At The Returnity Project, we’re focused on being real. Pictures painted on social media can be rosy and filtered portrayals of everyday life. I think most women have a hard time with comparison. And it’s easy to compare and feel “less-than” when snapshots of life have been captured at the perfect moment. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate beautiful photography (because I love beautiful photos of my family!). But I worry about what happens when that’s all we see on social media.
A subject not often talked about is loss. However, many women will experience loss throughout their journeys of conception and birth. My loss story is not an easy one for me to share. However, I feel compelled to do so, to let other women who’ve had a similar experience know they’re not alone. And to let everyone in this wonderful community know more about me, my journey through motherhood, and the effects that these experiences can have during times of transition. Namely, returning to work after maternity leave.
On the eve of the 2-year anniversary of my son’s passing, I struggle to know how to honor him. And let him know that I’m thinking about him. And that I love him. So though there’s a voice in my head terrified of exposing myself this much, there’s another that feels like his story, my story and Sloane’s story could help someone else. And so, I honor him.
To say I had a difficult pregnancy is an understatement. After suffering a miscarriage with my first pregnancy, I found myself pregnant with twins on our second try. Oddly enough, most of my adolescent dreams about becoming a Mom had centered around a slight obsession with having boy/girl twins. So when we found out we were pregnant with two little babies, I was elated. And then, when we found out there was a little boy AND a little girl in my belly, I was in a sheer state of disbelief. On the one hand it felt unbelievable. On the other hand, completely inevitable.
At 21-weeks pregnant, the best thing that had ever happened to me quickly became the worst. We tragically lost our son. Which put Sloane at risk too. The devastation was indescribable. The entire situation felt like a cruel joke. My pregnancy was immediately classified as high-risk, and I spent the next 13-weeks on "house arrest" doing everything humanly and medically possible to keep Sloane alive and inside of my belly for as long as possible.
I went from measuring my pregnancy against various sizes of produce to tracking my progression against preemie survival rates. Every Sunday that passed successfully was celebrated. 24-weeks meant viability. 29-weeks meant a 95% survival rate. Getting to at least 34-weeks was our North Star.
I spent the rest of my pregnancy feeling things I couldn’t understand. The devastation of loss and the excitement of life. The fear of getting my hopes up, sharing her name, getting excited. The anxiety in having to tell people who asked how the twins were that there was now one.
Eventually, we started to create a nursery. Eventually, I let my Mom talk me into having a baby shower. My weekly visits to the Perinatologist were dreaded, but then reassuring. I never realized that most parents only have 1 or 2 sonogram photos of their babies. We have an entire collection.
On the eve of turning 34-weeks, I started feeling uncomfortable, itchy and unsettled. And 17-hours later, on the day she turned 34-weeks old, my sweet girl was born. 4 pounds, 18 ounces, 6-weeks premature and perfect. I sobbed the second I heard her first cry. A culmination of all of the grief and worry I had held in for weeks on end. I had a healthy perfect baby girl, and for the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to feel joyful. It was undeniable that Sloane and I were an unstoppable team - we had gotten to the finish line together.
On the day I said hello to my perfect daughter, I also said goodbye to my son. The juxtaposition of emotions we experienced that day truly cannot be put into words. We spent the next two-weeks at the hospital, caring for Sloane in the NICU, and attending to her needs was a needed distraction. When they brought us the forms to fill out for her birth certificate, we checked the box for “single” baby. The hospital made us change it to “twin”. I hadn’t thought about if or how I’d tell Sloane about her story, but having her carry this with her on her birth certificate weighed heavy on me. One day we’d have to tell her. And how would we be able to share the grief of our loss without making her feel like she alone wasn't enough? To us, she is everything. I already began dreading it.
Most of my maternity leave wasn’t spent thinking about my loss, but instead, focusing on my daughter and how much joy and purpose she brought me. Though I couldn’t see it then, a big part of my struggle with going back to work centered around a loss of control. During my pregnancy, I went to extremes to control what I could in a situation where I felt utterly helpless. As an example, I cut out any and all food pregnant women are told to avoid. Even decaf coffee, just to be safe. Once Sloane was here, continuing to have control over her care made me feel in charge of both of our destinies. And going back to work meant giving up complete control over the majority of her day. And I panicked.
I know how incredibly lucky I am, and I don’t take that for granted, not for a second. I have a perfect daughter, who is the absolute light of my life. And I know not everyone is as fortunate. She’s strong, already having endured and survived an incredible amount before she was even born. While I was pregnant, I worried I’d never be able to look at my daughter, without seeing my son too. But that’s far from the truth. However, it’s hard to know how to handle such joy and such loss. Such love and such heartache. I probably should have (and still should) spent time speaking with a mental health professional. Because I don’t think we’re naturally equipped to know how to handle loss. Especially the loss of a child.
While most of my moments and days are spent relishing in every single thing my daughter says and does, there are moments that catch me. I was checking in at the airport a few weeks ago, and had to go up to an agent to get Sloane a lap child ticket. The agent looked over Sloane’s birth certificate, and exclaimed, “Oh, she’s a twin!”. My body tensed, throat closed up and tears flew from my eyes instantly. “Ya, kind of” was all I could think of saying. I raced away from that ticket desk as quickly as possible. I couldn’t believe how emotional that moment had made me. How immediately and automatically my body reacted, mourned that comment. I think about that interaction often, I can’t shake it.
I give myself moments to think about my son, and when I do, I look up at the stars. We bought a star for my son, as a way to always keep him with us. I have the coordinates printed and framed in my daughter’s room. One day, when she’s old enough, we’ll tell her about her brother. And let her know that he’s always with her, and watching down on her.
To anyone who has experienced loss, in one form or another, know you're not alone. Know that everyone has a story. The more we open up and share, the less alone we'll all feel.