By Michele Vaughn
I found the Babar book last week.
It was the book, written in the little bear’s native French, that I bought in a cute Parisian boutique in March 2009, just a few days after getting my first (and second, and third) positive pregnancy test.
And just a few days before I’d miscarry the baby Babar was meant for.
I bought the book before I knew any better than to be optimistic about pregnancy. Over that short week, as we strolled through the markets on Rue Cler and gazed at paintings in the Louvre, I thought ahead to due dates. I made mental lists of names and dreamed of cute baby books while saying no to glasses of Bordeaux and yes to pain au chocolat.
I bought Babar because I thought it would make a sweet story I could tell the child someday. That the child might not speak French wasn’t a concern; I thought they’d get a kick out of this foreign language book being all theirs, right from the beginning. They’d appreciate it in a way that no preschooler would care about the overpriced baby outfits we could have otherwise purchased. I thought a book would outlast a beret.
How naïve I was.
Paris was the city where I let my dreams soar. Reality crashed down in London, later that week. The blood came late at night, a few hours after we’d seen “Wicked.” At that moment, I didn’t think of it as a miscarriage. The pregnancy tests had said yes, but maybe they were wrong, or just not right enough. I hadn’t even gotten the chance to feel pregnant – aside from missing all that good French wine and soft, unpasteurized cheese.
The next morning I tried to walk through crowded Notting Hill. Having gotten engaged while watching the Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts movie, this was one of the places I most wanted to visit on our trip. But I could barely shuffle along with the hordes of other tourists, never mind enjoy the Portobello Road flea market or search for the house with the blue door made famous in the movie. I know cramps – I’d had surgery for painful endometriosis a couple of years earlier – and these were no normal cramps. At times the pain nearly doubled me over, but I downed Advil and kept going. There was no reason not to, I thought; I wasn’t pregnant. I’d gotten my period, I told myself.
I kept up that façade until we walked through Kensington Gardens, when I felt a distinct pop in my abdomen. The pain that had wracked my belly was gone. Suddenly, I could walk briskly among the fountains and flowers.
But I didn’t want to. Because it was over. I knew, despite my doubts, that something very real had come to an end.
Being able to drink fine English ales alongside my husband in the pubs no longer seemed like a silver lining.
I brought Babar home and tucked him inside a closet. He stayed there through the second miscarriage a year later, and a third nine months after that. During the second pregnancy, I framed an ultrasound picture, which after that miscarriage took its place hidden in the closet next to Babar. I miscarried the third before I had any momentos to add to the collection.
Shortly after our son Teddy — the baby who resulted from pregnancy #4 – was born, I opened the closet door. Where that closet had until then been a repository for sad memories, it was now a space for clothes and diapers and baby gear. I used the frame that had held the second ultrasound picture for a new one of Teddy sleeping in his hospital bassinet, and I dug Babar out and added the book to the bookshelf.
But not long after I dusted off Babar, I forgot about him, hidden from sight by Sandra Boynton, Richard Scarry, and Dr. Seuss, and crowded from my mind by the busyness of life with a baby.
We’ve spent the last three years reciting “One Fish, Two Fish” and “The Going to Bed Book.” We’ve survived tantrums and potty training. We’ve learned ABCs. And we’ve welcomed Teddy’s little sister, Katie.
Through it all, I never opened Babar. I felt like the book belonged to another child – one who would have turned six last year. But as I picked old books from the shelf to donate last week, there was Babar, waiting to be read.
The Babar book has familiar company now, alongside other foreign language books we’ve collected as Teddy has started attending a French preschool. I’ve been excited to share my limited high school French vocabulary with him. But holding that book in my hand, I realized how much more I have to share with my children, about myself and how this version of our family came to be.
Someday, I’ll tell Teddy and Katie about the babies who might have been. But for now, I’ll just read Babar.
Michele Vaughn is a wife, mom of two, cancer survivor, and writer living in Washington, D.C. She blogs about life after cancer and infertility — along with random musings on life as a transplanted Bostonian, a devoted fan of the Red Sox, and an infrequent and slow runner — at A Storybook Life.