The Ghosts of Babies Past
After a while, you think you’re over it. First it doesn’t hurt to breathe anymore. Then, maybe, you stop blaming yourself for what happened. The due date passes. Your friends and family don’t give you those “I’m so sorry” looks anymore. Life marches on.
In many ways you have moved on. Maybe you’re trying again. Or maybe you’ve accepted that your family is perfect just the way it is. Maybe you feel a renewed sense of gratitude for the husband or child you do have. You hug them close. You breathe.
How do you do this? The brain is a funny thing. It finds ways to protect you from traumatic experiences. It wipes your memory—or at least it tries to. It forms a bubble around your life, shutting out the parts too painful to allow you to carry on.
I can no longer remember when I miscarried, or when my children were supposed to be born. My mother can’t even remember how many miscarriages she’s had.
That I do still recall. Two.
But as much as our brains may try to shield us, the protective bubble they form around us is not impenetrable. After a while it becomes filmy, covered in dust. Parts of its structure break down, become weak. Because just outside that bubble are the ghosts of our babies past, poking their tiny fingers through.
Inside the bubble, I hold hands with my son and my husband and I feel the strength of our tight little unit. It feels right. It fills me with happiness. But for every one of those moments, there’s a small tug. My brain falters, and the ghost penetrates the bubble. I feel her tiny hand. I think, for a moment, about our family of four, so full of love. I see her face.
It’s a millisecond and then it’s gone. So short it may not even register except for the slightest hint of bittersweet. Why am I suddenly feeling sad? I’m not sure. My brain has hastily stepped in and tried to erase the image. No, no. You weren’t supposed to see that. Go ahead, look at your family again and be happy.
The bubble works for the most part, until well-intentioned but unaware people start asking questions. “So do you want another?” The bubble has you trained to say, “Nope, we’re all set!” And leave it at that. The ghost tugs on you and says, “Wait, what about me? Didn’t you want me?” Oh my darling. I did so very much.
The ghosts of babies past are there when you pour that second drink at your niece’s third birthday party. When you feel a twist in your gut after watching your son gently kiss his baby cousin on the forehead. They’re sitting on your shoulder when you ponder whether to close up the reproductive shop for good.
You shove them away, shove them away, but in doing so you arrest your own development. Because now I realize that part of moving on means accepting the ghosts of babies past. Recognizing they will always be with me. And welcoming them into my bubble.
I sip a glass of wine on my front porch while I watch my son ride his bike with two neighbors: a brother and a sister.
They squeal in delight, chasing each other up and down the street. I’m feeling content as I watch the pure joy radiate from his face. Then the neighborhood kids say they have to go home. They ride off, still giggling. Deflated, Lucas sits on his bike, not sure what to do next. I heave a heavy sigh and turn to the ghost on my right.
“You would have kept your brother company out there,” I remark. She nods slowly and smiles.
We sit side-by-side for a while in silence. I feel sad and it’s okay.
The bubble floats down to the ground and disintegrates.
Wendy Zamora is a writer for a tech company in Silicon Valley. Her work has been published in xoJane, The Good Men Project, and Educating Modern Learners. She cracks jokes about raising a bi-racial son in an Italian and Mexican family on her blog, theolivegal.com. Follow her on Twitter.