In the Time of Loss
A mother's look back at her miscarriage and the heartbreak that followed during the country's grief after 9/11
Picking up the pieces
My husband drove me home to my two babies later that day. He set me gently on the couch and brought me a ginger ale. He gave me my 9-month-old to nurse and told my 2-year-old to give me some space. "No, Dada," she replied. "Mommy boo-boo on tummy. Kiss, kiss!" She lifted my shirt and kissed my belly. Then she snuggled into my side. "I here, Mommy."
And suddenly, it was clear: My husband, my partner, the one who knew every detail of the past 24 hours, couldn't identify with my pain. My daughter, though barely old enough to talk, had managed to understand just enough to know that her mommy was hurting.
She didn't comprehend that she had lost a sibling. She had no way of knowing that my pain and heartbreak were intensified by the still-lingering helplessness I'd felt when the planes had crashed in faraway cities. Neither of us could foresee that this would be one of the last times that she would sit beside me as I nursed her baby sister because the miscarriage would throw my hormones into such flux that my breast milk would dry up. My little girl just knew that Mommy had a boo-boo and Mommy needed kisses.
My 2-year-old daughter's instinct was to comfort. My husband's was to rationalize.
In a way, just as so many did, I lost my innocence during that fall of 2001. I wish I could say that the experience of the miscarriage brought my husband and me closer -- after all, they say, there's nothing like a crisis to bind people together. But I lost more than my third child that terrible autumn when America was picking up the pieces and trying to recover. I lost my belief that my husband and I could always be there for each other, understand each other, be a source of comfort to each other in a time of fear and grief. I lost my faith that we could resolve any disagreement if only we talked about it, if only we didn't go to bed angry, if only we tried.
The months after 9/11 taught me, like others, a difficult lesson: Bad things did happen in the world, even when we think we've done everything to prevent them, and, even though I had this picture-perfect nuclear family, there wouldn't always be someone there who could kiss it and make it better. I think because of what we've been through -- separately, yet still together -- we've learned to accept our life, our family, our relationship for what it is: Far from perfect, forever scarred, difficult to examine too closely.
My husband and I have picked up the pieces and moved forward. As the days have turned into weeks, the weeks into years, we've managed at times to address, haltingly and painfully, our profoundly different reaction to my miscarriage. But we simply don't see eye to eye. Still, I've found some peace underlying it all, peace in knowing that my husband and I can endure, and love, even when we violently disagree. I've found a deeper understanding of my marriage, and of him. While my miscarriage might have been the first time that we disagreed on something so fundamental, we have many more years to come. Four or five decades when tragedy might strike. Years when we'll have to deal with our differences and survive them, when we'll confront decisions and challenges and fears. In the face of such possibilities, I've found comfort in knowing that my husband and I will somehow struggle through.
I look at my daughters, now sturdy little girls, and I picture the day when I can tell them about the sibling they lost that fall of 2001. I imagine that our conversation will go something like this: "It was a perfect, sunny day here, and we got the news: Planes were falling out of the sky, people were dying in terrible fires, buildings were collapsing, but your father and I, we made a beautiful thing."