I was walking up the stairs to check on them, when I overheard Abby tell her friend (who was over for their first playdate, at our home) that she wanted to talk about her sister in Heaven.
I paused on the stairs and quietly listened to the conversation that followed.
Abby explained that her sister Molly had died soon after she was born, that she lived about 15 minutes, and this happened before Abby was born. She said if Molly lived, she would be 8 years old now and close in age to, a little older than actually, one of her cousins.
Abby showed her friend the two framed pictures she has of Molly in her room, one a close up of her face soon after she was born (while she was still alive) and the other our family picture (with Bob, Sean and me, after she had died). Then Abby asked, “Do you know what color eyes Molly had?” And she quickly answered her own question, saying, “We don’t know, because they were swollen shut.”
Her friend asked if the baby’s parents were dead too. Abby clarified that Molly’s parents were the same as her’s and, so no, they are alive.
Abby shared how much her Mommy and Daddy wanted another baby girl.
Then she told her friend, “I was Molly’s replacement.”
Abby quickly transitioned into telling her friend about the early miscarriages we had over the years, before she was born, “Of course, there was also Babies Benson… They were so tiny.”
She talked about how one of the babies (our interstitial ectopic pregnancy) stayed at the hospital, and could still be there, that she wasn’t sure. Then Abby told her friend that I flushed another one down the toilet!
Her friend seemed understandably confused, and asked, “Your mom flushed a baby down the toilet?”
At this point I wasn’t sure if I should enter the room to discuss and debrief what had just gone down.
Being kids, seemingly unfazed, they quickly moved on to another topic, and returned to playing with toys in Abby’s room.
So I opted to send her friend’s mom a message, giving a heads up about the conversation, in case her daughter came home asking questions and/or sharing stories about how Abby’s mom has flushed a baby down the toilet or how we had Abby to replace her sister Molly.
Her friend’s mom was kind and understanding, she knew about Molly, and appreciated my letting her know. She also said that she admired that we are so open about our babies that left this world too soon, in part because it helps to remove stigma associated with talking about pregnancy and neonatal loss.
Later, at bedtime, I let Abby know that I had overheard their conversation and that I wanted to know if she has any questions. I also told her that I wanted to clarify a few things.
First and foremost, I said that she WAS NOT a replacement for Molly. I explained that we love both of our daughters very much and that neither could ever be replaced by another child. And I confirmed how excited we were to be able to have another baby girl, but not because we thought Abby would replace her sister.
Then I brought up Babies Benson and how she described what happened to them. I emphasized how tiny they were and how early on in my pregnancies I was when we lost them.
As for the one that, “stayed at the hospital,” I described how tiny our baby was, at roughly 7-8 weeks gestation, and that it could have never survived on its own, outside of mommy. I shared that our baby had implanted in a part of mommy’s body (halfway into my uterus and halfway into my right fallopian tube) where it likely would not have survived and would have been dangerous for mommy to carry any longer. So the doctor had to remove the baby (for my health and safety) and being so very tiny, we didn’t do anything with it. So yes, in that sense, our baby stayed at the hospital, but at that stage of development it was so far from being viable.
And the one I flushed down the toilet? Again, I emphasized how early on in our pregnancy I was and that there is a chance there wasn’t even a baby. I tried to explain how when a woman’s body thinks she is pregnant it starts doing the things it needs to, to support a growing baby. However, in some cases, the baby stops developing very early on and is absorbed by its mother’s body. So there may not have even been a baby in the clump of tissue I flushed down the toilet. I certainly didn’t see one, anything resembling a microscopic baby, at the time, and I did look.
Knowing we had three early pregnancy losses, Abby then asked about the third Baby Benson. I explained that one, actually our second miscarriage (a few months prior to our ectopic pregnancy), was likely what some refer to as a chemical pregnancy, in that I took a pregnancy test early, since we were trying to have a baby, and it was positive, but then I started bleeding a few days later. I talked about how pregnancies can be confirmed with blood tests and there were pregnancy hormones in my system both times that I miscarried, but numbers reflecting that went down over time, as my body adjusted to there not being a growing baby inside me.
I also told Abby we could look at pictures sometime soon, that show the stages of development of an embryo through when it is born as a baby and I would show her just how small Babies Benson likely were, including our interstitial ectopic pregnancy and the other two, if they hadn’t been absorbed by my body when I miscarried. She was excited by my suggestion.
I can only imagine what it feels like for Abby to know that she has a sister that came before her. I wonder how she pictures our Molly-girl in Heaven and how that informs her perspective on her sister, as well as life and death.
Our Abby has a somewhat unique take on pregnancy and loss, that she will carry with her into adulthood and her own child-bearing years.
I hope and pray that her perspective, including our family’s experience, will encourage her to have a realistic and compassionate understanding of the challenges many face in trying to build and expand their families.
I know how blessed and lucky I feel to have Abby in our life, as well as her big brother Sean.
Abby was not born into our family to replace her sister Molly.
I appreciate knowing she felt that way, on some level, so I can continue to affirm that is not the case.
As our children’s pediatrician explained after Molly was born and died, Sean (and Abby) will continue to learn about and process their sister’s death throughout their lives. The older they get, the more questions they may ask, as they try to make sense of Molly’s place in their world and our family. We will have to continue to share what happened, and how we feel about Molly and Babies Benson in the years to come, as their perspectives change. That was such great advice and something I have kept in mind ever since.
It’s true that the older we get, and the more information we are privy to, our perspectives can, and often do, change.
I know that to be true for me, at 41.
And I am grateful to be on this journey with our now seven-year old daughter, as her perspective evolves.
Has your perspective on events in your life and family changed over the years?
Did your parents (or other loved ones) help you to process and make sense of those events as you got older?