She pulls up the picture on her phone of the necklace she wants, so she can show me the little pendants commemorating “angel babies” – lost pregnancies and stillbirths – and “rainbow babies” – the “rainbow” after the “storm” of loss. I did not ask to see the picture. I have mentioned to her before that I am probably not the best person to talk to about this, but that has never seemed to register with her. To frame it the way it feels – “it hurts me to have to hear about this” – would render me far more vulnerable than I am willing to be with someone who has already made it clear many times that my hurt can be turned to a weapon in her hands. And in any case, if I try to push it, I become the Bad Guy. This has always been the case. I am expected to manage and accommodate everyone else’s feelings and comfort even at my own expense, but any attempts to set my own boundaries or protect my own emotional wellbeing where it might inconvenience or distress anyone else are selfish. I internalized that message so completely in childhood that it took three and a half decades to even begin to unravel it. With her, I don’t have the energy to deal with it. Easier to power through this moment than make a big deal about it. Easier to fight back the tears that prick at my eyes. She continues talking about miscarriages and the subsequent successful pregnancy, oblivious to my reaction. Maybe my poker face has gotten that good. I’ve had a lot of time to practice.
And after all, I do love that “rainbow baby,” too, my youngest niece who just turned five. I think of her as my sunshine rather than a rainbow – because I sang You Are My Sunshine to her once when she was a toddler, and she immediately loved it, and she still wants to sing it with me all the time. It is our special song. We had sung it together in my car, earlier that very evening. She is my sunshine.
As I drive home, the conversation mercifully over, I try not to think about the fact that, in an alternate reality, one where things had gone according to plan for me, my sunshine would have a cousin the same age.
Not an angel baby. In my story, there is no baby at all.
I didn’t get pregnant. I didn’t have the chance to get pregnant. And with every passing day, my hope for that to change diminishes. There was no miscarriage. And so I don’t get a rainbow baby, either. That is reserved for those whose losses are concrete. The implicit message, of course, is that my storm, and the storm of those whose journey more closely resembles mine than hers, matters less.
But does that make my loss less real? Because even though there was no embryo, I still named her. Even though there was no pink line on a home pregnancy test, I still pictured her. Even though there was no sonogram picture to put in a photo album, I still browsed through the baby clothes at Target and imagined dressing her in them.
And even though she never existed, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her.