& loves Halloween. For years he’s been celebrating it at a level normally reserved for major occasions. He spends hours assembling his costume, often by hand, sometimes incorporating Buford the basset hound. He organizes an annual pumpkin-carving fete that packs the house full of friends and, lately, their children too. And since he and I started dating, he’s brought me on board in the festivities as well.
My own Halloween observance is comparatively muted, but not without a story. Roughly a decade ago, while I still lived in California, a number of successive deaths in my family occurred right around the end of October (with more than one actually on Halloween). This got me thinking of the ancient pagan roots of the late-autumn festival, “when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest.” Out of this time of reflection, my own Halloween traditions evolved: I wore black, served traditional food (antipasto and polenta when there was time, a swig of Barolo or Chianti when there wasn’t), and reflected on my own morti.
This roster has evolved over the years to include five grandparents, a great-aunt, two stepsiblings, numerous pets, and of course my legendary late father. And this year, the lineup includes a brand-new member: my ill-starred miscarriage, unpoetically known as “Loss #1.”
Loss #1 was a chemical pregnancy. I learned of my positive beta on a Friday in January, then got my period the following Monday. Had that pregnancy lasted, my firstborn child would have been due a month ago, on the first weekend in October.
I didn’t spend much time that weekend pondering what might have been, preoccupied as I was with Mahler rehearsals, shower planning, and an actual ongoing pregnancy, which displaced a great deal of grieving over the earlier, unsuccessful one. In the early stages of Mayhem’s gestation, the fear of another potential loss always hummed quietly along in the background of my life. But lately, as the tenor of my anxiety-dreams has shifted from miscarriage nightmares to early-labor nightmares to “oh crap, I’ve lost the baby, where did I leave her?” nightmares, I think I’m past that too.
Today, though, it’s Halloween. A facebook friend recently posted an article from the Chicago Tribune that got me thinking about Loss #1 again. And on the day when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest, I want to turn my thoughts inward and introduce Mayhem, who will shortly be born, to her elder sibling, who never got to be.
We know little to nothing about who Loss #1 was. For the three days in January that I was confirmedly pregnant, and even a few days before the pregnancy was confirmed, I had (as I’ve had with Mayhem) a sense that I was somehow not alone, that someone was with me. But Loss #1 did not project the reassuring joie de vivre that Mayhem does. Instead, the vibe I got from that pregnancy was one of shock, jangled nerves, disbelief. Maybe the kid wasn’t ready for this life. Or maybe I wasn’t ready for him/her. (Never got a sense of the gender, unlike Mayhem, who’s felt like a girl from Day 1.)
And then it was over, before I’d even internalized that I was pregnant. I started to bleed, doubled over under a wave of unprecedented cramping, left work early and went home to sleep it off…and woke up alone.
It was January 25, 2010. My Monday morning bloodwork confirmed that, pregnant though I’d been on Friday, now I no longer was. I chanted kaddish for Loss #1, soldiered through a miserable week, then shook myself off like a retriever emerging from a lake and redoubled my efforts to conceive successfully. This time, acupuncture! New meds! More meds! And a shift in my thinking, an attempt at relaxing and dialing back the intensity of my desire to be pregnant. I didn’t want to coerce an unripe soul into premature gestation; rather, I wanted to welcome one who was good and ready to come on board.
And two months later, I did.
I don’t claim to understand the transmigration of souls, if such a thing exists. For all I know, Mayhem and Loss #1 already knew each other, before I encountered either one. Maybe they knew my father. Maybe at some point in the past — or even the future — we’ll all come to know each other in full.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to live well and be happy, which I’ve got to imagine is best for everyone. And we’ll mark the one day a year when it’s always appropriate to stop and think about what “everyone” really means.