience is not uncommon but it is not mainstream either.
This particular type of grief is often quieted under guilt. My guilt stems from a nagging thought that somehow acknowledging it discounts the profound happiness that having our son here offers. I don’t talk about it as openly in my daily life anymore. Not in the way that I imagined I always would. I’m often afraid my grief will somehow make me seem ungrateful. Or that it will somehow shadow him.
I also don’t feel it in every moment like I used to. That acknowledgement carries with it a different kind of weight to process. But that’s just the reality of how time moves us forward. When the grief does come though, when it rushes in, it’s like torrential downpour again. Only to be lifted once more by the breeze of daily life. And so it goes and goes and goes.
We are entering a new season again. The holidays are here. Everywhere. I’m trying to wrap my mind around the next couple months. Trying to figure out what survival tactics are needed, how to calm the anxiety, how to reconcile the longing feeling, how to replace the plans I had with the ones I get.
We started our stimulation medication for IVF the week after Christmas last year. I can remember leaning over to Dan after we had stuffed ourselves with a third family Christmas dinner and saying, “This could be our very last year without babies.” Those words hang in the air even now. They didn’t float away with hopeful wistfulness, they hung heavy settling into the couch waiting to be fulfilled.
I wanted twins. I wanted both embryos to take. I wanted everything that came with loving two and logistically caring for two. Twins felt like the ultimate reward – the absolute reason this had to be so hard was so that we could end up with two. The day after we saw both hearts flickering on the ultrasound screen I began planning for the holidays.
The babies were due in September so the holidays would be their first adventures. I earmarked an easy to carry play yard for Dad’s lake house at Thanksgiving, smaller portable bouncy chairs to take to Mom’s, a sturdy playpen that could double as bassinettes for overnight at Dan’s Dad’s farm. I researched ways to tandem breastfeed - how to do it in public or was it better to pump before gatherings. I decided to throw myself full-fledge into twin-momdom and put coordinating Christmas outfits and Halloween costumes on my Etsy to buy list. It was early to be planning, but I didn’t care – all my dreams were coming true.
Until they didn’t. Until we lost them. There are days even now, seven months later that I still remember with absolute clarity the exact moment each little body was handed to me. I can remember my body labor-worn and bleeding crashing against a bed to be handed the most delicate humans I’d ever seen. There are moments where I can still see my daughter’s heart beating and I cry out – why couldn’t we save her!
This year for Halloween, I put up our decorations, I oohed and awwed at people’s baby costume pictures on Facebook, I emotionally prepared to smile at each person that came by … until I just couldn’t. Moments before the doorbell rang with trick or treaters I turned all the lights out and wept. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gave up on Halloween and decided to try harder for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, I swapped out my fall decorations for Christmas ones. It’s a week early but I wanted to get it done. I moved things around from last year. But it still feels the same. Nothing feels externally changed – everything is proceeding like normal. Because we never had a Christmas with them. We never had a Thanksgiving or Halloween. So the worst part of this year is that everything is the same as always.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this. While everyone is posting articles and queries about how to get through the holidays post political upset, I’m just trying to figure out how to hold it together when asked what I’m most thankful for. I’m just trying to practice my happy face. I’m wondering what to do if I start crying when we hand out presents. I'm staring at the only ornament that indicates that they were here.
In the grief world we talk a lot to people about how to create new traditions to survive holidays after the loss of a loved one. We talk about ways to keep their memories alive during the season. We talk about the right to choose whether or not you want to celebrate at all. I remember all of that being incredible helpful after we lost my sister and Dan’s mom. But losing babies is different.
They were going to be the changed tradition, the new memory, the extra logistics needed. And even though the table is set the same as last year and the tree has the same number of presents as before … it feels incomplete, not enough, heartbreakingly missing something.
I started writing in this blog to suss out my own experiences after losing our twins. To examine the grief at arm’s length and share it with anyone who needed to hear it – anyone who needed to borrow my words to describe their experience, or understand the experience of someone else they loved. After we passed the due date the writing seemed to wane. Each time I sat down I had nothing new to say except it still hurts. It feels really awful. I miss them so much my innards quake. And even with moments of hope and love scattered here and there the words I would’ve written the last couple months wouldn’t have healed either of us.
But today I wanted to remind us that the holidays are about family. At least in my world they always have been. We never discuss politics at our holiday gatherings but apparently many families do – I’d encourage you to put it aside. Put it aside and remember who might be missing someone.
The holidays are hard for many people anyways. This year is gut-wrenchingly the hardest for me yet. I tell our story above because I will still look normal on the outside. This season I will decorate and celebrate with family, because that is all I have. That is all most of us have.
But honestly ... if someone just gives me a hug and says they wish my babies were here too I might just explode in gratitude.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
© Tiffany Kann and Loss & Life, 2013-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tiffany Kann and www.lossandlife.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.