By Amanda Linsmeier
The tattoo my daughter likes to touch is a scattering of stars. There is one shooting star—representing my son—and five little stars. Those are blacked out, and small. Their light never came to be.
“Mo-om!” my son calls to me in the harried minutes before dinner. In haste, I join him and his 20-month-old sister in the living room.
“What is it, sweetheart?” I ask, wooden spoon forgotten in my hand. A bit of sauce drips on the laminate floor. I let the dog lick it up.
“She took my tractor!”
My spirited 5-year-old had us, and all his toys, to himself for almost 4 years. It is a struggle sometimes to share. To learn to give, to let go. And his baby sister can be feisty. As he rips the toy from her tiny hand, she reaches out and whacks him in the face.
Before I even try to handle the situation, my son stomps off, murmuring under frustrated tears, “I wish I didn’t have a sister.”
Usually, my oldest is gentle and patient with her. On a recent afternoon, I walked past the living room with a basket of laundry and there they were, unprompted, sitting close, holding hands. It was one of those cup-runneth-over moments.
However, when one or both of them refuse to share, or are in the way, or something else equally annoying, occasionally that phrase comes out, and I cringe internally. I think about what his father and I went through to have a second child, his baby sister, who looks at him in such adoration, but I don’t say anything.
My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. It was quick, and straightforward, at 7 weeks. All the same, it broke my heart. When I conceived my son a couple months later, I was terrified. But, he came along, born spontaneously on his due date, beautiful and healthy. After that, I did not worry. I had mastered the secret, I thought. When I conceived shortly after his first birthday I smiled wryly. I was both scared and thrilled he would have a sibling so close in age. It never entered my mind that would not happen.
After dinner, the kids and I dance while their father watches in amusement. Our son is silly, and spins around. Our daughter, taking after me, loves to dance. She wants to be held the whole song—which I repeat three times, so by the end I am sweaty and out of breath. Even as a petite toddler, three dances is work. I peel off my cardigan as we take a rest. She climbs onto the couch, reaching for the stars inked on my shoulder as she has before. Curious, as if she’s asking, what is this? Why is this there?
“Pretty?” I ask and she nods. My son keeps spinning. He knows what the stars mean. Or maybe he’s forgotten. I wonder if he remembers all the times we said we were going to have another baby but didn’t. The last couple of times I didn’t even tell him. I hated to see that look in his eyes when I said, “The baby is gone.”
Perhaps it was just my own grief reflected in his eyes.
The tattoo my daughter likes to touch is a scattering of stars. There is one shooting star—representing my son—and five little stars. Those are blacked out, and small. Their light never came to be. Those are my first five losses. The siblings that never happened. One before my son. Four after him. I haven’t had the second shooting star for my daughter added yet. Or the tiny stars that came after her. I’d like to end this permanent art with one last shooting star, one more sibling for my babies. I’m stubbornly waiting for that to happen, and then I will book my next tattoo after birth and weaning. Somehow one of my fears is my son will not be as thrilled to hear we’d be having another baby as he was when I finally shared I was pregnant with his sister, at over 20 weeks along.
When we had told him the news, he kissed my belly, talked to the baby. He relished the anticipation of his sister’s arrival.
When she was born, he referred to her as “my baby.”
“She’s my baby,” I’d laugh as I soaked up the feel of them both in my arms. “Mine and Daddy’s.”
“No,” his black eyes never wavered, “She’s mine.”
The years in between my two children were fraught with doctor’s appointments, testing, and research. I learned I’m the carrier of a genetic condition, which causes miscarriage about half the time. When I questioned the genetic counselor on my stats, worse than 50%, I was told, “It’s just a numbers game.” Upon receiving my diagnosis, somewhere after loss #3, my husband and I struggled with the decision whether or not to continue trying. Well-meaning friends and family told us to be happy with what we had. And we were. But I didn’t want to let this disorder win, when it had already stolen so much. Damn the genetics. I am glad now we pushed on. Glad I can someday tell my children, who may likely carry the same reproductive challenge, that I didn’t give up. That it was a long, hard road, but I fought. And in the end, I won.
We ease into bedtime calmly. Both children are clean and sweet when we settle them into their shared room, another struggle sometimes. But tonight, they are ready for sleep. My daughter goes right to the crib, with the warm bottle we still allow her. And my son, my sensitive boy, curls into bed with a favorite stuffed animal and the chunk of amethyst I gave him to keep away nightmares. My husband and I kiss them and shut out the light. As the door closes, I hear my son croon to his sister, “Good-night, baby. Love you.”
I smile, and my heart blooms.
Author’s Note: My husband and I are overjoyed to be expecting our third child, due this fall. Our daughter waivers between curiosity and disinterest. Our son is thrilled. Both children occasionally kiss my belly.
Amanda Linsmeier lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two children and works part-time at her local library. Her flash fiction has appeared on the WOW! Women on Writing blog, The Muffin and her debut novel Ditch Flowers will be released by Penner Publishing in the upcoming months. You can find her on Facebook.