It’s a damp day: not cold, but clammy and fatigued. I walk in and see Laila sitting near the bar. She’s tense. Her shoulders are pulled up tight to her ears, and her hands are balled in her lap. I’m about to dig in to something intensely personal and painfully absent in her everyday life. (Trigger warning for pregnancy loss.)
We exchange pleasantries and I order two glasses of wine. I can’t yet tell if it’s her or me who’s nervous. She’s the one with the story; I’ve just got a pen and paper.
A pregnancy is measured in weeks – the week you find out, the week of the first ultrasound, the week you tell your family and friends, the week you’re considered “full term.” For most women, these are the milestones of a mysterious and wonderful process. But some women experience different milestones: weekly ultrasounds, weeks of “why” and “what ifs,” and the weeks of teetering on the edge of uncertainty, waiting to see if they’ll even meet the child they’re carrying.
One week before their youngest’s first birthday, Laila and her husband found out they were pregnant, again. “I was still on mat leave,” Laila explains. “It was a ‘holy shit’ moment,” she laughs. “A few weeks later, we found out it was twins!” Laila’s eyes crinkle with a genuine smile, as she raises her glass of wine to take a sip — the first of the night.
Just like that, their family was growing from two kids to four. Laila and husband Trevor had nine weeks of the usual anxiety and blissful excitement that comes with an unplanned pregnancy. But, at 20 weeks, the excitement turned to unease. “Twin B” had low fluid, and the doctors were concerned.
Laila unpacked her story, week by week; detail by excruciating detail. While I know she’s told this story before, I can sense the discomfort for my behalf. About one in 160 pregnancies result in death, and yet, the subject is still shamefully taboo.
Laila underwent a week of tests and hesitant diagnoses. She and Trevor were eventually sent home; prescribed bed rest and cool heads. Two weeks later, and four weeks away from the safe zone, the twins were improving, along with the outlook.
When the twins reached the 30-week safe zone, the doctors told the family, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
But, just two weeks after assurance and the best news they had received all pregnancy, Laila was told that “Twin B” had no heartbeat.
“I was in shock. I called Trevor and I just whispered ‘the little one is gone,’” she tells me, taking another sip. “A bomb was dropped on my life, and I was supposed to just go home and wait,” she recounts. Almost seven days later, Laila was told she should deliver the twins. One with a bright future and one whose shining light had gone dim just a week earlier.
Laila relays the day she delivered “Twin B,” Alina. She repeats, “What will she look like?” and “Will I get to see her?” illustrating once again, just how mysterious and secretive the process of losing a baby is, in our world of miraculous modern medicine.
Alone in her room, Laila asked to meet the baby she’d never know: the fourth daughter she’d never raise, teach or embrace, and all the while, her twin Hanna was just down the hall. “Here was this baby girl I’d never know and she looked exactly like my live baby Hanna,” she sighs, deeply. “I’ll never feel that much pain and guilt with that much relief ever again,” she admits.
Four weeks after their birth, baby Hanna came home. It was Christmas day. “Bringing her home by herself was torture,” Laila says, avoiding my gaze. In her grief, Laila used her creativity to be a mother to the baby she would never know. An art director by trade, Laila designed every aspect of her lost daughter’s memorial: from the birth announcement, to the grave marker.
Four years later and in a way, Laila still measures Alina’s life in weeks. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, and every single other day are milestones without the baby she lost. With three beautiful girls to raise, she knows how important addressing this subject is. As a last thought she impresses upon me; “This is the most quiet pain so many people feel. We owe it to each other to recognize it and celebrate the lives that could’ve been.” I have no words to respond, but hope that glassy eyes and a hug is good enough.
Laila is an Associate Creative Director and creator of Lullabye Condolences.