By: Amanda Glazebrook
Our story starts the same way that so many do: my husband and I dreamed of having a baby. Technically, we had a baby at home, but she’d grown into a toddler, bright and clever and so beloved that it seemed impossible to resist the lure of having another, although we’d said we’d only have one child. While we hemmed and hawed, talked about the upheaval of a second baby, we also stopped trying to prevent a second pregnancy.
When I showed my husband the positive test, he said: “Already? We haven’t started a savings account.” His voice sounded worried, but he was smiling. Really smiling.
I did all the pregnancy things. I made a doctor’s appointment, for about 10 weeks into the pregnancy. I stopped drinking, got serious about taking prenatal vitamins, avoided sushi and cold cuts, and napped when our daughter napped. Our due date was around Christmas, and I imagined us bringing our newborn home to a big Christmas tree and twinkling lights. Our daughter would hang a “Big Sister” ornament on the tree, and we would hang four stockings on the mantle.
I would sing carols to the baby while the snow gathered outside, the two of us wrapped in a quilt.
In the first trimester, for me, the baby felt so ephemeral, like they were spun from my dreams. I looked forward to the second and third trimesters, when I would get to see them in an ultrasound, and feel them move, and learn something real and concrete about them: maybe they would suck their thumb on the ultrasound, or regularly kick me awake at 1 a.m., or favor the right side of my belly. But until then, they were most alive in my imagination.
One Monday morning, about 8 weeks into the pregnancy, I woke to find that I was bleeding. By that afternoon, I was having an ultrasound, my husband holding my hand, and we were hearing the doctor say that there was no evidence of the pregnancy left in my body. What she was telling me was that I didn’t need medical intervention, and that the miscarriage would likely complete naturally.
What I took away from the conversation was that there was no visual proof my baby ever existed.
I knew I had been pregnant. I had seen the lines on the pregnancy test. I had felt the fatigue and the nausea. I knew the baby had been real. But all of that was just me – not a shared experience with anyone else. I worried: What if no one believed me? We’d told very few people about the pregnancy. There were no fuzzy black-and-white photos of a little bean, no embarrassing public displays of vomiting. We had not bought a “Big Sister” ornament or a fourth stocking. It was just my word, and my dreams.
So I didn’t tell anyone about the baby: that they had been here, and that they were gone, and that I was heartbroken.
It seemed like so much work: First, I would have to establish that I was pregnant, but past-tense pregnant. And then I would have to say that the baby was gone. And then I would have to explain the sadness of having only three stockings on the mantle and sleeping through the night at Christmas. And also, after all of that:
What if they didn’t believe me? Or worse, what if I didn’t have the right to grieve a baby lost so early, a baby that had been mostly dreams?
It was easier to just stay quiet.
For me. But my husband asked me if he could tell his best friend. He felt like keeping the miscarriage a secret made it seem shameful, but we’d done nothing wrong, and we deserved to let people support us. He wanted his friend to know the full story of our family. I agreed but vowed not to tell anyone myself. It was too raw.
And then, a few months later, I saw a friend share her own story of loss, very publicly, on social media, and she received an outpouring of support.
So, I told one of my girlfriends, over happy hour beers. We sat at the bar, and I sobbed into a cocktail napkin, and the bartender shot me sympathetic looks and quietly slid me a free drink. Neither woman judged me, for crying in public or for losing my baby. Then I told a few more friends.
And now, the people who are close to me know this part of my story – and people who aren’t close to me know it, too. Because after three years, and lots and lots of practice, I’ve grown comfortable sharing my story.
I didn’t get to choose the plot of this story. I wanted to hold that baby, the one that would be born just before Christmas and come home to a big tree and twinkling lights. That was the baby I longed for, and those were the dreams that I mourned after the miscarriage.
But I have learned that I do get to choose how I tell the story of my family. The story of my family is a story of love and loss and resilience, a story of bravery in the face of the things that make us scared or sad. That is the story I am trying to share, and the story that I am trying to believe.
Every Christmas now, we have four stockings on the mantel, and a pair of “Big Sister” and “Baby Brother” ornaments for the tree. There’s also a small round ornament made of cut glass, faceted like a diamond so it glitters in the light. My daughter knows it’s special, but she doesn’t know why. When kids are old enough, I’ll tell them the story of that ornament, and the Christmas baby I dreamed of. I’ll tell them the full story of our family.
Amanda Glazebrook is made of equal parts curiosity, ambition, and bourbon. She’s the founder of Ellie Memorial, a service dedicated to helping families create beautiful, customized memorials, remember an important date, and grow their support tribe. It’s the kind of support she wishes she’d found after her own miscarriage. Learn more here: www.elliememorial.com
Amanda is a former magazine editor, an avid reader (favorite book: Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson), a very slow half-marathon runner, and an enthusiastic baker (favorite dessert: pie). She lives in the midwest with her lovely husband, two bright children, and two very troublesome cats.