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Our Invisible Travel Companion

I wrote this weeks ago but never planned to post.  And then tonight, in trying to explain something to myself, I realized I had the answer right here in this post.  And to explain what was in my head tonight, you would need to read this.

Before our trip to London, we were walking through the mall and we passed a sign in the Gymboree window announcing a baby sale.  Well-dressed, cherubic babies stared at us from enormous posters.  The ChickieNob started joking around that babies were on sale, would I like to purchase one?  Without actually answering the question, after we had talked through the repercussions that purchasing another human being could have on that baby’s psyche, I pointed out that we wouldn’t be going to London if there was a third child.  A perfect storm of logistics and money and timing would take care of that.  We could go on two 10-day trips to expensive European cities and stay in nice hotels and get extra leg-room seats for the cost of one IVF cycle.  One chance.  That may or may not work.

In the moment, I labeled the trip in my mind a consolation prize.  But that isn’t quite accurate.  It is merely the living of a life in the absence of what we thought would happen.  Life has to go on, and so we are making it go on.  And this life isn’t second-best, isn’t the loser’s prize.  It just is.

*******

The third child popped into my head on the first full day of the trip and remained with me through nightfall.  We woke up in the morning to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony.  The time on the website was wrong so we arrived and had first pick of the ceremony route.  We sat down for two hours and read books, wrote in our journals.  The four of us were in sync, perfect travel companions, rolling with the change.  They felt closer — maturitywise — to our station in life rather than babyhood.  Which is exactly when you want to start dragging your kids around the world; when they will be able to enjoy it and allow you to enjoy it.

But there should have been a younger sibling there, fucking things up.

Someone we needed to occupy with two hours of games or songs, who would whine for a snack and attempt to run into the road.

I kept touching everything I was trying to keep track of in the crowd: two cameras, three backpacks, two children, my Oyster card, my hotel room key.  Touching everything in a five minute cycle on repeat; cameras, backpacks, children, Oyster card, room key.  Because I kept startling, thinking something was suddenly missing.

*******

I couldn’t stop pointing out how impossible the trip would be if we had been successful in adding to our family.  Our day continued off track and we didn’t sit down to eat lunch until well after two o’clock.  As we walked in search of an acceptable restaurant containing non-white, vegetarian food (please don’t ask), I kept pointing out that if we had a younger sibling in tow, this day would have completely fallen apart.  A baby can’t wait two additional hours for lunch.  We would have had to bail on our afternoon plans.

Our invisible child waited for us on the sidewalk while we ate overpriced pizza a few blocks from the Tower of London.  And we picked her up again when we walked outside.

*******

After the Tower, we hung out in the area, having porridge and hot chocolate to get over the cold.  Josh looked on a map and determined that we needed to walk over Tower Bridge to pick up a Tube stop on the other side of the Thames in order to get back to the hotel.  I couldn’t explain to him why I didn’t want to walk over the bridge; I just wanted him to look for another route.  A bus?  Josh shrugged.  Do you want to take a taxi?

No, we’ll walk over the bridge.

We slipped into the night, into the crowds of people still milling outside the Tower of London.  And we crossed over the water, me and Josh and the twins and the invisible child, trailing behind me in the dark like a question.  She felt so real in that moment, not there just as much as the twins are here.  Corporal but made out of wishes and conversations and money and thoughts that only slip in when the moon is visible.

When we crossed to the other side, I let her go.  I left her on the bridge.  My own child.  I told her to stay put, and I took a few running steps to catch up with the rest of the family.  I’m sorry, but she couldn’t do this, couldn’t follow after us this whole trip.  I would pick her up again — I always pick her up again — at another time.  But she could not come with us to see the rest of the city, even if she promised to stay in the back of my mind.

That night, as we lay in bed, I whispered to Josh why I hadn’t wanted to cross over the Thames, how I didn’t want to be trailed in the dark by our solemn little ghost child.  And then I really let her go for the time being.  That is the best and worst part of a ghost child; she is always there waiting.

60 comments

1 Chickenpig { 12.04.12 at 9:40 am }

This is just too beautiful for words. My ghost baby is with me just when I least expect it. When we went to get our Christmas tree it was curled up in its snuggly keeping warm under my coat. My husband had to prompt me to bend over and grab a branch to yank it because the baby was so real to me in that moment that I was thinking about how I would negotiate dragging the tree. It is so strange.

You wouldn’t make a toddler or baby wait for 2 hrs to eat, you would have have something with you to hold it over, and it would sleep dreamily as the rest of you ate quietly so as not to wake the little one. Our lives grow to fit. It’s the absence that I can’t fill that makes my life hard.

2 A.M.S. { 12.04.12 at 9:44 am }

Oh, how I know about ghost babies…

This time of year they don’t allow me to put them down, no matter how much I promise to pick them up later.

3 a { 12.04.12 at 9:44 am }

Must be a moon phase or something – I was feeling this way this very morning.

Do you suppose this is why you get so worked up about lost things?

4 Ana { 12.04.12 at 9:49 am }

Whoa. Shouldn’t have tried to read this quickly before starting a big project. This is going to haunt me for a while. I felt the ghost baby this morning, too, when I saw my older boy hugging the younger as we took our holiday picture…I felt like younger needed someone smaller to hug, too.

5 Denver Laura { 12.04.12 at 10:06 am }

We need to set up a playdate for our ghost children. Mine is loud and obnoxious right now.

6 Mer { 12.04.12 at 10:30 am }

Wow, this really spoke to me. I find myself saying a lot how “perfect” things are with our two, I make jokes too often about preferring man on man defense to zone, I talk about all of the things we can do now that my younger one isn’t an infant anymore. The truth is, as Ana put it above, I often feel my younger one needs someone smaller to hug, and he will never have that, and just writing those words brings tears to my eyes. I see my ghost child all the time, in the most unlikely places, and I suspect I always will.

7 Jennifer { 12.04.12 at 10:48 am }

wow…. this seriously brought tears to my eyes. And I’m trying to figure out why…. Is it because I have a ghost child who follows me everywhere… begs for my needed attention over my two real children.

8 Ellen K. { 12.04.12 at 11:16 am }

I love this post. I’m reminded of my own first trip to London, standing on Westminster Bridge, completely thrilled to be there and so very aware that if not for IF, I wouldn’t have this moment. My ghost child hadn’t shown up yet, but for the next 2 years she haunted me. Come to think of it, maybe she came home with me from London. I sat for ages on a bench at the Wallace Collection, looking very hard at a portrait of a little girl who somewhat resembles N. I have this portrait on a postcard.

My ghost child left as soon as I was pregnant with the girls. She has never returned, but she did her part very well: she haunted me to happiness.

9 Queenie { 12.04.12 at 12:23 pm }

Gorgeous post, Mel.

10 Juanita { 12.04.12 at 12:26 pm }

Sob! That is so beautiful and so very, very sad at the same time – glad you posted it.

11 k { 12.04.12 at 12:36 pm }

Oh Mel. I can’t even begin to explain how in sync with this post I am, and how beautiful this is. Instant tears. Your gift for words is amazing, and I know this feeling all too well. There’s a picture of the four of us, in front of the Golden Gate bridge, when the twins were three. And I always look at that picture and I see a space where another child should be. Last year’s Christmas card photo has a space too. Maybe it’s why this year’s picture was one I chose that was zoomed in so close that there wasn’t room to put a ghost child in it. There is a ghost child in the other photos, though. And the pictures of my two with my friend’s daughter look more normal to me than they should.

I should have known better than to read your blog before really getting going in my work day on a day when I was already lost in my thoughts after scheduling another round of CD 3 tests. It’s going to be a long few weeks.

12 knottedfingers { 12.04.12 at 1:06 pm }

This post socked me in the heart. I have a little ghost child who will be with me until I die. I put her down sometimes but always find myself picking her up again

13 Pam/Wordgirl { 12.04.12 at 1:20 pm }

Heartbreakingly beautiful Mel.

I barely allow myself that moment to imagine and rarely ever do — but yesterday, strangely enough — as Z and I were walking into the city zoo — there was a father taking the picture of two tween girls, clearly sisters, embracing and mugging for the camera.

It took my breath so completely away as Z ran ahead of me, alone.

XO

Love,

Pam

14 Pepper { 12.04.12 at 1:22 pm }

Wow. Something has been haunting me for some time now and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what (or who) it was. And now, sadly, I know. My only little ghost child who will never be. Beautifully written, as always.

15 lifeintheshwa { 12.04.12 at 1:25 pm }

I really wish I didn’t know this feeling but I do – my sister was due within 3 weeks of when I was due, but that ended up being my 4th miscarriage at 15 weeks, and I haven’t found a bridge to leave that baby on but am always reminded of the little one we would have had. I went into messy crying after my mum was telling me how my 4 year old DS was so gentle with his little cousin in the tub, worried I’ll never get that photo of siblings in the tub together. It could be the nervousness from an ultrasound (11w3d) today but I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to leave that baby behind. (signed another lover of non white vegetarian food)

16 Mic { 12.04.12 at 1:42 pm }

This post was so haunting. Thank you for sharing.
I too have been carrying around an invisible second child for a few months now. She’s with me everywhere I go. This story might help me process that fact.

17 loribeth { 12.04.12 at 2:14 pm }

This was so gorgeous, Mel. I read it this morning & keep coming back, not quite knowing what to say, except that I loved it. We carry our missing children with us, always.

18 LN { 12.04.12 at 2:16 pm }

Perfect timing with your post. I know you wrote it a while ago, but you must have sensed that I needed to read it today. This weekend, we took E to a holiday craft show, and almost every crafts person asked E two questions. 1) How old are you? 2) How many brothers and sisters do you have?
He answered that question over two dozen times in two hours. When did this become the go-to question for 6-year old boys? I finally walked away from E and his dad as they wandered through the booths. I just couldn’t handle listening to the inevitable repetition of the exchange. Of course I know that strangers weren’t trying to be cruel, but the holidays are rough enough without a Greek chorus of reminders.

19 Pie { 12.04.12 at 2:42 pm }

This really resonates with me too. I often think of the “kids” I should have now. The one close in age to my niece, so fun to see them playing together, forming that lifelong bond. She would have been from us trying on our own that first year. I think about my daughter’s “littermates”, ones that she would have called a younger sibling, enjoying being the big girl and being gentle with her little brother. They walk around with me too, from time to time. I miss them, which is odd, since I never really knew them to miss. Sigh.

20 Kathy { 12.04.12 at 6:57 pm }

Wow. Thank you Mel. You have such a gift for putting into words what so many of us are thinking and dreaming about. My ghost children are always with me too. It is so bittersweet to allow myself to imagine who they’d be today, as you did on your trip to one of my favorite places in the world, where I lived and studied for a semester in college. My family and I have had a many of those trips, the bittersweet silver lining kind… trips we were never *supposed* to get to take, but made it just a bit easier for us to cope with wanting (and not having) more living children at the time. Holding you close in my thoughts and prayers tonight. I am sorry your third child is a ghost, but I am glad that you find ways to see the bright side of your situation much of the time. When you aren’t able to, that is totally understandable. Typing this on my phone, so hope what I am trying to express is coming through as I intend it to. Love you. xoxo

21 Carolyn Savage { 12.04.12 at 7:07 pm }

Beautifully written, as usual!

22 luna { 12.04.12 at 7:32 pm }

gorgeous aching post, melissa. just beautiful.

I thought my mind was mostly done playing those tricks on me, but alas — now that I’ve met our youngest daughter, it makes me long to have known her older brother all the more. our ghost boy.

sending so much love to you, my friend. xoxo

23 Lori Lavender Luz { 12.04.12 at 8:04 pm }

Bridges are such a powerful image in IF. That’s how BabySmiling and I first bonded (the same one in Europe, no doubt).

I can’t help but wondering if somewhere in the Cosmos, a young girl feels the presence of a ghost mommy. She’s very patient for their union, being part of Eternity itself.

BJ Liftton has written about ghosts in adoption. I’m not sure if anything here applies, but I think it’s an interesting notion. http://www.bjlifton.com/counseling.htm

What was the answer you came to?

Big hugs to you, my friend.

24 Mali { 12.04.12 at 9:25 pm }

“It is merely the living of a life in the absence of what we thought would happen. Life has to go on, and so we are making it go on. And this life isn’t second-best, isn’t the loser’s prize. It just is.”

That’s exactly right. I am so pleased you “get it.” For those of us who don’t have children, or don’t have the families you might have always wanted, it is important for us all to understand that our lives (and those who don’t have what we might have) aren’t less. They’re just our lives.

Our ghost-children don’t usually follow us – but occasionally, in a natural history museum, or watching lions on safari, or when I put up the Christmas tree, they’re there.

25 Jen { 12.04.12 at 10:04 pm }

I don’t think I’ve ever posted here, but I’ve been reading for years. My struggle is slightly different but I know exactly how you feel. My only daughter will never know her ghost sibling. In my mind he is a dark haired, brown eyed little boy. Don’t know why, maybe because my daughter is blond haired and blue eyed like her father? A sort of balance maybe. And he’ll forever remain a whisper and a dream.

26 Kristin { 12.04.12 at 10:42 pm }

Oh Mel, this touches me and captures so much of what I’ve been feeling lately. So very beautiful.

27 Justine { 12.04.12 at 11:05 pm }

So heartachingly beautiful, Mel. Yes, this: “trailing behind me in the dark like a question. … Corporal but made out of wishes and conversations and money and thoughts that only slip in when the moon is visible.”

I don’t know what it is about this week, but it looks like many of your readers have been feeling this present absence … and I am no exception. I’ve been trying to write a post for the thirtyspot “love with 30 project,” and I keep writing about infertility. And loss. And though I’ve lost multiple babies, one of them in particular–my Valentine’s ghost baby–has been here this week. She tugs at my sleeve. She plays with her younger sister, whispers secrets in her ear to make her giggle. She is made of wishes and thoughts, though not money … she was the child that could have been, that should have been, but never was, and yet is more present and real than some things I can touch.

Thank you for bringing us to the bridge with you.

28 Keiko { 12.05.12 at 2:29 am }

For a very long time, I have not believed in an afterlife. I’ve always taken a very “scientific” approach, in that I believe when we die, the energy that bonds our very atoms together releases into the Universe, to travel and maybe even reassemble into other atoms. Perhaps a table. Perhaps a blade of grass.

Or perhaps a little of our energy helps forms the atoms of another person, and their energy helps form a little of us. And there comes a moment when you meet your soulmate and you just *know* that you have found a cosmic connection in another.

I think it’s entirely possible that there are still pieces of our energy out there that haven’t quite reconnected with us. They’re our ghost children. And maybe, one day, we might meet them. But I believe they wander the cosmos, trying desperately to reconnect and become that whole energy once again. We cannot wish them into existence.

But we leave it up to science, nature and G-d. And we look at the night sky and see their faces in the stars.

29 Meim { 12.05.12 at 2:55 am }

You certainly have a gift with words. Beautiful, and heart-wrenching.

Sending you lots of hugs and comfort. This feeling you describe is all too familiar, and yet somehow I needed the reminder.

Thank you.

30 Carla { 12.05.12 at 9:28 am }

Thank you so much for posting this. It put into words what I’ve been feeling for a while now but just could not pin down in my heart. We have a lot of potential changes coming up in the next year or two with my husband’s work, some exciting opportunities to travel (and possibly live in Africa for a year!!) and in the back of my mind, constantly, is the running commentary about how different all of this would be if we’d had a child. Not that it would be better or worse, just different. And I think I am doing myself and this life (which, you are so right, is not second-best!) a disservice by always comparing it to another hypothetical reality. It is keeping me from fully enjoying things, from fully appreciating the blessing that I do have. So it is time to stop comparing, time to find a safe place to leave my ghost children. I am sure I’ll need to visit them now and again, but I have to stop carrying them with me all the time.

31 Jendeis { 12.05.12 at 11:27 am }

Much love to you.

32 {sue} { 12.05.12 at 12:31 pm }

This is so beautifully written. I’m teary.

33 Meg { 12.05.12 at 12:49 pm }

Mel, you have captured my feelings so perfectly at exactly the right time. I never know how to explain it, but now I feel less alone. Thank you.

34 kateanon { 12.05.12 at 1:31 pm }

” Corporal but made out of wishes and conversations and money and thoughts that only slip in when the moon is visible.”

Once again you’ve said the words I couldn’t express.

35 Becky { 12.05.12 at 3:40 pm }

Yes. Oh, yes. My ghost child, is a maybe baby. She is with me often of late. And she’s always a she. Thank you for this post.

36 Kate { 12.05.12 at 3:47 pm }

This is so amazing, and so very brave. Thank you
THANK YOU
thank you for writing it, and thank you extra for being brave enough to share it. Yes. I get it. I get it. I get it.

37 N { 12.05.12 at 3:50 pm }

♥ Gorgeous and heartbreaking and healing at the same time.

38 Manapan { 12.05.12 at 8:32 pm }

Oh, sweetie. Beautiful and heartbreaking sentiments — I always think of the ghosties as older, but I get it. Hugs.

39 KeAnne { 12.05.12 at 9:02 pm }

This post was amazing. Still processing it. I feel like we have a ghost child too. I’m feeling that child’s presence a lot lately.

40 Cherish { 12.05.12 at 11:45 pm }

Heartbreaking, Mel.

41 deathstar { 12.06.12 at 1:56 am }

Years ago, during an acting class, I said goodbye to the little girl I carried in my heart for years, during acupuncture, during IVFs, But you know once we adopted the Precious, I thought I’d never think of her again. But then I see him playing on his own, and I think that she should be there with him, a sister. Do you think we just visualized so strongly, so sincerely, that somehow they still exist – just somewhere else? Anyways, thanks for sharing her with us.

42 Mina { 12.06.12 at 10:19 am }

There are posts one reads and can’t remember what they are about the minute they are done reading. There are others, fewer, that keep popping back in one’s mind, since their topic is something they care about or the writing is good. And then there is this post that goes straight to the heart. And stays there.

My ghost child is a girl too.

43 It Is What It Is { 12.06.12 at 12:59 pm }

Such a poignant and haunting post. And a tribute to your twins, family, and ghost child.

44 Anne { 12.06.12 at 1:30 pm }

I’m grappling with a ghost child as well. I have my sweet little 6 year old, but I can’t help wishing for him to have a partner in crime. The older he gets, the more certain I am that he won’t ever have siblings. I’m trying very hard to be okay with it.

45 clare { 12.06.12 at 3:49 pm }

some words just ring so true…

46 Rumour Miller { 12.06.12 at 5:23 pm }

Oh how I love this post. It’s sad and real and it hurts.

I have no other words but this was just beautiful.

47 Another Dreamer { 12.06.12 at 8:16 pm }

This is a really beautiful post Mel. Very somber, but beautifully said.

48 Tiara { 12.07.12 at 2:22 pm }

Hauntingly beautiful post. I carry so much guilt for thinking so much about the baby I lost. It’s hard to explain.

49 Sarah { 12.07.12 at 4:09 pm }

This. This is the definition of how my infertility is still with me. Mostly I have moved on and think of the better sides of being a family of three. But that ghost child that is in my heart and on my mind regularly. When I think of the easy of having just Henry, and then I think of that sweet baby that would have made us four.

Beautiful, beautiful post. The best infertility post I for me and where my heart is that I have read in a long time. Thank you for putting it into words.

50 Jess { 12.07.12 at 7:17 pm }

Beautifully said, and so true. Clearly true for so many of us. Thank you for sharing. Thank you.

51 Mud Hut Mama { 12.09.12 at 3:10 am }

Mel, this is so beautiful and so sad. Thank you for sharing what so many of us clearly needed to read. Sending hugs.

52 dspence { 01.01.13 at 9:55 am }

This post was moving then and moving now. You so often find the words my heart is searching for. Thank you.

53 Heather O. { 01.01.13 at 1:57 pm }

This is so beautifully written and perfectly captures what I’ve been feeling for 6 months now, since my daughter was stillborn. My little ghost baby follows me everywhere, and I am always thinking of how this or that would be different if she were here. Thank you for writing this, Mel.

54 Tiara { 01.01.13 at 8:00 pm }

I was thinking of this post just the other day. I am glad you choose it for the Creme de la Creme

55 Kathy { 01.02.13 at 9:50 am }

Back from the Creme and believe you made a wonderful choice with this post. I also enjoyed reading the earlier comment I wrote, after reading your words about your ghost child the first time around. Thank you again for saying what so many of us were and continue to be thinking. This was/is such an awesome post and appreciate the opporuntity/reason to revisit it. xoxo

56 serenity { 01.02.13 at 3:02 pm }

I missed this. How did I miss this?

I have a ghost child too.

xoxo

57 Turia { 01.07.13 at 2:22 pm }

I wasn’t in the right space to read this post when you first published it, as I am about to start the process of hopefully making E. into a big brother, and I live in fear of our much-wanted second child remaining a ghost. But I came back to it from the Creme list and am glad I did. What a beautiful post.

58 Shelby { 01.22.13 at 7:17 pm }

I can’t believe you ever dreamed of not posting this. It’s beautiful and finally-finally I see what I am feeling in words. As a writer, this is exactly where you needed to go. Thank you. :)

59 Heather { 05.14.13 at 10:19 pm }

This is beautiful. I have 2 little ghost-babies that I think of often. Mine are from the past. And I worry about not having any more babies. Those are my future ghost-babies. I turn 40 this year, and have lots of anxiety that I am ending my procreative years. Though there’s so much to be grateful for, it’s a definite loss.

Beautifully-written post. Thank you for this.
Heather

60 Mommy-At-Last { 07.29.13 at 6:44 am }

I’m here from your blog round up. The tears are stinging my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I don’t have the words to describe the ghost-baby that is entering my life. She makes me sad, she makes me feel a loss I have no right to feel. I have everything, so why so sad?

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