Keeping Time

by Cathy Church-Balin

Today is the fifth anniversary of the day I miscarried my son. It was a beautiful September day, just like today. I remember that clearly. The rest of that awful day is beginning to blur a little bit -- the pain, the blood and the emergency surgery. I was in the 16th week of my pregnancy, just beginning to show. I had just bought my first maternity clothes. I know that I will never forget that day, but the pain has dulled and life has gone on. I find that, less and less, I mark time by looking backwards and more by looking ahead.

But anniversaries, by their nature, force us to remember even what we would choose to forget. And, looking back at the anniversaries of my miscarriage, I see that they are a mirror of my feelings and my hopes and the changes in my life. In those reflections, I see patterns and irony and contentment and a bit of resolution.

The first anniversary of "the day" flew by as I was taking care of my newborn daughter. She was and still is to me the biggest miracle ever. I remember taking a little time to reflect, but in retrospect the day was a happy blur.

The second anniversary, surprisingly, was more difficult. Kayli was walking and I was working and pregnant again. We had just moved into a new house and I decided that we were going to memorialize the Grain (that was our nickname for the baby -- we didn't know his sex until a month after the miscarriage.) by planting a tree in our new backyard. So, on a gray, misty, rainy afternoon, I dragged my husband and daughter to the nursery to buy a tree. We finally picked a small, red Japanese maple tree and brought it home. I made my husband (a very good sport) plant it, in the rain, that same day. I just cried. I was about 15 weeks pregnant with the baby who is now Kobe, and, although the pregnancy was fine, I found I was still a bit raw.

Over the next year, Kobe was born but the tree died. Yes, the tree I so lovingly cared for, and had to have, got an irreversible fungus and died. We took a branch to the nursery and the tree man said that there was nothing to do. I told him that this was a very special tree, but he said that this tree sometimes got that disease and there was nothing he could do.

So on the third anniversary of "the day" we returned our dead tree (there was a one-year money-back guarantee) and I told the tree man that I wanted a new tree that was strong and hardy and that wouldn't catch a fungus and die. We bought a new tree -- a Rose of Sharon. This tree seemed much hardier. It grew. It got leaves. It seems to know it is part of our family. On the day of Kayli's third birthday party, it bloomed. One beautiful pink flower. I bawled.

For the fourth anniversary, I bought a stone that was carved with the words "Love You Forever" on it, and I placed the stone under the tree. The day was sad, but easier. The tree grew and survived the winter. It bloomed again this year -- the first flower came on Kayli's fourth birthday. Call it coincidence, but I like to think the tree, and the soul that it symbolizes, knows that this is a special day in our family.

And on this, the fifth anniversary, the tree has lots and lots of pretty pink flowers. It is a happy tree, a glorious tree. It has a very special place in our yard. I talk to it frequently. My daughter has placed other rocks around it. My son loves to smell the flowers -- since it is still a young tree, the flowers are at just the right height for a two-year-old to smell.

And we are a glorious, happy family. Our loss helps us know that we are blessed, and it has taught us not to take anything, especially our children, for granted. As I reflect on our experience, there are definitely things I would have done differently. I would have asked that the baby's remains be kept, and I would have buried them in a special place, although I am not much for cemeteries and funerals. I would have been more assertive with my doctor or found a new one who would take my symptoms more seriously. I'm not sure the course of events would have been different, but I would have felt like I'd done everything that I could have. I don't live with a lot of guilt over my experience, but I do have the occasional "what if?".

I am 40 now and am thinking that my childbearing days may be over. My husband and I would like another child, but that is really up to Mother Nature. We've learned that wishes don't always come true and that we have little control over such miracles. If it is meant to be, it will be. I was recently looking over the bereavement materials that we created at the March of Dimes, and I was struck to see my words on the page. They took my breath away for a moment, and my eyes filled with tears but then I was able to take a breath and go on. Those materials were created with love and compassion and longing and it is our hope that they will help couples facing the loss of a baby to begin creating their own memories and ways of healing.

I sometimes lose my breath, and my eyes fill with tears, when I look at the Grain's tree. But then, usually, my daughter begs me to throw balls or play tag, and I have to smile and turn away from the pain and look towards the future.

Cathy Church-Balin is director of education services at the March of Dimes. In this capacity, she manages professional education activities, the development of new products and programs and maintains the program product line. She is the editor of the foundation's award-winning Mama magazine. Cathy directed the development of the March of Dime's bereavement materials.

Copyright © Cathy Church-Balin. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.