I have one daughter.
One of the biggest regrets I’ll ever have in life is that I wasn’t there for the birth of my daughter. I was on active deployment for the majority of my wife being pregnant, and had to get updates, at best, over email or sat phone.
The day I came home for good, my wife was waiting with our daughter in the airport. It was the first time I had seen her in person and I didn’t know if I should cry or smile or what. There was too much to figure it out in the moment, so I just stared at her and let her take me in. She had this tiny little face and I was so worried that she was going to cry, but she looked back at her mom for just a moment before reaching out her little hand, hooking it into the side of my mouth and tugging down with a little smile.
I fell in love for just the second time in my life.
For two years, things went like I assume any other family life went. We had ups and downs, money troubles and the sorts of things that parents deal with I guess. Before my eyes, my daughter grew up and turned into this little person. She started to slowly waddle around the room before wobbling and falling back onto her butt. The sort of 6-inch drop that startles them and even scares you as a new parents the first time, but you know that you can’t look scared or they will cry.
She was turning into a little girl, not just a baby. A toddler I guess. Things, for all of life’s problems, were good.
The first time it happened, I didn’t really pay much attention to it. I was getting ready for work in the morning, my wife was moving back and forth between the bathroom and the closet getting ready for her job. Our daughter was sitting on the floor quickly learning how to use my phone better than I can. My wife walked through the living room, putting in an earring and said, “Okay girls, let’s get ready to go.”
There was a tick, then a moment of realization on her face as she smiled. “Or girl. Not sure why I said that.” I smiled too. We were both tired. Our daughter was going through a bad sleeping spell where she would wake up in the middle of the night and demand to be in bed with my wife. Since I can be a little bit of a wild sleeper - thanks for that, Uncle Sam - I would go out on the couch when I brought her into our bed. So no one was really getting the best night’s sleep. Let alone that we hadn't had sex in... well, I'd lost track at that point. I'd even gotten a vasectomy since we agreed on just the one child.
So, no sleep, no fooling around. We were bound to say weird things.
A couple of days later I was out mowing the lawn when my wife came home from Target with a few bags of what looked like clothes. I hated seeing that. We didn’t have that much money and one of my wife’s true vices was buying little girl clothes and treating our daughter like her personal doll. Admittedly, the cooing noise my wife made when she saw something like a tiny pair of overalls was cute, but come on.
I finished up with the lawn and went inside to see my wife removing tags and getting the clothes ready for the wash. She held up a cute little pink dress she had bought with the usual “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. It is soooo cute.” I just sort of nodded as I grabbed a glass of water from the fridge when I noticed that there was another dress on the table just like it.
“What’s that?” I asked.
My wife didn’t react, she just kept removing tags.
“Hey,” I said. “Did you get two of the same dress?”
My wife looked back at me with a blank sort of stare and I pointed at the dress on the table. “That one.”
Slowly she looked back at the table. “Oh, I guess I accidentally grabbed two. Sorry. I’ll return it tomorrow.”
“You took the tags off already.”
“That’s okay,” she said, “if nothing else we can get store credit.”
It didn’t make me happy to know that she probably wouldn’t get any money back for the dress and that feeling was enough to divert my attention until dinner the next night.
My daughter has about four things she will ever eat, but we were happy about that much. I know I was a picky eater, so any variation we could get in her, especially anything involving fruit or vegetables was a win.
My wife thought so too and for just a moment I thought she was preemptively hoping that our daughter would have a good appetite that night as I saw her preparing two of the exact same meal on the little plastic plates we give her.
Before I could say anything, she looked towards our daughter’s room and said, “Girls, it’s time for dinner.”
“What?” I asked.
“What?” She said back to me without looking up from setting the plates on the table at different seats. One at my daughters highchair and the other at a seat neither of us really sat in during meals.
“What’s the second plate for?”
This time when my wife looked back at me, there was something else there. It wasn’t that absent-minded look that would come from being tired, or those parenting moments when you are just on autopilot. She didn’t say anything to me, she just looked at me as our daughter struggled her way up into her chair and plopped down to eat. Then she walked over to the fridge and put the plate in there, before sitting down and helping our daughter to eat.
I didn’t say anything else to her. I didn’t know what to say. I know she had experienced some postpartum stuff after our daughter was born and there had been a lot going on at her work, so I didn’t want to feel like I was pushing her or judging her or anything, but, I mean, it *was* messed up.
As you can imagine by the fact that I’m telling this at all, it got worse.
Suddenly, everything that was happening with our daughter happened in twos. Two outfits, two dolls, two meals, everything. It didn’t take more than a couple of days before I got really scared. I couldn’t even talk to her about it. If I even brought it up she would either leave the room or give me the most hateful look I’ve ever seen from her.
I started with the internet. Mistake. Never look to the internet if you are just looking for a simple, calming answer. I got everything on there from postpartum to schizophrenia. It was enough that I was getting scared for my daughter so I got in touch with her gynecologist.
I sat in her office and started to lay out what was going on. I got the usual doctor/patient confidentiality thing that I was expecting, but I had to press her. She was a doctor for Christ sake, do no harm and all that. Her silence was harming my wife if she knew anything.
“She thinks we have two daughters, Doc!” I felt near tears. I wasn’t sleeping much at all. None of it made any sense, so I couldn’t turn off my mind and concentrate on anything.
“Maybe it would be best if she set up an appointment with me,” the doctor said.
“She won’t do that. She gets mad at me if I even try to mention anything involving our daughter in the first place. How am I supposed to get her in here? I mean, come on, there was to be something. Anything.”
The doctor looked concerned and even a little nervous for a moment. “She could be suffering some post-partum depression. It would make sense.”
“Wait...what? What would make sense?”
The doctor’s look went from nervous to confused. “I… I just meant that given the difficulties of the pregnancy that it could exacerbate things."
“S-she never told you?”
My tears quickly changed to rage. “Just tell me what the hell is going on!”
“You need to calm down.” She paused. “There were a couple of incidents that I recall during the pregnancy, particularly when she came in for the ultrasound. When I showed her the image of your daughter, she become convinced that she saw two fetuses. It’s a common side effect of the fertility drugs.”
“What fertility drugs? We weren’t taking fertility drugs. The pregnancy was... I mean, it wasn’t something we were trying to do.”
The wall of silence seemed to melt away for a least a moment.
“One of you was.” I think she started to realize that something serious was going on. I think she got scared for my wife’s well being. Maybe she was worried about her own job, it doesn’t matter. She told me the details.
“After the ultrasound, as a part of regular check-ups, we would use an ultrasound to find and check the heartbeat. Again, your wife was convinced that there were two heartbeats. It wasn’t anything serious, most people aren’t used to hearing the sound and it can be a little confusing, but she kept asking if I was sure that there weren’t two heartbeats. There weren’t."
The doctor stopped talking, but I knew there was more.
“This is my wife’s life. This is my daughter’s life. Tell me what happened."
I think the threat of lawsuit was enough fear to hear the rest.
“After your daughter was born, your wife started to push again. Even once the afterbirth had come out, she kept pushing. She didn’t say anything, but I’m convinced that she thought there was another child inside of her. We held her two additional nights for observation, had her speak with on-staff therapists and she was given a clean bill of health. Pregnancy and birth can be incredibly taxing both physically and mentally.”
“So she could be going back to whatever was going on when she was pregnant?”
“It’s possible. Has she been under additional stress lately?” the doctor asked.
“Work has been rough, I guess."
The doctor nodded. “That could be it. I still think it would be a good idea for her to schedule and appointment to come in. Maybe she just needs to talk things through, or maybe we need to look into medications to help her through.”
As much as I hated the idea of my wife having to take drugs to get better (I went through the same thing after I came home from the sandbox, - Thanks again, Uncle Sam - and I hate it), I wanted her to get better. And it wasn’t easy. I basically had to trick her into it, saying that she should go in to get a check-up and flu shot and all that so the girls would be safe. Yes, I said girls. It was the only way I even got her to respond to my concerns.
I drove her to the appointment and sat in the waiting room for over an hour until the doctor came out with her. It was clear that my wife had been crying, but when I went up to her she hugged me and she felt different. The doctor had a look on her face too. Something had happened.
The gist of it was that the doctor wrote her a prescription just in case, but recommended that we look into some family therapy. The trauma of my being gone for the pregnancy along with the side effects of the fertility drugs had paid a toll. Not to mention the fact that we still needed to talk about why the hell she had taken the drugs and not told me about them.
Still, I got to take my wife home. She didn’t mention the girls once. Our daughter was at my mom’s house for the day while we went to the appointment, so my wife would have time to go home and lie down for a while. Rest, and eventually we could go through the healing processes.
I stayed busy cleaning up the basement for a while until I heard shuffling upstairs. It was getting late and I knew that I should go pick up our daughter so I went upstairs to make sure my wife was okay, and ask if she needed me to pick up anything for dinner.
What I saw was the end of my world.
My wife lay on the floor of our kitchen, covered in blood. A knife in her hand. She had slashed at her own stomach with a carving knife. She made no sound as I saw her push her hand into her own gut, squishing through blood and muscle and tissue. For all I had seen in battle, nothing could have prepared me to see anything like that.
Slowly, as I fell over myself, slipping on the blood trying to get to her, grabbing for a hand towel to cover the wound, she said one thing before dying.
“The doctor was right, we only have one daughter… I need to get the other one out...”
Before I said one of my biggest regrets was missing my daughter’s birth. And that’s true. If I had been there, maybe I could have seen this coming, maybe I could have done something about it.
My biggest regret was having an autopsy performed. I don't know why I did it. Maybe I thought she had been on drugs or something and needed closure as to how this could happen. I've seen blood and I've seen death, but nothing that would ever compare to what I saw on my own kitchen floor.
It was one of those test results that I will always regret. The information that an "anomaly" was found in my wife's uterus. An undeveloped fetus. I can't remember the term they used, but that's how it was explained
Yeah, there was a child in my wife's uterus, though for how long it was impossible to say. They thought it would have been years.
All they could tell me, was that DNA testing showed that it was my child, vasectomy or not.
And that it was a girl.