It goes without saying, but I will say it anyways, that losing Clara has impacted a greater number of people than just myself. My husband, for example, has endured every bit as much emotional pain as I have. Our parents, loving and supportive, empathetic and compassionate people, have hurt along with us. They have done their own grieving. We have borne this loss, together.
The two people who I have been most concerned about though, are my sons. I have, in typical maternal fashion, been very preoccupied with how they are impacted by losing Clara. We have done our best to communicate with each of them. We have left the door open for questions. We have left our hearts open for their hurt. Our oldest son does not seem to be largely affected by the loss, and for that I am so thankful. He is old enough, at 12, to understand that with pregnancy, comes risk, and yet he is young enough, to not necessarily recognize the wound in our hearts, or indeed to feel one in his own.
A few days after our abortion, my husband and I were talking with our oldest son, at the top of our staircase, when he expressed in so many words that he felt bad, for not feeling bad. He said “How can I say goodbye to someone I’ve never met?”, and explained that since he never knew her, he did not feel as though he lost her. He is perceptive enough, however, to understand that this is not how we feel, and he worried that it made him “wrong”. We explained that we completely understood why he felt that way and that, truly, there are no wrong ways to feel. There are only different ways, for different people. We don’t want him to hurt, and so we are honestly glad that he does not. In some ways, his removed way of feeling is just what we intended. Indeed, part of our decision to terminate our pregnancy, rather than attempt to bring Clara to term, only to watch her pass away, was heavily influenced by our concern for our sons. Delivering and losing her would have been torture for my husband and I, of course, but I especially could not imagine putting my sons through that pain, not when we already knew the outcome, and not when there was another way. A way to protect them. In every decision, I am a Mother, I am always protecting.
My youngest son’s reaction has been different. It has not been as simple. Of course, three year olds are never simple. We waited to tell our youngest until after the procedure was finished, thinking that it would be easier for him to understand if she was truly gone. We chose our words carefully, not wanting to scare him, and unsure of how much he would be able to understand. We simply told him that the baby was gone. We explained that there was a problem, and she was not able to be big, strong and healthy like he is, and so she is not coming anymore. He was disappointed… and then he was playing with trucks. I was relieved until, over the next few days, he continued to refer to the empty room as “my baby sister’s room”. It was then that we made the decision to create the Library, and swiftly gave the room a new identity. It took a couple of days, but he eventually seemed to understand that this room was no longer his baby sister’s room, and he began to call it “Our Wibwy”. He stopped talking about her. Stopped asking about her, and I believed that we were done with the topic, until he was old enough to ask more questions, at which point we would happily give more information.
Everything changed this week. Every, single day this week, on the ride home from the train station, he talks about her. He asks about her, and I try to repeat the original explanation with patience and love, but I cannot seem to erase the stiffness from my voice. It hurts to explain it over and over. I am always careful to not say that she died. I am afraid to tell him that. He is smart, creative, and imaginative beyond belief. Just this week, he has introduced us to his imaginary friend, “Johnjadeere” (yes, one word) who works at a movie store which also sells popcorn, shirts and books (and, conveniently, whatever other things our son seems to take interest in at any given moment). I am afraid to introduce him to the idea of death at such a sweet and innocent age, but I am equally as afraid to shield him from the whole truth, the lack of which might confuse and scare him even more. I don’t believe there is a right way to deal with this, and so we continue to stumble through as best we can, trying to answer his questions, trying to give him security and understanding. Trying to ignore the way it hurts to talk about it.
A couple of days ago, we were on one of these interrogative car rides, when my youngest son, for the first time, asked her name. My neck muscles clenched, voice seized in my throat, as I realized that I had never spoken her name to him. He did not know it. “Clara.”, I managed to squeak out, “Your sister’s name, is Clara”. “Cwara”, came the sweet voice from the back seat. “Yes, Cwara. I miss her”. Stifling sobs, I managed only a weak, “Me too, honey.”, before covering my face, weeping silently the rest of the way, as my husband navigated us back to the safety of our home.
Once home, I took myself to the bedroom, where I could close the door and cry without scaring the boys. Hearing him say her name felt like having my heart ripped out. Foolishly, I had begun to delude myself into thinking that I was done grieving, or at least done with the hardest part of it. On the contrary, I realized that I had simply been willing myself to pretend that it didn’t happen. “How can I say goodbye to someone I’ve never met?” But I did meet her. I knew her in the way that every mother knows the child who shares her body, and she knew me. My heartbeat was the music that lulled her to sleep. I cannot pretend that she never was. There is no wrong way to feel, only different ways, for different people.
What’s more, I realized that I was heartbroken because I think, in his own way, my youngest knew her. He was the first to grow inside my womb. He, too, slept to the sound of my heartbeat. Mentored by his wonderful Big Brother, he was so ready to enter the ranks of Big Brothers. He has so much love to share, this little one.
He was so ready to love her.
“Me too, honey.”