Friday, September 28, 2012

When 3 + 1 = 2

So as I mentioned in my post about Gran'ts Farm, we had friends in town for a visit last weekend.  It was David's best buddy from college, Dennis, and his wife, Lindsey, and their little girl, Mia, who is almost two years old.

It was a fun weekend--we went out to dinner, went to the farmers' market, pushed strollers around the park while the boys golfed, watched far too many old episodes of Dawson's Creek while the boys golfed and the little girls napped, went out to breakfast at Uncle Bill's, and visited Grant's Farm.  We laughed a lot and I was really glad they were able to come to town and meet Caroline.  Except for Little Mac terrorizing Mia, we all had a good time.

But there's a little more to this story.

Back in 2010, Lindsey and I were pregnant at the same time.  That summer, Dennis and Lindsey came in for the 4th of July and we all talked babies.  Lindsey and I even did a little maternity and baby clothes shopping (while the boys were golfing... kind of a pattern).  Lindsey was due just two weeks before me--right around the first of the year--and we loved the idea that our kids were going to be so close in age.

The thing is, Lindsey and Dennis were expecting twins.  A boy and a girl.

And then it was October.  We were still months away from our due dates.

David got a phone call from Dennis.

It was about the twins.  Specifically, their little boy.  He didn't have a heartbeat.  Max was dead.

I'll never forget the moment David told me.

I was standing in our kitchen, my back to the refrigerator, facing David, who was sitting on one of our bar stools.

I stared at him in disbelief.  I felt Eliza kicking, and I instantly sent up a silent prayer, for Dennis and Lindsey, and for their little girl, Mia, who was still hanging on.  And for my Baby Duck.  The thought of losing her, at seven months pregnant...  It was unfathomable.  It seemed like a terrible nightmare, but one I couldn't really imagine.

I started to cry, standing in the kitchen, rubbing my belly.  I just couldn't believe it, you know?  I didn't understand how this could happen, in this day and age, with so much medical technology available, in a first world country.  I didn't think babies just died.  I mean, I knew logically that stillbirth was possible, but not for someone like Lindsey, who was so athletic and healthy.  And I couldn't believe it in a larger sense, too--how on earth could this happen to two great people who would make such great parents?  Why would they lose the baby boy they had wanted and loved so much?

I remember saying to David--and I seriously said this, almost verbatim--"I don't know what I'd do if we lost Baby Duck.  I'd never make it.  I'd just collapse into a puddle of nothing."

(Part of the reason I haven't written about Max before was because it's not my story to tell, and I wasn't sure if Dennis and Lindsey would want me to, but the other reason is because it is so painful for me to look back on that time and remember how naive I was.)

Knowing that Max had died, Lindsey was admitted to the hospital so they could monitor Mia and try to keep her in there as long as possible.  Which turned out to be two more days.

Mia was born at just 27 weeks.  Her tiny little eye lids were still fused shut.  And she weighed around 2 pounds.

She was in the NICU for months.

But she was alive!

And three months later (a month before Mia got to go home), David was calling Dennis to tell him the unthinkable, impossible news.

We'd lost our baby, too.

Our baby was dead.

Their baby was dead.  And now our baby was dead.

This was impossible.  What kind of alternative universe, what other dimension had we stepped into?  How does this happen--this thing that should NEVER happen--how does this happen to our dear friends and THEN to us?

And, to be honest, I went from feeling desperately sorry for Dennis and Lindsey to envying them their one living child--a teensy little girl, still in the NICU trying to breathe on her own.

At the same time, Mia was also the baby we were rooting for.  I knew their loss, so I could easily imagine the hope and fear they felt for Mia.  And, from blogs and websites and other bereaved parents I'd met online, I'd recently learned the uncomfortable truth that not every baby in the NICU makes it home.

But Mia did.  After more than 80 days in the hospital, her parent took her home in January of 2011, just a few weeks past Lindsey's original due date.  She was still a high-maintenance baby, with monitors constantly attached to her to make sure she was breathing okay and that her heart rate stayed in the normal range.

But she was alive, dammit.  And we were so, so glad.

Even though David and I were still mired in our own pain and still coping with the shock of losing Eliza, Mia going home was a bright spot in those dark days.  We were happy and relieved for Dennis and Lindsey.

When we brought Caroline home from the hospital, it was a year and a half after we'd lost Eliza.  We're still heartbroken, but the grief doesn't feel like it's eating me up from the inside out anymore.  My grief for Eliza didn't diminish my joy over Caroline, and the day she came home was one of those heart-filling, perma-grin, cup-runneth-over kind of days.  But those first few days were also stressful and exhausting!  Was she eating enough?  Was her poop the right color?  Was she still breathing?  I was still sore (omg seriously) from delivery.  My boobs were uncomfortable and breastfeeding freaking hurt.  If we hadn't been high on the joy of her just being alive, it would have been even more challenging.

I think about what Dennis and Lindsey went through, experiencing their grief and joy back to back without a year and a half of recovery.  What it must have felt like for Lindsey to go back to work part-time just two weeks after having twins via c-section so that she could save some maternity leave for after Mia was released from the hospital.  To have to explain thing to co-workers who asked about the twins.  To have to pump breastmilk since she couldn't nurse such a tiny baby.  To desperately grieve their son while wildly hoping their daughter would make it, knowing that nothing was a sure thing anymore.  To bring their baby home with a mixture of joy and sorrow and fear for her health.

I'd say I don't know how they did it, but I also know that it's just what you do.  You hold on to each other and you survive the best you can and if you're really, really lucky, you might get to take a breath some day and realize that it doesn't hurt as much as it did, and you just continue to hold one baby in your heart and the other baby in your arms without ever understanding why things had to happen the way they did.

As I said before, except for Little Mac's shenanigans, we had a really nice weekend.  Walking through Grant's Farm on Sunday, the air was cool, the sun was shining.  Caroline was sleeping peacefully in the Bjorn and Mia was laughing and (literally) running circles around us all.  It was a picture-perfect day in so many ways.

Except the picture will always feel a little bit incomplete.  Because two people were missing.

I couldn't help but think that we should have had Mia and Max and Eliza all running circles around us.  It should have been two couples chasing three toddlers.  But somehow we were two couples who had four children but only two of them are here, and the math will never add up the way I want it to.

On that beautiful day with the sun shining and my girl sleeping and Mia laughing and little old ladies taking paparazzi photos of me breastfeeding, I missed Eliza and Max with all my heart.

A butterfly -- in memory of our first little girl
Mia ran circles around Dennis and through his legs--which she thought was hilarious!
As I watched Dennis and David with Mia and Caroline, I took a moment to let my heart feel heavy, to let my throat feel tight, and to imagine what it would be like if they were all there.  I wondered whether Mia's brother would have had her eyes, whether Caroline's sister would have had her smile, and how they all would have gotten along.  Would Eliza have been good at sharing her toys?  Would they all fight for the iPhone?  Would any of them have stayed in their strollers?  I thought about how crazy and fun things would have been (knowing that I probably wouldn't have appreciated it as much as I should have) if Max and Eliza had been there too and we were trying to keep track of all three of them at Grant's Farm and get them all to take naps at the same time.  I wished for that crazy chaos.

And then I told myself that in spite of our losses, we all got lucky.  Because there we were, on a beautiful day, two couples with two perfect little girls.


I hate that it didn't work out the way it should have, but it didn't have to work out this way either.  There are no guarantees that a 2 pound baby grows up into a bright and boisterous two year old.  There are no guarantees that a baby is born both healthy and adorable.  My faith in statistics and probabilities was shot when David and his best friend both lost their babies, back to back.  Don't take us to Vegas, baby, because we must be the unluckiest people in the world.

But I look at these girls with their dads, and my throat catches again because I know that when you look at the flip side of things, we're so freaking lucky.

Mia and Dennis
Caroline and David
The truth is that when we and our kids are all together, our numbers will never add up right.  But I wouldn't want to give up a single part of the equation.

Oh, Max and Eliza.  We will always wish for you.


  1. Oh this had my throat getting tight and me tearing up. When I read your first post about that weekend I was going to comment that Mia almost being two must have been hard - I didn't realize they were those friends! I remember you mentioning them to me before. How small this world is, and how unfair and lucky it all is.

    Three months to the day after we lost Cale (today - Sept 28th) some friends of ours also lost their first boy in a nearly indentical fashion/time.

    It seems impossible when it happens to people you know, but in a twisted way, it seems impossible when it doesn't happen to people you know. Like I'm in shock everytime my friends have healthy and uncomplicated pregnancies and deliveries. Even though thank God, that's the majority of the time.

    I wish your weekend recap did include the schenanigans of two more tots. Glad you guys have them in your life.

  2. beautiful and heart-breaking. i felt much the same way with my dear friend, rebecca. i just couldn't believe when she informed me that she had lost Lily. i just thought if i had to deal with losing a child, i would die myself. months later, i was informing HER that i had lost my son. i hate thinking of how innocent i was and how naive i was back then. it makes me sick to my stomach.

  3. This story hit home, and hard. One of my dearest friends lost one twin last summer. Max lived, Mason didn't. They knew there were problems with Mason at their 20 week ultrasound, but they didn't share it with anyone. All they could do was hope that the doctors were wrong. All they could do to survive the rest of the pregnancy was to operate on the assumption that they would bring home two boys. They told no one. They attended their baby shower full of sets of two gifts, they set up two beds, and waited. She was air lifted (terrifying)to the best hospital and the best doctors and she had those two beautiful boys. We were all in shock - we had no idea - but looking back on it now we know that they had to do what they had to do to honor both boys, and to insure the safety of them as much as they could. I cry when I think of what Max is missing out on, as I know you do when you grieve Caroline's loss now, in addition to your own. But we are also so grateful for Mason - he defied so many odds to stay alive in the womb beside his brother - for my friend it feels like a gift. Max only spent 5 days in the NICU and came home a very healthy 5+ pounds.

    I've also been inspired by our community - how Max's milestones are always commemorated in ways that include Mason's too short life. My friend's biggest fear was hearing the words "at least you have one". It's never that simple. Never.

  4. Thanks Brooke, that was beautiful!

  5. Beautifully written. Heartbreaking and joyous, all at the same time.

  6. I remember that October. I hadn't known David very long, but his very happy and (dare I say) confident :) self was very sad and defeated, and I remember standing in the work room and asking him if he was OK. That's when I first heard about Max and Mia and the heartbreak that Dennis and Lindsey were going through. The thoughts of "how does this happen?" stayed with me, and then the story turned in to not only Dennis and Lindsey, but David and Brooke, then Vicky and Eddie... I continue to be amazed by each and every one of you for having the strength to live through such heartbreak. And I am SO happy to see these pictures of beautiful and healthy girls, and beautiful and happy families. XO

  7. Things in this world are so twisted. I remember being in the Nicu and watching some people loose their baby that we learned just weeks prior was born around the same gestation as our baby. We were invited to the memorial and I remember telling my husband how impossible it must be to loose your child and then watch others keep theirs. Then we lost ours months later. I learned that you cannot plan anything and that take everyday as a blessing. A harsh lesson but one that taught much. thank you for sharing- my heart is in my throat but I am humbled with you. hugs-

  8. I'm not ready to comment fully as I'm not ready to put into writing why I will be your newest faithful reader, other than to say my son (1/2 of a long awaited twin set that we literally traveled around the world to conceive) suffers from a regressive neurological syndrome. Thank you for your blog. Feeling not so quite alone today. Bernadette