Seeing my complete family in the night sky

By Julia Pelly

Sometimes when I look into the night sky I see my children or, rather, constellations I take in and flip backwards and forwards into a formation that represents my children. Usually I see Orion’s Belt first. Three glowing stars. One each for my two sons and one for the baby I hope will join our family next year. Next to Orion’s Belt though, flung just to the side, to a place you wouldn’t notice if your eyes were trained to see only what’s in front of you, are two dimmer stars. These stars are the babies I lost: one before each of my sons.

When I think about my miscarriages, one at nearly ten weeks and the other, an ectopic at just six weeks, I struggle with what to call them. The doctors called them “tissue” or “products of conception” as they talked about how the first would be scraped from my body and the second would, hopefully “resolve without intervention.”

The nurse who held my hand as I woke from anesthesia after my D&C called it an angel, as did countless other individuals, mostly women, mostly older, mostly with the sad and sappy expression that crosses your face when something is sad but not SAD. Not SAD like losing a child in an accident or a young mother being taken by cancer or a tornado ripping through a school house. Instead, sad like a co-worker’s dog dying or a friend not getting that promotion they wanted. Sad in the way that they understand how you feel because it happened to their cousin once…but she went on to have three healthy girls so you really shouldn’t spend too much time stressing or worrying or you’ll make it harder to get pregnant again.

Babies. I struggle to call them babies. Though they were loved and wanted and complete beings as they were, they were not, yet, real babies. I’ve pushed two children from womb to world now and I know the difference. Real babies are hot and wet and heavy and bloody. They smell like earth and clench and unclench their tiny fingers with long nails into fists that turn their hands pink and purple. They suck your nipples deeply into their mouths, hungry and instinctual. They cling to you and need you and cry and spit and grow.

The ones that left me before they became babies though? They were mist. Blood that would have been wiped away without thought any other month. Cramps that ached. They were a single image each in black and white. One with tiny arms and legs and a fluttering heart. The other just a tadpole, misplaced and trying its best to grow in a spot that would rather push and squeeze and force it out than let it destroy its own home.

Sometimes I just call them my miscarriages. As if their existence was nothing but their death. As if the weeks, ten collectively, spent before the blood weren’t filled with joy and happiness and nausea and hands-on-belly and dreams written in notebooks and lists of names and a small, stupid, blue baby blanket that was bought too early.

I thought about trying to find religion after my first miscarriage. How sweet it would have been to find peace in surrender. Maybe then I could reframe the days and hours and minutes I spent bleeding and shaking and taking too many painkillers. Maybe then I could find the deeper meaning in the loss and understand that it was all part of a plan I simply wasn’t privy to. But finding religion takes some initiative and a deeper trust in the universe than I had and I decided to just get pregnant again instead. Maybe in a new baby I could find peace in surrender, find meaning in the pain, find purpose in the plan.

And I did. All of it, really. My first son was born 11 months and 6 days after my D&C and, I’m sure of it, he is the child I was always meant to have. When the doctor heaved him onto my chest and began trying to stitch up the tears that criss-crossed my most intimate parts, I was awestruck. His eyes found mine, his heart slowed, he began to suckle. Though I spent most of his first month of life in tears, my despair was no longer focused on who wasn’t here. Maybe this was my lost baby reincarnate—perhaps the first body it had been given hadn’t been good enough for its soul so, in a moment of extreme wisdom, the little soul shucked it off and elected to float around for a little longer, waiting for a better egg and a better sperm to connect and create a body that better suited its needs.

And then two years of sweetness and transformation and then another loss. This time there was anger. My toddler patted my emptied stomach for weeks—”baby? baby? baby?” he mused as I bit back tears and cursed myself for being so stupid. I should never have told him. I should never have believed my body would do as it should. I should never have gotten my hopes up.

And then a year later came another birth. This son was even bigger, 9lbs and 13ozs, but my body was used to stretching and snapping and getting over the natural ripping of motherhood. I walked out of the hospital and was hiking later that week. After that birth I didn’t think much of my second almost-child at all. My boys are solid now. They are five and two and are increasingly becoming people. They think and talk and fight and have opinions on things like which color vitamin tastes the best and who’s allowed to touch their favorite toy. But, lately, as I begin to think of adding that last star to the Orion’s belt of my family, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the babies that weren’t.

I dream of them sometimes too. A mist over the shoulder of each of my children. A shadow sibling. Someone that’s not them but that’s a lot like them. And I wonder what my life would have been if it had been them who came to me instead of my existing boys. I probably wouldn’t know the difference. I’d be in love with them as much as I am with the kids I have now. I wonder too if I’ll have to say hello and goodbye again in order to get my next baby. History says I will.

For now though, it’s not quite time to bring about the baby that will complete our family, so I try not to think about it too much. Instead, I embrace the ones I have. Kissing and snuggling and washing and reading and feeding and loving. And the ones I don’t have? I look at them, shining from the sky at night, tucked just behind their brighter, more visible siblings, and I remember them too.

Julia Pelly lives and works in North Carolina. When she’s not writing, Julia enjoy spending time with her husband and two young sons. You can find her at juliapelly.com.

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