It was a warm night for September here on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, but not hot enough to be causing the stream of sweat running down my chest or the beads of perspiration trickling from my forehead to my eyes as I lay in bed.
I was lying there sweating because my son and daughter died ten years ago, and I tonight couldn’t remember their names.
I had been in bed for an hour or so, trying to fall asleep.
Trying to remember and trying to forget. Then, finally, I turned on the light, picked up my favorite novel that I’ve read ten times, and the words comforted me. For a paragraph or two.
Then my eyes glazed over the text, and my mind continued its search in the recesses of boxed-up memories. The memories I kept behind that mental door holding a dozen locks on it.
Finally, I unpack one box. “Luke,” my mind whispers, “The boy’s name was Luke,” and my body flushes with a fresh misting of perspiration.
“What about her?” I ask, “How could I have forgotten?” Then, pleading silently to bring her name back to me.
We were going to be the Christmas card family. Three kids, a dog, and a small house. It was going to be a life of laughs and abundant with love. By the time our daughter turned three, she would get twin siblings. It was going to be Lainie, Luke and…
“Where is she?” I ask, prying open boxes in the far back corner of the pain closet.
Yes. Helene. We worried about her being called Helen, that people wouldn’t read her name correctly and lazily drop the “e” at the end. We loved that name. Helene.
I sighed and flipped and twisted in the sheets.
Lainie, Luke, and Helene.
I knew then that I wanted to write this. That I needed to write this. But I couldn’t get up and go to my laptop. The light would alert my wife, who would come check on things. Then she’d see me writing and ask what I was writing about at 1 am that couldn’t wait until daylight.
I wouldn’t be able to tell her. I didn’t want that discussion.
It’s like scaling Mount Everest, except that the mountain is upside down, and the peak is an 8,849m plummet below sea level. This topic wasn’t even on my radar to write about, but I knew that if I didn’t write these things down now, then in the morning I’d choose to forget. Sometimes writing through the pain ensures we don’t forget.
Then I remember the rest.
It’s curious how your mind can pull a memory out of your archives, but it hasn’t mastered shutting everything back in once you’ve had a good glance. It’s two hours later now, and I’ve stripped down to my boxers and thrown off the cover. I’m swimming in sweat. I remember everything.
We persevere and remember things we should never forget.
Seeing my wife without the bump. Listening to her cry. Hours of crying. Curled into a ball, with our dog laying on the bed beside her as she sobbed and bawled and quietly screamed. Every day. For weeks. Months. I could do little to help her. The dog wouldn’t leave her side. I had a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter who needed a parent.
My wife was broken.
My life was a black panic.
I understand that miscarriages are common. I realize that this happens to a significant number of women and subsequently to their partners. I know those stories, but this is my story.
Why did I think about this now? I was triggered. A humorous rant by Jessie Waddell set me off. I got it. I understood. Not the physical emptiness or the mental battle that a woman goes through. I wouldn’t ever presume to understand that. But I understood that people ask stupid questions and say asinine things. That, I knew.
My mother was the worst. “Shrug it off,” she said. “These things happen to everybody,” she remarked flippantly, “It’s not a special circumstance.”
But it was. It wasn’t early in the pregnancy. It was late. It was well into when “everything should be fine” territory. It was with the finish line on the horizon.
When I greet God, and he’s completed judging my actions and virtues as a man, I will have two questions for him.
The first will be, “Can I meet my mother?” She left the world of the living when I was still a newborn.
The second question will be, “What happened to my children?”
It was summer, and I went back out to work. I was self-employed, operating a hectic and successful career in the oil and gas sector as a field engineer in directional drilling.
I was the guy that put instruments into the long string of steel pipe with a drill bit at the end and drove the assembly to a target four to five kilometers beneath the earth to a resource target no bigger than your front porch.
I was one of the best in the field. Even when the industry hit a bust cycle, and less than 20% of the industry was drilling, I was still working. It was building a good life. Everything was going up when I was digging down.
My wife was home with our rambunctious, adorable daughter while maneuvering through daily life with an ever-growing belly, a nursery to twin babies.
I remember that first ultrasound when I stood there holding my wife’s hand and watching the grey/green screen looking for proof of life. I remember the words from the technician as she said, “There’s one heartbeat, and… there’s another!”
I remember thinking how cool it was that this apparatus could detect and separate a baby’s heartbeat from that of her mother and mentioned this trivial fact to my wife, who was lying there with tears running across her cheeks.
I remember her squeezing my hand and saying, “No, sweetie, it’s not my heartbeat. It’s another baby. It’s twins.”
I remember actually staggering backward and, for a moment feeling faint. Twins run in my wife’s family. The word “twins” just steamrolled mine, I recovered my composure, and we left the clinic.
Our life was a rainbow panic.
My memory played the film reel of that day, of my phone ringing at work. I was twelve hours north of my home. My job required constant focus, and as such, the rule was that my wife was to text me rather than call. If she called, I knew it was necessary.
When I put the phone to my ear, I heard my wife sobbing, spitting out words I couldn’t decipher. Again, she was at the ultrasound clinic, and this time it was that scene played in movies.
Where the tech pushes the microphone around her jellied belly and then sets it down, gets up from her chair, and says, “I’m sorry, I’m just having a bit of trouble. I’ll be right back.” Then exits the room.
Moments later, the doctor walks in, trailed by the tech, and takes over the ultrasound. “I’m just going to have a look here,” he says with a calm voice and soft smile.
Then it happens. Those words. “I’m very sorry, but there doesn’t seem to be any heartbeats,” and your world falls to pieces.
Over the phone, my wife choked out the words to me. “They’re gone. Our babies are gone. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
I don’t have any memories of what happened directly after that. I just know that I was home before sunrise of the following day.
I could try and explain what happened, but the fact is we don’t know. I could explain the procedures my wife endured afterward and after effects, but I don’t feel it’s appropriate.
It happened to her, it was her body, and only she knows what happened and how it felt. So I can’t talk about those things.
I could talk about the stupid things people asked, like “What happened?”
I could discuss the instant red rage that boiled up inside me in those instances like my wife was being physically assaulted by the question. But, it happened, over and over, and it was always answered with silence. A shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, then walking away.
It felt like someone stole my children. Like they were still out there somewhere, but I’d never find them.
Both my wife and I had to try and cope with the mental trauma of loss, misery, and hopelessness.
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But for my wife, the suffering only worsened. Her body was broken in the process. She desperately wanted to try again.
Time had gone by, and she wanted to repair the damage. She begged for us to try again.
We did. It didn’t work. We went to our doctor, who sent us to one specialist after another.
Finally, we found out that my wife’s body was producing eggs, but not many, and what I didn’t know was that she needed to make follicles to catch and hold those eggs. She wasn’t producing many of those, either.
Our Christmas card would be two parents, one child, and a dog. We would have no more children.
When our babies left, they took everything with them.
It’s been ten years, and as a couple, we’ve survived, but we have never again touched what we once were and we were once magnificent.
It sneaks up on us every once in a while. An unexpected plotline in a movie. Or when my daughter has a best friend over, and her room is filled with laughter. Or when she’s with her same-age cousin. And after, when her room is quiet when the house is quiet.
It gets my daughter, too, like when she looked rather sad and quiet during supper. When asked what was on her mind, she looked up at us with sad eyes and said, “Even though I never met my brother and sister, I still miss them.”
That made supper a lot harder to swallow.
I’d love to close this out with some revelation of overcoming a trauma such as this, some keys to repairing a wounded marriage to build a different but good life ever after but I don’t have any of those to hand out.
It’s work. For a long while, it was one day at a time, doing the best we could. Sometimes it was choosing to give the least we could. But, most of the time, it was just to bury it as deep as we could.
All I can say is that I am grateful for my life. For a great daughter who thinks I’m a great dad.
And for a wife that still loves me on most days, even though I’ve been a lousy husband on some of them. So we persevere and remember things we should never forget.
For Luke and Helene.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.