For the second time in five months, I am lying on an exam table and listening to a nurse tell me quietly, “I’m so sorry. There’s no heartbeat.”
My body is there—my belly covered in gel, my eyes leaking hot tears—but my mind is not. My mind is doing everything it can to escape this ultrasound room, escape this strange new reality where the baby inside my womb is no longer alive. It can’t be reality, can it?
I drive home in a blur of tears and sobs. As soon as I can see clearly again, I do a quick internet search for butterfly gardens. For just $35.99, a company will send me two cups of live caterpillars, complete with everything the insects need to transform into fluttering orange butterflies. I click “Buy Now.”
As the weeks unfurl, I enclose myself tighter into my cocoon. I spend the days caring for my two precious toddlers and trying to think about something—anything—other than the babies I’ve lost. My second D&C goes by in a haze of anesthesia, and I find myself wishing the numbness would linger longer.
I decline invitations to playdates, baby showers, and church events. “When do you think you’ll be ready to start doing things again?” my husband asks gently.
“When it doesn’t hurt so much,” I tell him. Inwardly, I wonder if that day will ever come.
The cocoon I’ve created for myself feels safe, a place where it’s just me and my family and days spent playing outside in the newly warm weather. I start to enjoy it here.
One sunny spring afternoon, I drive my boys across town to a beautiful garden area set on the edge of a college campus. The land is bursting with the bounty of spring—brightly colored tulips, buttery yellow daffodils, blushing pink rhododendrons. I remind myself that not so long ago, that very same ground was bare and hardened by frost. Perhaps it doesn’t always take so long for new life to blossom forth.
My boys run pell-mell through the garden, picking up rocks and throwing them into the small ponds. We move to a grassy area and kick around a soccer ball, then stop for a snack of applesauce pouches and crackers. The sunshine seems to warm me from within, defrosting my soul bit by bit.
On the way home, one of my favorite songs comes on the radio and I crank up the volume, roll the windows down. I yell out the lyrics while my children clap and laugh in their car seats. For just a moment, I feel unencumbered by the weight of sadness.
Once the song is over, I hear my youngest announce from the back seat, “I’m happy!” And then he adds, “But . . . I’m a little bit sad that Daddy isn’t here.”
“Yes,” I tell him. “I know exactly what you mean.”
The caterpillars that arrived on our doorstep a mere month ago have now spun themselves gracefully into cocoons and emerged as entirely new creatures. I marvel at how they sat waiting so patiently in the dark until just the right time. The butterflies—painted ladies, the brochure told me—walk unsteadily at first, then more surely, stretching their orange and black wings as they go. We feed them sugar water from a sponge, slices of strawberry, a small raspberry. After a few days, it’s time to release them into the wild. I take my boys outside with the mesh butterfly garden and we unzip the top. It’s one of those perfect spring days when the weather exceeds your wildest expectations—sunny, but not too hot, with blue skies and the occasional soft breeze.
“Fly, little buddies!” I call to the butterflies, who are ever so slowly climbing to freedom on their mesh walls.
“Fly, little buddies!” my toddlers repeat.
One by one the painted lady butterflies climb to the top of the enclosure and take off into the brilliant blue sky. I assume they might struggle at first, having so recently gotten their pilot’s license and all. But they don’t. Each butterfly launches itself confidently into the unknown, flying as if they’ve been doing it their entire lives. As if they were made for this.