By Anne Maxwell
My sister and I are 500 miles apart.
It’s been 26 years since we’ve known the privilege of living in the same town, and we’ve done our best over nearly three decades to adapt to the distance. Long phone conversations and short texts keep us in touch with our daily lives, and holiday gatherings and family vacations lessen the void. It’s bearable most of the time.
But then there are days when I’m simply not good with the distance. When I long to throw a bag in the car, head west to the mountains to arrive at her doorstep, put my arms around her and just be with my sister.
This was the case last week when an email popped up in my inbox. It was a bit of a shock. While we are phone talkers and texters, we rarely email one another. Curious what it could contain, I scrolled down to find a one-word subject line: Baby.
Suddenly, 500 miles felt like 5,000.
It’s June -- and each June for the past 18 years, I’ve made sure I’m in touch with my sister on one particular day – the sixth. It’s the day her child was due. A child she and my brother-in-law were expecting and lost to miscarriage in November 2000.
I clicked to open that document, holding my breath, thinking of what words it might contain.
I don’t claim to know what it feels like to suffer a miscarriage -- I’ve never had one. I do know from having a sister endure this pain that even though a child was never welcomed into the world or held in a mother’s arms, a child was lost. And that loss is felt forever. And while I know her loss is real, tangible, and painful – it’s difficult for my sister to convey.
I try my best to let her know I’m here to listen on those particular November and June days. Most of the times, it’s a bit awkward, with me saying, “I’m praying for you and I’m thinking of you. I’m so sorry … and I know you’ll see your baby again someday.”
She usually replies, “Thanks for thinking of me. It means so much”
I tell her I love her and then it’s a bit of silence and we move on. I know I have fumbled this. Not gotten it right. And I’ve wished over the years I really knew how she felt. We’ve tried to talk, but honestly, it’s too painful for her and if pushed, her words turn to tears. So, I don’t push. And I don’t fully understand.
Back to that one-word subject email.
With just the first two words, I realized this time, things would be different. This time, the tears were mine as my sister poured her heart out on the page. I share it with you now -- with her blessing. It share it with the hope that if you have a sister like me, or perhaps a daughter, a mother or a friend who has endured the same loss, maybe you can feel like you can understand a bit better, too.
About a month ago, we had an exchange student from Spain over for dinner, in our conversations we were discussing favorite things, everything from meals to architecture, then he asked us all what our favorite quotes happened to be. As everyone answered I simply couldn’t say mine. So I gave one that I liked, but not my favorite.
Because my favorite quote usually reduces this Mom to tears. Plus you know what a crier I am, happy, sad, angry, I just cry. It can be just flat out embarrassing and I really didn’t want to cry at our fun evening dinner.
The quote that is my favorite puts into words what I have always had difficulty describing to someone.
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” -Soren Keirkegaard
You see we lost a child, early in the pregnancy and miscarried at almost 12 weeks right before Thanksgiving in 2000. I read in a book that a miscarriage is hard to grieve because there is no grave to visit, no pictures look at and grieving someone you have never met is kind of strange and difficult to understand and explain to someone. The quote from Soren Keirkegaard finally helped put my feelings into words.
This week or so, our sweet baby would be turned 18 years old and I cannot stop thinking of all the “What ifs?”
What if we had a girl? Would she be our older daughter’s best friend and sister she has always wanted? Would they fight over clothes and makeup? Would they look alike?
What if we had a boy? Would he of had my blue eyes? Would he of loved sports like our other sons? Would they fight about who gets to play Fortnite next? And eating us out of house and home?
What if we were a family of six and not five? I think of us as six -- we just had one who never made it to my arms.
What if we celebrated a graduation from high school this year? Would we be getting ready to send someone to college? Or planning for the start of a senior year in August? Where we live, a student must be 5 years old on or before June 1 to begin Kindergarten. Our baby was due in early June, but all of our babies have come early. My guess is that we would have had a May baby.
What if I was baking a birthday cake with 18 candles and not writing this down? What kind would it be? Chocolate? Red velvet? Perhaps my favorite – angel food?
What if I could think of or enjoy Thanksgiving (we lost our baby the week of Thanksgiving) without trying to figure out how to avoid it.
What if I could send “Congratulations … you’re pregnant” cards to friends and family and feel comfortable when someone tells me they are six weeks pregnant and not start praying they never have to “untell the wonderful news.” Like when you haven’t seen someone in months and over the phone they say “You must be due any day with the new baby.” Then, you end up comforting them because they feel terrible they didn’t know. Untelling is so hard.
What if I could get over the fact no one will remember our baby? That he or she was real and a missing part of our family.
What if I never had to experience people trying to make us feel better? “Don’t worry, you can always have another baby” well-meaning people would say. Or, “There was probably something wrong with the baby and it was nature’s way,” when they didn’t know our baby was fine genetically but just stopped growing.
What if I didn’t know November 20th and June 6th, our due date, would be etched in my heart forever?
What if I didn’t understand that others have experienced loss and understand that grief is grief and pain cannot be compared? Pain is pain.
What if I never understood how blessed I am to be the mom of three babies that are here and I can hold every day?
My sister and I are still 500 miles apart.
But an email -- so beautifully written about the love for her sweet baby that was lost -- has brought us closer.
Other Contributions by Anne Maxwell: