Opinion Writers

A Mother’s Day memory: my almost daughter

  • Under restraint: the author’s sons dressed as superheroes on a rainy afternoon (Photograph by Theresa Vargas/The Washington Post)

I am the mother of boys. High-energy, bug-loving, “cross-stream peeing for the fun of it” boys. But I also had a daughter.

I don’t talk about her. Not even when people, my well-intentioned relatives among them, do that thing where they assess a mother of boys and prod: “But don’t you want a girl?” “Come on, have one more so that you get a girl!” “Have you seen all those cute little girl clothes?”

Of course, I’ve seen the clothes! I’ve co-ordinated dozens of Target outfits in my head. I have no doubt my daughter would have rocked a Cat & Jack romper.

But I don’t say that. I usually smile and stop their elbowing by explaining that the boys keep me busy enough. They do. They are snack-decimating, costume-wearing, Pokemon card-collecting creatures that have forced me to tolerate reptiles and accept that when asked to smell something you do, you always do, because in that scent is a clue as to what has been destroyed elsewhere in the house.

But it’s during these moments, when I see my family assessed from the outside, that I also think about her, my almost daughter.

I saw her heartbeat when she was six weeks developed. And at 12 weeks, when that spot on the sonogram screen no longer flickered and her size implied she had stopped growing weeks earlier, I mourned her. I only know that she was a girl because a tiny speck of her tissue revealed that detail. It also revealed she had a chromosomal condition that would have made life, if she had been born, incredibly challenging.

My boys have shaped the type of mom I’ve become. But she, my almost daughter, first made me a mother.

She is the one who initially set off the surge of hormones that made me so nauseated I couldn’t ride the subway without carrying a plastic bag in my pocket. She is the one who made me think about every bite I took, knowing it would make its way to her. She’s the one who made me sign up for a website that tells expectant mothers each week what fruit their babies most resemble in size.

When I lost her, she was as big as a grape. She was supposed to be the size of a lime.

She was also my third miscarriage in a year. There was no medical explanation for this triple dose of bad luck, as is the case with so many of these losses, which are much more common than it would appear based on how we speak about them.

In recent years, more women have begun talking about their abortions and their sexual assaults. And yet pregnant women still gnaw on crackers in secret for months rather than tell others why they are nauseated.

Discretion is, of course, still needed in unsupportive workplaces, and there remain too many of those. For many women, there is also a fear that if they say something, if they allow others to share in their happiness, then if anything goes wrong they will have to allow those same people to share in their sorrow. But those reasons alone cannot explain why once a miscarriage occurs, and we know one of at least every five pregnancies will end that way, that it is spoken about in hushed, shameful tones.

Why does it remain more normal for people to invite prayers and sad emoji for a lost pet than for a lost child? Why is it more acceptable to call in sick for a stomach virus than to tell your boss the real reason you’re doubled over on the bathroom floor?

The problem with this silence is it leads to an isolated mourning at a time when all you want to do is scream and curse and slap the happy off the faces of new moms pushing overpriced strollers. A friend’s sonogram picture that should evoke joy can bring resentment. And for letting that pain and a body filled with now-useless hormones make you someone you are not, you are left not only feeling as if you’ve experienced a loss, but as if you, too, have been lost.

That’s the thing about almost daughters and almost sons — they leave a trail of almost mothers.

And on Mother’s Day, of all days, that is one of the most difficult roles to have.

So, on that day, in addition to posting pictures of oddly shaped pancakes and flower-filled vases, can we also take a moment to think about what we might not be seeing?

The stroller that remains in a box.

The unshared sonogram picture that sits on a nightstand.

The almost mom who smiles as she listens to you complain about your children and quietly thinks, “I would love to one day say, ‘Don’t pee on your brother’.”

Theresa Vargas is a local columnist for The Washington Post. Before joining the Post, she worked at Newsday in New York. She has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a master’s from Columbia University School of Journalism. Her home town is San Antonio, Texas