Then I was pregnant again. A mixture of elation and anxiety. Would lightning strike twice? Would I fall into the unlucky lottery once again? The reality of stillbirth was no longer lost on me. This one arrived and with him an unexpected sensation. Of course happiness reigned supreme, how can it not with a newborn to hold? But all the joy that this newborn brought with him was coupled with a clarity of what we had really lost. Baby sighs, giggles, rolling over, fat bellies and chunky knees. What would have been like with him?
I have an invisible child.
Like an imaginary friend, he exists largely by my own creation. I see him throughout my day. Standing behind me as I fix a breakfast of cereal, sitting by my chair as I nurse, or watching festivities from a distance.
You cannot see him. He isn’t there, but I imagine him there, pasted onto everything.
At the grocery store you would see me with my two visible children, one trying to be helpful by putting things into the cart and the other with fat cheeks reaching his arms staring wide-eyed at everything, he is barely six months old. The invisible child is where? Running around the cart? Barreling into displays and legs and requesting to be up then down then up in my arms again. My imagination runs wild with scenarios and situations and shared experiences. His presence has been made louder by the birth of my third child, I see that gap between my two boys and it is filled with wonder.
No, I am not demented, my invisible child is dead. There is no soft way to say it. He died before he even took a breath. Thirty-nine weeks within my body and for some reason his life was erased before it ever began. He was stillborn, never taking a single breath. But his heart beat, and his legs kicked and he rolled around within me and for months I anticipated him. His future, his personality, his love. I practiced exercising my imagination, dreaming up the world that would spin with him upon it.
I mothered him before he was born too. I rubbed my belly feeling for feet and elbows. Searching thrift stores for tiny clothes. Finding a bassinet to keep in our room, to keep him near me. We prepared a name; James. We were still trying to decide on a middle name.
What I mean to say is, he was real. I roared him out of me and as he was place upon my chest I thought for a moment, “They had it all wrong!” But no, he was already gone.
For a time, after his loss, I ignored this invisible child. I tried to make everything go back to before. Before I was pregnant. Before hopes for a life unlived occurred. We went back to being a family of three and I focused my energy on what I had rather than what I lacked. If I focused hard enough, I didn’t have to see him waiting there. Waiting to be included, to be felt, to be a part of our family.
I have two visible children who are growing and learning and smiling and one you cannot see. One who I imagine is right there with us. As we play in the morning sun, watching our new one giggle, a pause in the air—a stillness leads my mind to adding in an 18 month-old. I instantly see chaos and stress that comes with that age but even more, I see his smile and I feel his love.
They always ask, “How many?” and I hesitate to respond, because it is hard to say. I make mention of my invisible child, “one who passed, James” and the air halts with making mention of his life. My heart twists out the words and freezes in suspense for the response.
A simple sorry and change in subject tells me that they don’t want to see this child. The world is already so sad, no need to be more aware of it.
Sometimes though, sometimes he is seen. “Three boys! Wow,” one exclaimed naturally, looking up to the sky. My heart lit up. You see him too!