The Child on the Train

About a week after Krissy completed the first trimester of her pregnancy, she went in to the doctor to have a routine checkup for herself and her baby. While she was being examined, the doctor had difficulty finding the baby’s heartbeat. This in itself was not unusual — at just over three months, a fetus is still a small thing. The sound of its nascent heartbeat is easy to lose in the other sounds of the body. But by the next day, Krissy had begun to spot and bleed, and shortly thereafter she miscarried. As with nearly a quarter of all pregnancies, the processes that form and shape a life had stopped at a certain point well short of completion, and for whatever reason this child would not be born. It was a death in the family.

By and large, we kept the matter to ourselves, telling the people who needed to know — family and close friends — but otherwise saying nothing. I had written about Krissy’s pregnancy on my Web site, as I had written about Krissy’s first pregnancy — and why not, since a pregnancy (at least in the context of a happily married and financially secure couple) is a happy thing. For a writer, there’s a lot of material to discuss, so long as it’s done in a tasteful manner that doesn’t have one’s pregnant wife planning to beat one in the head with a pan. But a miscarriage is obviously something different. There’s no way to write on one’s Web site, in a breezy and conversational style, that a pregnancy has ceased.

Even if there were, the event was too close and too personal to share in that way. Celebration should be public, by definition, but grief is a fragile thing. Grief is a small, difficult and necessary visitor that dwells in your home for some little time, and then has to be gently encouraged to depart. Crowds make it nervous and inclined to stay put. We didn’t want that. We figured anyone who learned of it later would understand. We held our grief close and then after enough time, bid it farewell and set it on its way.

And it is gone; its time in our house was brief. Our friends, our family, and most of all our daughter helped see to that. One cannot stand in the face of such fortunate circumstances as we have and wish to cling to grief. There is too much that is good in our lives together to stay sad for long. So we didn’t.

Were you to express your condolences to us today, we would of course thank you for them — we know they’re sincere and we know they’re meant from the heart. But we would hope you would also understand when we said “thank you” and then chatted with you about something else entirely, it’s not because we are pained about revisiting the grief. It’s that the grief is like a shirt that is six sizes too small. It fit once, but it doesn’t fit now, and trying to get it back over our heads would be an exercise in futility.

I mention the miscarriage now primarily because this is around the time that Krissy would have been due, and various correspondents have been asking about it. When I write back that Krissy has miscarried, they’re all deeply apologetic for bringing up what they (not unreasonably) assume is a painful topic. And of course, it’s not their fault at all, since I mentioned the pregnancy but not the miscarriage. I really don’t want anyone else to feel horrifyingly embarrassed because of my decision not to discuss certain information.

I also want to avoid scenes like that one I had in October, in which I was standing around with a circle of casual acquaintances. One of them was discoursing about the danger of asking other casual acquaintances about their personal lives, since there’s always something horrible that’s happened — and no sooner did this acquaintance finish saying this than she asked me how Krissy’s pregnancy was coming along. Rarely has someone posited a statement and proved it with such brutal efficiency. I felt bad that my omission put her in such a situation. So now it’s out there.

I should mention that the fact that we’ve left behind the grief of the miscarry does not mean the event is forgotten; or perhaps it’s better to say that the child we lost is not now nor ever will be forgotten by us. It is, as I’ve said, a death in the family, and while the small absence it created is small indeed, it is yet still an absence. It doesn’t go away, and even though we see it without grief, we recognize it exists. It would be wrong to pretend it does not.

If I could describe to you what a miscarry feels like from an emotional point of view, I would ask you to imagine a dream in which you are standing on a train station platform. While you are waiting, you look through the dirty windows of the train car in front of you and see a small child looking back at you. The child’s face is indistinct because of condition of the windows, but what you can see looks achingly familiar. For a moment, the child is separated from you by only that single, dirty pane of glass. Then the train starts to move, and the child starts to move with it.

And you realize that the reason you’re on the platform at all is because you’re waiting for your own child to arrive, a child you have yet to meet. And you realize that you could have claimed that child as your own. And you know that whatever child eventually comes to you, you will love that child like the sun loves the sky, like the water loves the river, and the branch loves the tree. The child will be the greater whole in which you dwell.

But it will never be that child, the one you could only glimpse, the one who went away from you. All you can do is remember, and hope with everything in your heart that the child who went away from you finds another who will love it as the sun loves the sky, the water loves the river, and the branch loves the tree. You pray and you hope and you never forget. That’s what you do. That’s what I do.

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