I have never been to the cemetery in the early morning or the late afternoon when the shadows are longest. The shadows cast by Zoey and Gus were always long enough. Especially when it came to trying again and—finally—this subsequent pregnancy. The premature loss of Zoey and Gus made our later infertility that much crueler. It promised a greater chance of future premature losses, so we were not supposed to hope for twins again. Discovering M. was carrying twins again (another boy and girl, no less) made this such a close parallel to a year ago, we could not let this pregnancy become its own entity. Not until 22 weeks, 4 days—an arbitrary milestone to most, but one day longer than Zoey and Gus were with us.
With this pregnancy, I was less afraid that something would go wrong, but more certain. From blogs and our support group, we derived much healing, but also something darker: the knowledge of what is out there. Cord accidents and stillbirths and premature labor and even the killing space between the bed and the wall. It could be harder to take in than it would have been a year earlier. Having suffered does not immunize you from later suffering. Indeed, judging from some of the stories we heard unfold, it just might make you a gravity well for it.
But it was larger than that. Losing Gus and Zoey reoriented my sense of how nature operates. It left me knowing what everyone else does not: that the sun rises in the west, that rivers run the other way, and that the young are not born to bury the old, but to be buried by them. Call it the Natural Reorder of Things.
Of course, I know this is not how it works intellectually—but what difference does that make? One day, listening to Bill Bryson’s scientific survey A Short History of Nearly Everything, it strikes me: imagine witnessing the impact of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs and nearly seventy percent of life on Earth. Now imagine a survivor, one of those scurrying little mammals, peeking out from its burrow to behold the lava flows and the earthquakes, the wildfires and the ash, and the gone-ness of the sun. Ask yourself if this little creature believes you when you say, “Don’t worry. The world isn’t usually like this.”
M. put it more directly. “We can’t go back to being those naïve, happy pregnant people.” I would laugh when she said this. I belong to a line of award-winning worriers (Best Free-Floating Anxiety, Best Worst-Case Scenario, Best Achievement in Hand-Wringing), so even though my attitude toward pregnancy had become more apocalyptic, I was never that naïve person to begin with.
Before Zoey and Gus died, I worried. After M. became pregnant again, I waited. This was both a subtle difference and a seismic shift. Whatever would take these children away was an inevitability, and I could be only as passionate about it as I am about the fact of the sun setting. After all, they belong to the same natural order.
When we reached 22 weeks and 4 days, and then 24 weeks, and as we passed 28 and then 30, M. allowed this pregnancy to become its own pregnancy, and not only an extension of our loss. Then so did I. Soon, I was thinking less about how Zoey and Gus were affecting my experience of this pregnancy. Instead, I was thinking more about how this pregnancy was affecting my experience of Zoey and Gus.
There were many details and decisions to consider—some we never got to make for Gus and Zoey, others that we had, and for that very reason, had delayed for too long. With my attention so insisted upon, Gus and Zoey seemed to be getting further away. Background and foreground had moved toward each other, through each other, and were now switching places.
This may have been the only real inevitability. Because, as I discovered, you cannot keep all things equally close at all times.
Sometimes, this feels right. Other times, it feels—not quite wrong, but regrettable. Late one morning in the last weeks, hungry and sleep-deprived, I see the names we have picked out as blocks of the colors that, for some reason, I associate with them: a midnight-blue and a translucent silver. Then, for the first time, I see Gus and Zoes’s names in sienna and lavender, and sense that I am being severed from whole parts of the color spectrum.
But there is also a way in which this pregnancy has helped me keep Gus and Zoey closer by. Historically, I have never been one for change. When I was twelve, my mother replaced the silverware without telling me. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded.
“Because I knew how you’d react,” she said.
“You’re right,” I said.
So, change. Never my thing.
One night, around Week 24, I am alone in the house, in the room that is our once and future nursery. I am thinking of the twins to come, and remembering the babyhoods of my nephew and niece. Knowing how quickly and constantly infants change, I am already a little sad for how momentary all of the twins’ phases will be. For how each advance, each step forward, however wonderful, also makes their previous selves irretrievable. I know that we are really talking about newness, about life, but I see it as farewells, one after another, a constant stream.
Then I think of Zoey and Gus. First comes a stab of guilt, but then the balm of suddenly knowing how I will make room for all four of my children, how I will give each set of twins its privileged place. The children M. is carrying, should we be blessed with their arrival, will always be people in flux. They will not be like their siblings, Gus and Zoey, who will always be what they are now. This, I decide, is to be my compensation for the strangeness of having a son and daughter who live and change, and a son and daughter who are gone.
This is to be my unique comfort.
Zoey and Gus: my children who never change.
How have subsequent changes in your life been colored by your loss? How has your grief changed to accommodate new circumstances?