My first miscarriage came early, with a heavier dose of confusion than sadness. My husband and I had barely had time to make sense of the positive pregnancy test, so the sudden loss left us both wide-eyed and mystified.
We didn’t talk much about it. I cried a little. He busied himself with work and we moved on.
My second miscarriage was at nine weeks. I had known I was pregnant for four weeks. We had told family and a few friends. I was sick and exhausted, the telltale signs of pregnancy in my book. At our first ultrasound appointment, the heartbeat wasn’t as strong as the doctor would have liked, so she asked us to come back in a week. “You’re probably just not as far along as you think,” they all said, but when we returned a week later, the heartbeat was weaker and sporadic.
“You’ll need a D&C,” they said. My husband and I held hands while we made the necessary calls and arrangements, tears sliding down our cheeks. But, again, we didn’t talk about it much. I cried, a little more this time. We busied ourselves with work, home repair projects, and caring for our 2-year-old son.
The following weekend my husband came home with a trunk full of flowers and plants. Desperate for a little color and signs of new life around the house, we spent hundreds of dollars on gardening tools, plants, vegetables and flowers of every color—one of which was a tall hibiscus. That afternoon while our son napped upstairs, we planted. Or more accurately, my husband planted and I watched. He filled huge planters with yellow, orange and red flowers that we couldn’t name and set them on both sides of our front door. He planted tomatoes along the side of the house. And in the middle of a large pile of soil, he planted the tall hibiscus, surrounding it with countless multi-hued impatiens.
He dug and planted. I watched. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t need to. We both knew what the hibiscus plant, sitting regally above all the rest, signified. It was a headstone for that lost soul we left in the hospital the morning the doctors dug in my womb with their cold metal tools.
I had another miscarriage a few months later. Again we didn’t talk much about it, except to make the necessary appointments.
My husband and I have always been big talkers. We are both lawyers, with an inclination for verbosity and a penchant for a good debate. Over the course of our 16-year relationship, no topic has been left uncovered, even the sticky ones that many couples shy away from—things like religion, previous relationships, and regrets. But with each of those miscarriages, very few words were said. What could we have said? After a miscarriage, the grief and pain are bigger than words anyway.
There were other things to fill our conversations anyway. There was our firstborn son, who at 2-years-old was in the throes of toddlerhood, providing an endless source of fodder, both of the comical and handwringing variety. We complained about the tanking economy and fretted about my husband’s stressful job. And a year later, our conversations centered on moving out of the city and away from that house. I didn’t acknowledge out loud what that hibiscus plant meant to me, but every time I looked at it, a certain kind of peace washed over me. A raw and tarnished peace, yes, but a peace nonetheless, if only for a moment.
A year later, we moved, rented our house to a group of 20-somethings, and the plant died. In all honesty, it probably wouldn’t have survived even if we had stayed in that house. The soil was rocky and infertile, without sufficient sunlight, and my gardening skills are subpar, to say the least. A couple years ago, when doing a little cleanup work around the property, I noticed that a semi-circle of bricks still surrounded the place where the hibiscus once grew. I stopped in front of that spot and said goodbye to our sweet angel. I didn’t linger, nor did I talk about it. But I did pause and remember.
Earlier this year, we sold that house in the city, and while I waited for confirmation from our lawyer that the sale has closed, my thoughts kept coming back to that hibiscus plant, the bricks surrounding it, the sorrow buried in the dirt, and the hope that sprouted out of it. Visions of my husband on his hands and knees digging, tilling, planting and tending ran through my head on an endless silent loop—never with any words, but always with a love that transcended language.
Perhaps it was in the silence—in the not talking—that we grew closer as a couple and stronger as individuals. In the things left unsaid, we mourned and grieved in our own way, on our own timetable. In the doing and caring and the tending of that hibiscus plant and each other, we learned more about love as a verb and not as a feeling. And precisely by not offering words of solace or comfort, we were able to truly bear witness to each other’s mourning and grief, and eventually our strength and resilience—which, in the end, may have been the greatest gift we could have given each other.