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For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her: A mother's story of love and loss

Some of you may know the song 'For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her' written by Paul Simon and sung by Art Garfunkel on their 1966 album. It's one of my favourites of theirs; it's so soft and pretty to start, and it ends with such a passionate and pain-filled declaration of love. I don't know if Paul ever found his Emily, but I know that this weekend I found mine.

autumn leaves

For the past three years she was just a thought, a 'maybe', a nagging little pain that would ram me in the guts whenever I let myself think about the possibility that she had been real. So I stuffed the thoughts away, in order to not have to feel that pain again.

I'll take you back to the start. Earlier this year I wrote about my daughter, Lily, who was born with a small arm with three digits. (You can find that story here.) What I left out of that story was Emily, because I wasn't ready to let her be real. I wasn't ready for the pain. I wasn't ready to defend my 'maybe' if people doubted it, since all I had to go on was a hunch, a dream my mom had, and that ever-present pain in my core when something reminded me of her.

The truth that I am ready to accept as mine is that Lily had a twin sister. They hung out together in my womb for just a few weeks, a pair of rapidly developing embryos, each growing their own little tiny hearts, which both beat twice as fast as my own. They had the beginnings of little brains, eyes, noses, arms, and legs. Then Emily had completed her time on Earth, and returned to being part of my body in different ways. Her sudden departure made a change in Lily, whose forearms and fingers were forming at that time.

This is the point in a story when people usually want facts. So, I will give you my facts.

My mom, the incredibly loving mother of 5 thriving adult children, saw each of her seven living grandkids in her dreams before they were born. Just as they were starting to grow in the wombs of their mothers, just as the mothers were beginning to feel a little different and wonder if they could be pregnant, Mom would come over with this knowing smile and say, "So, what's new?". Seven out of seven times, her dreams correctly predicted the sex of the babies. Five boys, two girls.

When I was pregnant with Lily, I could tell that there was something Mom wasn't telling me. She told me she thought I was carrying a girl, but I could see that there was something bugging her. Thankfully my Mom doesn't like to keep secrets, so the next time I saw her she said, "I saw two little girls. But one... one was a skeleton". I probably said something like, "Oh, that's weird," and ran off to catch my one year old boy who was likely into some mischief. I was too busy to give any time to the idea that there was a twin, I was just happy that I was probably having a girl.

A few months later we were sitting around a table at BC Children's Hospital with a group of doctors talking about Lily's little arm, when one doctor said, "Sometimes this happens when there was a lost twin." I looked at Mom (who had come along to support my husband and I, since we were in the middle of grieving our little baby's difference), and I stopped breathing for a minute. The dream. Two girls. One dead. I looked at my husband, and he was nodding his head. It was such a weird time of loss and worry and trying to be hopeful.

Then Lily was born, and life was even more full of little people to care for and keep alive, and I only occasionally thought about the 'lost' twin.

One time that she made herself felt was when we were at Lily's War Amps CHAMP Seminar this spring, with families from all over BC who have kids with limb differences. I was in a group session for parents, and we were learning about the grieving process. One thing we all tend to do when we have a child who is different is to lay blame. Whose fault is it that our child is different? I instantly thought of the other baby. The one who gave up and disappeared, and made something happen while Lily was growing her teeny little arm bones. I sat through the rest of the session with tears streaming, writing notes and listening as much as I could, but I'd already gotten what I needed from that seminar. I knew she was real. I couldn't be feeling this much anger, this much pain, this much guilt, if she wasn't.

That's when I named her. It had been easier to pretend that there was no twin, that it was some other flukey thing that had happened, because then I didn't have to feel the loss of that baby. That toddler. That kid. That girl who would have looked a lot like Lily but would have been another totally individual, incredible little person. But I knew in my heart I couldn't pretend her away, so I decided to call her Emily. The perfect match for her siblings Emmett and Lily.

Lately I have been ready to finally feel the loss of that tiny baby, and of that girl who isn't here. It had been sitting there in my guts since the spring, and I didn't want to carry it around anymore. The pain just sat in my womb, an unacknowledged presence that made me feel dark and heavy, without really knowing why.

This past weekend a friend was hosting a Self-Healing Circle, and I knew I had to be there. I arrived and entered the warm and calming space she had created for the four women who gathered there. We did a grounding meditation and then talked about why we were interested in healing ourselves. I mentioned that there was a darkness that I didn't talk about, and I wanted a space where I could bring it out and feel it.

One of the women asked me to name the darkness, and I said the word "Miscarriage." Instantly the gut-wrenching pain was there, just above my belly-button. It's so strange how emotions truly affect our physical being. I sat with the pain and spoke until I couldn't. Then I just wept. The woman beside me was trained in energy healing, and stepped up to help me through it, keeping me grounded and steady as I rocked and swayed and cried, and let the pain run through me and out of me. Eventually she asked me if I wanted to hold Emily in my arms.

My hands clutched my heart, and through the tears I found myself grinning. That's where you belong, little one. That's where you live. No more lingering pain in the darkness where I was keeping you. You are my gift, and you are here.

"And when I woke, and felt you warm and near, I kissed your honey hair with my grateful tears. Oh, I love you girl. Oh, I love you."

(Here's the song, if you wanna hear it.)

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