Trigger warning: child loss
“The kangaroo’s pouch opens horizontally on the front of the body, and the joey must climb a relatively long way to reach it. Kangaroos and wallabies allow their young to live in the pouch well after they are physically capable of leaving, often keeping two different joeys in the pouch, one tiny and one fully developed” —Wikipedia
“Mommy, do you have a baby in your belly?” my daughter innocently asks as I’m washing dishes after dinner.
I look out the window. The sun is setting and another day has found its way home. I take a deep, long breath in and prepare for the waterfall of tears that will wet my pillow as I fall asleep later that night.
“No, Rosebud, I don’t have a baby in my belly,” I explain in the most calm and perfectly composed voice I can muster.
I don’t engage it; nevertheless she persists.
“Well why do you always look like you have a baby in your belly?” Her curious eyes look down at my pouch.
It’s a topic that has come up on more than one occasion with both of my living children. They are in that “baby-obsessed” phase where it’s all they want to talk about, and I’m always reluctant to go down that road. But it’s like the “No Outlet” signs you keep hitting as you drive through an uncharted neighborhood, circling the endless maze of streets until you can find your way out. This road’s always led me to a dead end. And now, I have to face it and find an escape.
For a mother who has gone through pregnancy and childbirth, the pouch is a subtle yet persevering reminder of the life that grew inside you — a token of these perfect little people we mamas have brought into the world. But for the bereaved mother, the pouch’s significance is multifaceted. It is so much more than a recollection; it is the sights, sounds and smells of the hospital room where you were told that your baby had passed away. It is the echo of an arduous journey embroidered with such deep physical and emotional pain.
Motherhood for mamas in the baby loss community is an endless cycle of grief, constantly evolving. It takes on new dimensions as different triggers in the outside world bring you back to that dichotomy of life and death. And as much as you try to move forward, those triggers always exist. I’ve been cut open, torn apart and broken through in every imaginable way — both literally and metaphorically. So for me, the pouch harbors a deep, impenetrable wall.
And the most innocent of questions reopens wounds that have never healed.
The pouch is a battlefield; the aftermath of war that has waged a fiery path of destruction in its wake. It is the debris that remains after the havoc wreaked on my body. I’ve had one natural childbirth and three cesarean sections. And these scars that have marked my body in a line of demarcation have created a beautiful, yet painful reminder of both the life I brought into this world and also, unfortunately, the death I had to bear. And so for me, the pouch will always represent loss. Not just the children I have lost, but the part of me that died with them on those two fateful days.
What I want to tell my daughter is simply the truth — but the truth isn’t so pretty. Yes, Emerson, I did have a baby in my belly. I’ve actually had four. But it’s empty now; it’s no one’s home anymore. I want to tell her that when you go through four pregnancies and a miscarriage in less than six years, the body does not bounce back. That the physical and emotional trauma my body has endured is profound and has changed me in every possible way.
I want to tell my daughter that by the age of 35 I had delivered four babies and only two had survived; that I would suffer losing my firstborn son after laboring for over 21 hours and spending close to three hours pushing him out of me. That I would go home, childless, and watch the milk leak out of my breasts for days, desperate to feed my child. That I would go on to deliver her second brother prematurely at 33 weeks, in a highly anticipated and dramatic birth after learning that he had a birth anomaly that would require surgery at 22 hours old.
I want to tell her that I would spend every day of the first month of my son’s life in the NICU and fear losing him every single day. That after welcoming her into the world, I would go on to feel the elation and hope of a new life growing inside me; only that joy would be short-lived and I would go on to have to deliver a stillborn daughter after being told I lost her at 34 weeks.
I guess the trauma my body has suffered is simply too apparent to go unnoticed. And she notices.
I want to tell her that the pouch she asks about generates flashbacks of the cold dirt I had to watch my family shovel as my babies were put in boxes and buried in the earth.
But I can’t tell her that now. I can’t tell her that a woman approached me the other day at Home Depot and congratulated me on my pregnancy and how it broke me apart all over again.
One day, maybe when she’s a grown woman of her own, I will share my story with her. The real story in all its raw, unfiltered and ugly truth, so she can understand the path I’ve traveled.
But I hope that day is a long way away. A day that exists only after she, hopefully, experiences the miracle of a live childbirth of her own. So that she can gush in excitement when she takes that first positive pregnancy test and jumps up and down on her bed at the wonder that lies ahead, rather than the sorrow that could be waiting on the other side.
Until then, I simply smile and tell her, “No honey, there’s no baby in mama’s belly right now. This little pouch is left over from you and your brother. And isn’t it so beautiful?”