This past weekend was Easter Sunday. As my husband was texting his sister (in New York State) and brother (in Pennsylvania), he looked up and asked me – “How long has it been now? When did the twins die?”
Of course, I immediately knew what he was talking about. His brother and sister-in-law had twins prematurely that lived for only a short time, and then died. They, “the boys” as we lovingly refer to them, were in neonatal intensive care for their entire brief existence. We never knew them. But, we remember them. A framed photograph sits in our television armoire of two tiny babies, covered in lanugo, with ventilator tubes taped ever so carefully to their tiny faces. They look like they are “best buds”, with their arms swung over each other’s backsides. The back of the photo was marked 2007.
“Eleven years,” I replied, “They would have been eleven years old last week.”
“Eleven years. Wow. That’s a long time.”
The conversation had an effect on us for the next few hours on our Easter Sunday. Sadness and grief were revisited. The blessing of our three boys was recounted (again). As a family, we haven’t talked much about the tiny twin nephews that died in April of 2007. Maybe, we would have if my boys lived closer to their uncle and aunt and were more aware of their loss, their grief, and feelings of emptiness that probably will never go away. Strangely enough, we lost both of my husband’s parents at this time of year – the time of rebirth – Easter. Two years ago my father in law’s funeral service was filled with Easter lilies – white blooms spilling out all over the sanctuary wrapped in pastel colored pots. It was very beautiful. Serene. My mother in law passed away in March of last year. We have talked of those loved ones, their lives, and their deaths on more than one occasion during the recent past. But, not the babies. We haven’t talked much about the babies. I don’t really know why – other than it is painful to even think about.
The memories bring to mind our own losses of unborn babies. We had four miscarriages in all – at least two of which were multiples (twins/triplets). It reminded me of a time when I thought I would never be a mother, nor would my husband and I ever be parents. A time when I was verbally accosted in a grocery store over the use of a cart that would carry more than the one child I had at a time in my life when I desperately wanted more. I remember the rising fear that accompanied being told I was pregnant again. Not joy, as it should have been, but fear. Fear that again we would lose another baby. Four times that fear became a reality and grandparents had to be told – “The baby is gone, she miscarried, again.” And, again. Again, And, again.
People don’t talk about fetal loss. In the U.S., it is somewhat of a taboo subject and it really should not be. The lack of communication and expression of feelings leads to isolation and sadness. I’ve recently learned that the Japanese deal with this occurrence much better than us, as explained in this New York Times newspaper article from last year. But, I can tell you miscarriage and infant loss is much more common than you think. My advice is this: try not to judge that childless couple you see holding hands, the couple that has one child not three, the couple that wants more than anything to have a baby, but don’t. You do not know who they are. You do not know their struggle. You do not know their grief. So, just be kind. Do not assume, anything! Ever. Please. Do not!
On this past Easter Sunday we remembered those not with us, from the unborn babies, to the babies born too early to survive, and also our loved ones we had the good fortune to know well and love over a lifetime. It was good to remember.
It is also apt to remember that people handle these losses in different ways….ways that might be right for them but not right for you. You cannot assume they don’t understand. Because, maybe, just maybe they do, more than you know. They just don’t want to share it.