I have only one regret about the birth of my daughters, but for a long time I had two.
Six years ago, January 5th, the contractions started, crampy and strange. I told my husband about them over the phone, during his class break. He was on the opposite side of the country; the on-site portion of his doctorate. I cursed the distance from California to Carolina in that moment.
My husband was able to be calm when I was full of worry, reminding me that what I felt could be anything—bad food, dehydration. That same message was confirmed by his college roommate—now an OB. Start with rest and tons of water. Wait.
Check and check and … they stopped. My husband flew home. What a relief. These twin babies of ours were only half-baked, after all. I was 19 weeks along.
The night of the 7th, the cramps were back, with some spotting, and a late night call to our hospital advice nurse sent us to the ER.
And my first regret for so long was that the whole drive down the 101 freeway, I was hopeful. Certain they’d fix it, whatever ‘it’ was. Because I didn’t know, couldn’t admit, it was pre-term labor.
How dare I hope? How could I set myself up by believing all would be well?
ER lobby. “Twins? No, not ER, L&D.”
Labor and delivery.
Up the elevator, left, stop to bend over with the pain. Thank goodness we’re here.
Now it will all be alright.
The doctor knew all along, I know that now, but she was so gentle, so kind, and chose to go step by step with me. Check the babies. Strong heartbeats. Good movements. Pain management. Then, sleep.
It was 4 a.m. when she came in to explain that we weren’t just waiting for all this to stop. They were admitting me. This was labor, and the babies would come. They weren’t developed enough to survive on their own.
Five words shattered my hope as my brain crawled to catch up to what I’d just heard: We’re going to lose them.
Around 6, they moved me from Labor Room 5 to Delivery Room 12. My husband had left for the night, at my insistence, to get some sleep and let our dog out. He rushed back, and not long after my parents arrived, having driven across all of L.A. to get there.
We cried. We hugged. We waited.
On the 8th at 8:49 Sunday morning, our daughter Kate was born. Her sister Lucy came at 9:47. We hadn’t known we were having daughters before. They were just perfectly formed, with lovely fingers and dinky little ears.
My only lasting regret is 8:49 a.m. The medical staff were all out of the room. I was caught by surprise, so Kate was born, and in the confusion of it all, I didn’t pick her up. I didn’t know if I was allowed. I was almost scared I would hurt her; she was so tiny.
But my heart cannot handle that I left her there, on the bed. I ache to repeat that most painful moment, just to redeem it by scooping her to me.
Later that morning we held them. The nurse took their footprints, their photograph, their lengths and weights. She even found hats their size.
And then we were discharged. They wheeled me to the car, no longer pregnant, but not with my girls.
We spent the days, weeks, months to follow grieving slow and steady. You can’t rush or wrangle grief. It comes over you in waves, some dangerously fast and high, like a tsunami, others low and slow to your ankles, but keeping your feet wet nonetheless.
That damn dog was a lifeline because you at least have to walk him a couple times a day, and the sun warms your back and his tail waves in the air and you find that a Labrador gives you hope. Maybe life will feel something like normal again, someday.
I no longer regret my hope. I’ve built my whole life on a faith tradition that says hope is our anchor. Raging waves, torrential rain, and gale force winds will come, and as disorienting and overwhelming as they are, hope tethers us to the truth that it will not always be this hard. It will not always hurt this much. Pain is powerful; hope even more so.
Almost a year later to the day, the night of January 3rd, I returned to that same L&D floor. They assigned me to Labor Room 5. I was 42 weeks and a day and there was no more margin to wait for natural labor to come, so induction was it for us.
Around 6 a.m., they wheeled me to Delivery Room 12, where our son Riley was born, healthy and strong.
They’d asked if I wanted different rooms, once they learned. My medical chart is branded with the letters S.A.: spontaneous abortion. It makes OBs cautious for me. And in the course of their questions I mentioned that I’d been in this same room last year ... but I didn’t want to switch. I wanted to embrace the complicated joy of bringing our son into the world in the spaces where we’d lost his sisters. I wanted to let hope and grief live side by side, like they’d done my whole pregnancy with Riley.
It’s strange to be pregnant with a child while grieving lost children. It can boggle your brain to realize that biologically, you can’t have this new baby and your first babies all together, alive, at once. You only get this sweet boy because the girls didn’t make it.
People would ask me if I was excited, and I wasn’t. I knew too well what could happen. No, I’m not excited, I’d say. But I am hopeful.
So Riley came. And I scooped him up.
Guest post written by Meredith Miller. Meredith is a southern Californian living in Chicagoland with her husband Curtis and sons Riley (5) and Peyton (3). She's a pastor and writer, most recently of Compassion International and Fuller Youth Institute's Step Into My Shoes, a toolkit that helps kids learn about global poverty. She can be found on Instagram and sometimes blogs at meredithannemiller.com.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.