On Prince, David Bowie, and losing Baby A

By Cynthia Nuara

“Well, it looks like there are two,” my doctor explained, tapping on the screen of the ultrasound monitor. I took a deep breath and said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” He looked slightly embarrassed, so I assumed he was serious. After a whirlwind appointment, during which I quickly learned all about a twin pregnancy, I left stunned. Twins didn’t run in our family and we drove a Honda Fit. I called my husband who was with our three-year-old daughter; I broke the news and he laughed incredulously.

I slowly walked to the nearby park where my husband and daughter were playing. As we drove home, I frantically texted a few close friends. I struggled to think clearly, my mind was wandering, but I was snapped back to reality by my daughter’s playlist blasting in the background. Her current favorites included Cyndi Lauper, the Bangles, Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, and an assortment of other 80s songs. Her passion was inevitable—my husband is a music teacher and she was surrounded by 900 records and a variety of instruments in our small apartment. By two, she knew all the words to “Me & Bobby McGee.” The music seemed ingrained in her and she absolutely delighted in learning new songs and making as much noise as possible.

The weeks passed, and I went for every screening and ultrasound possible. I started making lists—there was an endless number of things to figure out. Where would we live? Who would help with childcare? Did we really need a minivan? There were so many unknowns that I felt paralyzed, so I just bought a bigger coffee pot.

Soon the first trimester was over—we had already started sharing the crazy news. Saying “I’m pregnant…with twins” and then listening to the inevitable screaming proved amusing. At about 14 weeks, we decided to finally tell our daughter about the two babies who were on their way. She smiled and clapped, not grasping how her little world was going to be rocked.

I was looking forward to my 16-week check-up—all I knew so far was that they were fraternal. The ultrasound began, but the tech soon left to find a doctor. I was alone for a long time. I started to suspect that something was wrong. The doctor finally arrived and explained that there was a large mass in Baby A’s lung and the prognosis was not good.

I was brought to another room and handed a box of tissues.

My options were carefully laid out—I could do nothing and the baby would die in utero, soon after birth, or I could choose to have a selective reduction which would terminate Baby A. I quickly learned that I had to continue carrying baby A regardless to give Baby B the best chance of a safe delivery. The doctor told me that in New York, I had until 24 weeks to decide. She reassured me that there was no wrong decision.

At 17 weeks, I returned to the doctor. Baby A had died. We were spared from making the hardest decision—we immediately felt relieved that nature had taken over. Now we just had to wait;  the doctor advised me to carry on with my life.

I returned each week to check whether I was going into premature labor, a real threat in my situation, complicated by the fact that Baby A was nearly sitting on my cervix. Luckily my body was holding up as it worked to process both life and death. But at the maternal fetal medicine hospital, everything was triggering to me—the exam room, the receptionist, even the coffee shop downstairs. I didn’t make casual conversation with anyone. I jealously stared at the happy pregnant women—I forgot what that felt like, my first pregnancy had brought me so much joy. Now I only felt fear.

A year earlier, on April 21, 2016, Prince died. That night we explained to my daughter why Dad was sad. I realized that we hadn’t really talked about death before. She immediately had questions and like most parents, I fumbled along. We’re not a religious family and I didn’t want to introduce the idea of Heaven, so I said, “Well, Prince passed to the Big Sky. People pass there when they are old or very sick and their bodies no longer work.

This answer seemed to satisfy her and for the next few months,“Purple Rain,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Starfish & Coffee,” and “Raspberry Beret” became our daily soundtrack. When she was going through an outer space phase, we introduced “Space Oddity” and explained that David Bowie had passed to the Big Sky too, only a few months before Prince. She proudly named her little toy astronauts “Ground Control” and “Major Tom.”

Back in our numb reality, we sat down our precocious kid and explained that Baby A was very sick and had passed to the Big Sky. She asked good questions—what about the other baby? Were we sad? Why did it happen? As parents, we had to admit that we didn’t have all the answers.

I dove back into my daily life, but the grief was all consuming. I slowly told people what happened, though it was always terribly awkward. My daughter was quite matter of fact and quick to explain. “There were TWO babies, but one passed to the Big Sky and is now with Prince and David Bowie.” Then she would happily scamper off. I would smile and try to change the subject. She started to ask me more questions about death—could people in the Big Sky hear us? Could they see us? What is it like there? I encouraged her to talk to people in the Big Sky if she wanted to. One day, I heard her explaining all of this to her dolls. Another time, she screamed at the ceiling “NANA ROSE, WE MADE YOUR CAKE.” Her take on the afterlife made me smile and gave me immense comfort.

I had finally reached the third trimester and I felt a tiny bit hopeful. A month before my due date, my doctor told me that she felt a foot. Was the baby breech? She meant the other one. Oh. She sent me home with instructions to call her when labor started. After a few days of regular contractions, on George Harrison’s birthday, we drove to the hospital in the rain. “Let It Be” was playing on the radio. I was oddly calm.

At the hospital, the labor and delivery team was amazingly sensitive and protective. They ushered me into a private room and told everyone to READ THE CHART before asking too many questions. I gave birth to Baby A first. The doctor quickly took the baby out of the room. There were some papers to sign and the nurse slowly explained that the hardest part was over. Now it was going to be a routine delivery. Two hours later, sweet Baby B was born. She was tiny, but strong and I finally exhaled. We were visited by a few social workers who offered us a book about losing a sibling for our daughter. I declined.

Our Baby A was with Prince and David Bowie and that was that.

Cynthia Nuara is a mom of two fierce little girls and has worked in New York City’s nonprofit sector for almost a decade. She is a Bruce Springsteen mega-fan who spends her limited free time watching DVR-ed prime time TV. 

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