Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Phantom family

(Image from marcoa84's wonderful flickr file.)

In fantasy and science fiction, one of the classic back drops is of parallel universes colliding. Parallel universes, for those of you not familiar with the genre, are created when there's a crisis in the life of a person or planet. The different possible outcomes create different universes. Well, I collided with my own parallel universe recently. I spent last weekend with my mother, helping her sort through things in her storeroom so she could downsize (thank you Bush et al. for demolishing her investment account). As we were working, she casually said what a shame it was about the drinking water in south east Virginia having been tainted when I lived there and causing all those miscarriages. I was absolutely stunned. It turns out that the water in the area where I lived when I had my multiple miscarriages had extremely high levels trihalomethanes, a byproduct of over chlorination. They have been found to cause "fetal deaths [and] spontaneous abortions --pregnancies that terminate spontaneously before the end of the 20th week of gestation." The article I found added dryly, but not incorrectly that "In addition, of course, many of these 30,000 fetal deaths precipitated a personal crisis for the parents." I'll say. (For more on that see my earlier posting Selina says. But a quick list of the effects of miscarriage on me, at least, would include inexpressible grief, depression, anxiety during all further pregnancies, sense of inadequacy as a woman.)

So there, in that storeroom, fittingly filled with junk from my past, I had a vision of the woman I would have been had I not lived in that place, drunk that water (the pregnancy books tell you not to drink juice because you'll gain too much weight, but do drink LOTS of water ladies!), and had those miscarriages. Who would she have been, that woman that I'm not? She would have had babies easily, as I expected to, as you're supposed to. She would have felt that her body worked rather than feeling, yet again, like a failure. She would have been a good mother, as I am, but she would have been less afraid to let her children roam free because she wouldn't have had that tiny hidden part that was always afraid they'd be taken from her. She would have been more complacent than I am, but she would have been nice, someone I would have liked but always felt a little separate from.

Of course, each significant event in our lives builds the base that supports and shapes everything that follows it. So the person I am now is unimaginable without the many things, good and bad, that followed from those miscarriages - the adoption of my twins, the diagnosis of my daughter's autism, the nervous breakdown that followed that, the birth of my youngest. It would be a betrayal of myself and everything that I've learned, of the children that I have and love so very much, to wish my life were different. And I don't. I like who I am now. I'm a complex, compassionate person, and a good friend who is not afraid of anyone's pain or grief. But I can't help thinking about that woman that I didn't get to be, and wondering what those babies I didn't get to have would have been like as they grew. Without ever having known them, I miss them and, like a phantom limb that aches untouchably, that life I never had.


sageweb said...

That is absolutely touching. I spend time wondering "what if" all the time..but I love what you said,"I like who I am now."
That is ultimately the most important thing. I think it is normal for all of us to wonder, as long as we understand ourselves.

Miss Janey said...

Well said, Miss Elizabeth. That woman you didn't get to be might not have been as compassionate without life's heartaches to show her the way.

more cowbell said...

Hugs to you Elizabeth. What if, indeed. That's a hard question, for anyone who has experienced miscarriage. I had a miscarriage before I had my kids, on my birthday, actually -- I can only imagine how difficult it must've been to go through that multiple times! I still wonder, sometimes, how things would've been, IF.

I think for mothers, the what if question is especially hard. For me personally, some of the saddest occurrences -- or even mistakes & regrets -- those happenings which I'd magically undo in a hot minute IF I were not a parent, can not be regretted or undone now, because those things directly or indirectly led to the children I do have. As moms, that's our answer to the question, "if you could go back and change ..." Well, sure, IF I could somehow keep the kids I have now. So we're back to where we started.

Anyway, hugs to you. You're a good mom.

ayem8y said...

It would be interesting to visit the parallel multi-verses to check in and see how “what if” turns out. I have the feeling that one of the alternates is exactly perfect. Then again I think back on my mistakes and how they make me stronger only to realize that I actually do “make mistakes.” I would make mistakes no matter what alternate parallel universe I inhabit and these universes would probably all result in the same conclusion. It’s a vicious circle.

a thousand shades of twilight said...

Wow, that casual revelation about the water must have been so jaw dropping and gut wrenching.It's fantastic that you like who you are now, (and we all love you to death for all of the reasons you outline above and more!). But my immediate response on hearing about that contaminated water was one of sheer anger. The article and, worse, the authorities seem so dismissive of the massive, life-changing human cost...

yellowdog granny said...

i have this urge to throw my arms around you and give you a big ole texas size hug..

Elizabeth said...

Sage & Miss J - Accepting and embracing who I've become through it all is the only way I can make any sense of it. (But I have just a whole big heap of compassion now, so I'm hoping I can take a break on those kinds of lessons for a while!)

cowbell - Exactly. I can't regret or wish undone the very things, painful as they were for me, that led me to these four beautiful children.

Ayem8y - Yes, and normally I don't waste too much time thinking about what's over and done. But learning about the cause of the miscarriages really changed my understanding of that entire part of my history, so I've been trying to process it.

1000 shades - It is horrifying, and a number of women who lost babies are suing, and I hope they kick the county's ass so no one else will have to go through what we went through.

And I was floored when my mother mentioned it so offhandedly. But I also know that she's not very comfortable with failure, grief, or conflict. She likes things to be tidy and happy (good luck with that, right?). So it's also not entirely surprising to me that she dropped that bombshell as casually as she might mention some unfortunate weather we'd been having. She's in some respects a nutcase, but she's my nutcase. sigh.

Granny - Thanks. I'll take that hug. And some of your chili too.

Anonymous said...

You have such an incredible way of expressing what many of us lock away.
IF - such a big little word.