Hiding in Plain Sight
I’m fairly certain that I was the only person sitting in the waterpark this weekend, crying. Whenever tears sit in the corners of my eyes, I always look around. I look for some sign of someone else who is also having a hard time. I can never find it, not in that moment. Do they notice me? Does anyone see that I’m sitting, out in the open, with a look of anguish on my face? I watched several other pregnant women walk past me, and I envied them for just walking around.
Kid birthdays are hard, because I always look at what “should have been.” For this birthday of Quentin’s, Nelle should have been fourteen months old. Or Iris should have been eight months old. Either way, the family picture was different. I am inundated with photos of Quentin as a baby, holding a baby, the minutes right after birth. Now five years ago since I held my own baby, and I never thought it would be this long, and still do not know if it ever will be again.
I could not hide the pregnancy shape at a waterpark. Swimming suit all too revealing. I looked at my reflection in the hotel mirror and thought back to when I was pregnant with Nelle. Just ten days before the ultrasound told us she was growth restricted, I had a meeting with my financial planner. I was wearing a loose non-maternity shirt, that hid my pregnancy so well that she did not notice. When I told her, she exclaimed “But you’re so tiny!” I laughed that I wasn’t that tiny, just well-hidden. Ten days later, those words rang, sour, in my ears. Had I missed it? Was I that much smaller than previous pregnancies? Had I completely ignored that she wasn’t growing properly? After learning that, I dug back through photos that we had meticulously taken every few weeks of pregnancy with Theo, desperate to convince myself that the shape was the same. Now, I did that comparison again, even though a recent ultrasound assured us that growth is fine so far.
This afternoon, Theo and I were sitting together on the couch while Ger and Quentin napped. He asked me how big the baby is, and I tell him the fruit or vegetable equivalent from an app that I have (bell pepper this week). He asked how babies were born, and I went into some details about the pain of labor and some vague description of how babies are born naturally, and some more detail on how he was born via c-section after the doctor declared him “stuck.” It somehow turned into questions about the baby and how long pregnancy lasts, and how far along I am. I showed him on the app, and then carefully explained that Nelle was born at 21 weeks and Iris at 16 weeks, because their hearts stopped beating. I told him that the doctors are checking me carefully and that I am past the point when Nelle stopped growing, and passed the point when we lost Iris. He was listening intently, so I showed him on the calendar that if I get past a certain number of weeks, like 28, there are a lot more things that the doctors can do, even deliver the baby early. I told him about some friends he has that were very premature, and even though they were in the hospital for a long time, that they are perfectly healthy now. I kept going and told him that if a baby is born too early though, they might not be able to live – that our babies could not be born that early. I also told him about someone he knows that had a baby that was severely premture and the baby died. In my attempt to be open and honest with him, I went too far. At the mention of someone he knew that had a baby that died, his face scrunched up. I recognized the look: contorted in grief, and his shoulders started heaving as he cried. I got up quickly to get Kleenex for him. I told him that I was so sorry for making him upset. And I told him that I have met several other mommies who have lost babies, and the important part is that they are still part of our family. He got up and abruptly went to the bathroom. When he came back, he refocused himself on Pokemon and we said nothing more on the subject.
I wanted so much to protect my kids from any pain in this pregnancy. But in that moment, as he kept asking questions, I did not want to hide behind half-truths or glossed-over answers. I thought it might make it harder for him, later. I wanted him to understand. But when he started crying, I felt terrible.
Both of the boys came down to give me a gentle hug tonight. And each of them kissed the baby bump.