She told me early, in a string of texts saying she had to cancel plans with me later that day, my sister shifted pretty quickly from telling me she wasn’t feeling well to elaborating about why. She was pregnant with her first baby, and I had never been so thrilled to not be meeting someone for lunch.
I already have a couple children of my own, so when my sister told me a few months ago that she and her husband were going to start trying for a baby, I couldn’t wait to put on my “Auntie” hat. My children were going to have a new cousin, and I was going to have a niece or nephew whom I loved the moment I heard she or he was on the way.
I thought of how I would bring her food in those first weeks and hold the baby while she took a nap or a shower. I imagined sleepovers for our kids and how a generation of small children always makes holidays and parties even more fun.
My sister has always been fantastic with my kids — patient and loving and present. I knew motherhood was going to be a great fit for her.
She mentioned that her HCG levels were low, but I reassured her that mine had been low early in my first pregnancy too. I told her not to worry, that they would build back up — and to avoid lunch meat and soft serve ice cream.
Walking through the baby section at Target to pick up wipes and overnight Pull-Ups for my own children, I tossed a pack of my favorite baby blankets into my cart. I sent her a text with some of the bigger ticket baby items we had stored in our attic that she could borrow. I checked the expiration date on our infant car seat.
Her levels continued to stay low, and I continued to encourage her to stay positive. They were increasing, so don’t let the actual numbers worry you until you know there is something to worry about, I told her.
She’s never been good at keeping secrets. She told our parents and our other sister. She told our grandparents. At a barbecue, she and her husband shared their news with some of our extended family. It was still early, but they were too happy to keep it to themselves. We all cheered. We celebrated. We toasted my sister and my brother-in-law and their new family.
My sister toasted with water.
A few days later, my sister texted me from the hospital. She had her first sonogram. There was nothing in her uterus. The embryo had implanted in her fallopian tube.
I dropped my kids off with my husband’s parents. I grabbed a hoodie from my house. I cried in rush-hour traffic on my way to the hospital.
I pinched my hands and my arms to make myself stop.
My youngest sister was already there, sitting in a curtained-off room with our sister and her husband. He started explaining what an ectopic pregnancy was, but he didn’t get far. His head dropped. His hands covered his face. My sister held onto his arm as she cried too. There was an IV port in her hand.
I told him I knew what it was, and he didn’t have to explain it.
The doctor and nurses spoke in kind voices. My sister tried to make jokes when she could. We went with her husband to the vending machines to help him pick out a snack for her. Something bland. A nurse gave her an injection. Her husband took her home. In my car, I cried on the phone to my husband. I asked him to kiss my kids goodnight because I wouldn’t be home until late.
I picked up my sister’s favorite fast food and brought it to their house.
I know what it feels like to carry a child that you’ve longed for and planned for and how it feels to see two lines on your first test. I know what it feels like to tell your husband. I know what it feels like to buy your first onesie before you should.
I do not know what it feels like to lose a baby.
But I know what it feels like to lose something. And I know what it feels like to have to sit there with nothing of real substance to say, unable to do much to help other than picking out a pack of crackers because there is nothing I can do or say that will fix this.
Over the next few days, I texted my sister to check on her. I texted her husband to check on her some more. I asked how he was holding up too. I made phone calls to our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who had known to deliver the sad news. I spoke in very clinical terms to try to keep from crying.
I cried anyway.
I went with my mom to clean my sister’s house. I’ve never cleaned my own baseboards, but I wanted hers to be clean before I left. Her husband gave me the grocery list I asked for and I did their shopping. I picked up some fresh flowers while I was at the store. My mom and I cooked them dinner, a big one with a few days of leftovers. We made my sister lunch while she rested on the couch — she asked for comfort food from when we were kids.
These all felt like things I was planning on doing for her in eight months when she brought home her first baby, but sadly I was doing them now.
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