About 16 years ago I cut out a photograph from a magazine of a little girl wearing a white dress that matches a crown of white flowers woven into her long dark hair. I was probably day dreaming about weddings and thought her outfit would be the perfect flower girl ensemble. Her green eyes sparkle behind rosy cheeks set off by her otherwise pale complexion. She seems to be dressed for a wedding, perhaps she is someone’s flower girl. Her smile sets your heart to flutter, it’s so innocent and pure. Afterwards, after everything that happened I used to imagine it was a photograph of you. Even now when I look at this photograph I think of you… and that this little girl could have been you. You could have been the little girl in this photograph- with your father’s beautiful green eyes, and my long dark hair. But then I have to remind myself that it’s a photograph from a magazine, it isn’t really you.
Because 16 years ago I lost you.
I look back on that time in my life and realize that perhaps not having you was a blessing in disguise, but then I simply can’t think of losing you as any kind of blessing. I wasn’t in a place in my life where you would have been convenient. I was the epitome of an unwed mother stereotype. I was a single soldier deployed to Bosnia, just beginning to enjoy the adventures of life, not in a committed relationship with anyone- especially your father, and was certainly not ready to be a mother. I spent several days contemplating how I would deal with it, formulating plans, going over options, rationalizing decisions that would affect us all. I decided to keep you, and not obligate your father in any way- he had a life to live and I didn’t want to burden him with us. I wasn’t even going to tell him about you- unless I absolutely had to. A month or so passed and I kept you a secret. I can’t lie, I secretly enjoyed the time we had just the two of us, you growing inside me and me realizing how wonderful being a mother would turn out to be despite the obstacles. And just when I had come to realize the enormity of those obstacles and be self assured that I could face them, I lost you.
I remember the day I lost you feeling as though I had a horrible case of the flu- fevers, chills and overwhelming cramping. Within a few hours it was over, and so were you. I felt empty. I felt sad. And I felt very angry. I couldn’t tell anyone, mostly because no one had known you even existed except me. I didn’t go to the doctor knowing that evidence of a miscarriage would follow my military career in a way that would make my life difficult as well as cause issues for your father- given our professional relationship. What had happened between your father and I had been a mistake, but the life we created never felt like one. I selfishly didn’t want to explain it to anyone- I didn’t want to share the loss and the shame of having you and then losing you, so I kept silent.
There is no way however to keep silent when that much grief overwhelms you. Your father, despite all evidence to the contrary was a good man. He figured out that something was wrong and confronted me. When I told him everything, his reactions were surprisingly not as callous or irresponsible as I had assumed they would be. He genuinely grieved for you in his own way. I sat with him for several hours in a barracks hallway as he processed his own grief. I watched as the knowledge of what might have been overwhelmed him. He started out asking about my health, if I was feeling okay. He asked the obvious questions- how did I know I was pregnant, how did I know it was his, how did I know I’d lost it. I answered them all, with as little hostility as I could muster, not that it was easy given the bluntness of his questions, he wasn’t a subtle guy. He talked about how he would have done the right thing by us- he would have married me and given you a family. He talked about how beautiful you would have been, he was imagining you as a little girl with long dark hair like mine and green eyes like his, that’s why the magazine photo began to remind me of you. He too had wanted a family, maybe not in this way, perhaps not with me, but how he would have gotten it didn’t seem to matter to him, his grief was real when he found out he lost you. He wondered aloud several times why I didn’t tell him, why I had kept this to myself. Trust wasn’t easy for me back then, and he suffered for it. In my grief I felt as though he were blaming me for making decisions based on what little evidence I had of his character- a character I hadn’t realized until then was actually responsible. I had been silently planning around him, when in reality he would have been a big part of your life had I allowed it. He had always been a pompous ass, telling me what to do and how to do it. I didn’t think I loved him, and I was certain he didn’t love me. But his reaction at losing you- the possibility of you took me off guard and instead of sharing my grief with him, I reacted with anger. Where the loss of you had left a hole in my heart I felt the anger start to grow instead. He was making promises to me he had no obligation to ever keep, it wasn’t his body that had suffered this loss, and above all he could go on with his life and never again think about you or me- except as the relief of a bullet dodged. I had to live everyday with the loss of you… and it made me angry. In my anger and grief I pushed him away, and I kept pushing until I never saw him again. He was a good man, and he would have been a good father to you- of that I am certain, but I lost you both.
Now 16 years later I think about you. I look at that photograph that could have been what you would have looked like had you lived. I don’t regret much… there is nothing I could have done differently aside from practiced a little more kindness toward your father. Losing you was devastating, there is no denying that. But I know now that my path didn’t include you, or your father. I know now that my path was meant to follow a different course, and the loss of you was just a small part of that. I still love you. I still occasionally think of what it would be like to celebrate 16 years of birthdays with you. I imagine seeing your first smile, watching you take your first steps, sending you off to your first day of school, teaching you to drive- knowing I’ve missed so much doesn’t change the blessing that you were for the short time I had you. I can’t change what happened, I can’t be grateful or regretful for what might have been, I just know that you were a part of me and that has made me who I am. I know too that despite losing you, there will always be a part of you that I carry with me everyday, so I didn’t really lose you. I may not have been privileged to carry you in my arms, but I will always carry you in my heart- Happy Birthday my angel.