I lost three babies. I feel guilty even writing about this in the face of others’ miscarriages, accidents, illnesses, and custody battles. See, I lost my babies slowly. I didn’t even notice, at least not in a way that said, “They’re disappearing!” We called it growing up. But the surprising grief of it is real.
Crawling, walking, talking toddlers were substitutes for babies, better even in some ways. The interaction, the way they’d laugh like hyenas if you pretended to bonk yourself on the head, the way they’d thread their tiny fingers through your hair and lean in, trying to whisper in your ear.
The world was new, a garden hose as intriguing as the sea. Days went on forever. Those delicious creatures. I can still smell their sweet baby shampoo, see them, pink from the tub, their voices high and light, a flotilla of plastic toys bobbing and then sinking as the water would drain.
Intellectually I knew they would disappear, become other people who occupy other bodies, but I couldn’t grasp the absoluteness of it.
I can only partially recall what we did, how they looked, how I felt holding them, soothing them, feeding them, grooming them, like viewing the past through an old, dusty screen door. How they were almost an extension of me in those years.
I would sometimes tear up holding them, so overwhelmed with love — that feeling of wholeness. They can’t remember this because it wasn’t their experience, but mine.
I tell them things from that time: You loved avocado. You cried if we went on the freeway. When you had chicken pox, Benadryl kept you awake all night and we played ninja turtles and read books, you were covered in calamine, your face glowed blue by the light of TV.
I am alone in these memories, these spaces in time with my babies, the very best individual moments I’ve ever experienced, ever hope to experience . . . alone.
Children grow up. You lose them. Mine are wonderful people, but they have little relationship to those babies.
The oldest married this spring. He and his wife would like to start a family. Is that the return ticket? Perhaps if I hold a grandchild those moments of bliss-like-no-other will return? And please, note that I said “moments.”
There were plenty of times in those early years I felt overwhelmed and resentful.
When their stomach flu/cold/rash caused me to miss an event, when the laundry overflowed the baskets, when they had meltdowns over my handing them the wrong cup/shoe/book, when every surface in my house was sticky.
I recently published my first book, a novel inspired by my family’s history in 1890s Texas. I was self-indulgent in the naming of the character of the fair-headed, 3-year-old boy. He was named Gabriel after my own once fair-headed, 3-year-old boy.
To recall how he spoke, how he looked, I had to time travel. I loved writing the scenes with the children and was a bit taken aback when an early reviewer of the manuscript thought there was too much of the “cute, lisping Gabe.”
“A little of that goes a very long way,” she wrote.
A few Christmases ago, we had our old VHS tapes converted into DVDs. Infants into toddlers into little boys, alive on the screen. I watched one, another a few weeks later, but I haven’t played the rest.
The ache of grief is too great. I lost what I most loved. And back to that guilty feeling. My adult children are healthy and grown, kind and funny, they call every few days and come home for BBQs. The babies though, I’ll never see again.