By Alona Martinez
And in that infinitesimal second I feel the weight of that loss, which happened so many years ago, which I was told about so casually, which so many women go through quietly and on their own.
The baby I lost was going to have a playset from Costco. I knew this, just as clearly as I knew I’d practice stirring porridge slowly and lovingly, the way my mother taught me, making sure I’d get it just right. I’d add a dash of salt and a generous pat of butter at the end, watching it pool into a golden lake in the center. I’d do this carefully for the child growing inside me. My mother had passed many years ago, so she wouldn’t be there to remind me if I got it wrong.
The playset I wanted to purchase was an upgrade from the metal one in my childhood backyard in 1972, a rusted contraption coated in chipped silver paint with cherry red trim showcasing a blue swing that screeched much too loudly and a glider that my sisters and I fought over. There were three of us, so one was always excommunicated from tandem play, ostracized to the quirky misfits of the beaten up playset: the agonizing cry of that damaged swing, the cadence always interrupted by hiccups of metal against metal, or the dented steps that led to a buckled narrow slide whose precarious ride culminated in a spattering of leaves and mud as the slide bent upward and spat me out with a dirty and soggy bum.
Our yard was an insignificant rectangular patch of green at the mouth of a residential cul-de-sac misplaced in the guts of a huge, cosmopolitan South American city. There was only room for an undernourished lime tree and that swing set, which my mother often boasted had come with the house and been part of the appeal when my parents first moved there with a toddler and a baby on the way.
I can’t remember the precise memories from swinging or dangling or fighting with my sisters on the swing set, but I’ve seen them recorded in the faded Polaroid shots that have served as much of my family’s narrative, notably swimming unorganized in one of the drawers of my mother’s antique flip desk. In these garden photos, my mother was usually posing nearby in oversized black sunglasses and a flower-printed dress, a child on her hip or in her belly or both. Inevitably, there’d be a blur of golden curls at the edge: one of us girls too distracted to sit still for a picture.
I held this hope for my unborn baby. The one I was told was merely the size of a grain of rice. I spoke to him regularly, for I had decided it was a boy, placing my hands over my abdomen, waiting and willing for him to swell with life. While I washed dishes I’d stare at the garden and imagine his first steps, his wobbly feet teetering towards the play deck or his gleeful laugh as I pushed him on the bright yellow baby swing.
I was quiet about these plans, sharing only clinical facts with others: this week the heart is beating, fingers and toes will form soon. Perhaps he can suck his thumb. But in my mind, my child had already romped through our large back yard, not tiny and cluttered and noisy, like the yard I had grown up in, but ample and fertile with lush tropical trees, overlooking a picturesque South Florida canal, decidedly and proudly suburban.
I had a child already, a beautiful 18-month old girl with almond eyes and Shirley Temple curls. She learned to smile at five weeks and never stopped. She giggled, breathed, and walked just like my husband, and everywhere the three of us went, people exclaimed, “She’s Daddy’s spitting image!” noting the obvious physical similarities.
Maybe this child will be blonde and blue-eyed like me? I wondered.
Together they’d play on the playset I’d already chosen. She’d race ahead and swing open the plastic door to the miniature clubhouse, inviting her little brother to come in.
I was nibbling on an endive salad in a stylish bistro when the pain began. It was late spring and a gorgeous day, the kind that begged for an al fresco lunch in a trendy Miami Beach restaurant. I was with a group of friends when I excused myself and entered the dim, cool interior, rushing past a modern bar and heading to the back, where, under the bright white fluorescents of the restroom stall, I encountered what every pregnant woman most fears.
A visit to my doctor confirmed I had lost the baby.
I was told, not by the doctor himself, but by a nurse in wrinkled teal scrubs.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” she matter-of-factly announced while closing my medical file. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to comfort me or brush me off. She said I could resume my normal activities within 24 hours and sent me on my way.
I told myself she was right. It wasn’t meant to be. It’s better this way. Better now than later. And all the rest. I dug into statistics: 1 in every 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, 75% of miscarriages happen in the first trimester, the vast majority of women experiencing miscarriage can expect to have a normal pregnancy the next time.
But no matter how many times I told myself this, I still pictured that Costco playset, still fought to block the faded Polaroid images of my mother’s smile with a baby on her hip.
The statistics were accurate. I did get pregnant shortly thereafter and birthed a strong, healthy boy. He loves pasta and is obsessed with Marvel comics. He enjoys playing in the backyard, although it’s more along the lines of kicking around a soccer ball, shooting hoops, or chasing after our Golden Retriever.
I never purchased the playset.
A damaged part of me screeched like the blue swing, reminding me of the memories left unmade, of the giggle I’ll never hear; the happy, boisterous, child who’d never make it into the family photographs, a persistent gap, a quiet empty space that I carry with me.
Even as life flourishes and thrives and is happy, there’s that tiny gap of a child lost the entire world knows nothing about. It’s a very small space, nothing close to consuming, even to me. As a mother, I am too busy enjoying and nourishing my two children. My husband has certainly moved passed it. Friends likely have forgotten about it, if they even knew. Life continues, as it should, as I’d expect it to. And yet, sometimes, in the most unexpected moments, like stepping out of the shower or folding the clothes, I wonder: what would he have been like? Would he have been more of a meat eater (like my daughter) or a fish eater (like my son)? Would he have had a sophisticated sense of humor? Would he have loved to learn about the world? Teeny, tiny, simple questions that stun me. Stop me. And in that infinitesimal second I feel the weight of that loss, which happened so many years ago, which I was told about so casually, which so many women go through quietly and on their own. And then go on.
Alona Martinez is a writer and mother of two who lives in Plantation, Florida. She writes about food and family on her blog, Culinary Compulsion, and is currently working on her first book. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.