Lora, a Triplet

By Lora, a surviving triplet

I wasn’t really there. Not in the conventional sense anyway. I mean, I was physically there – all three pounds and ten ounces of me. But in the ways that matteredÑ emotionally, cognitively, intellectually – in the ways my parents, sisters, and grandparents were there, I was absent. It’s not like I had an out of body experience, feeling some sort of disconnect between my physical being and my spiritual being. No, it wasn’t like that. It’s just that I had recently made my first appearance – in life that is – and it was still a bit too early for me to be aware of my surroundings. Yet strangely, it was this one event, this single bodily experience that shaped me then and continues to define me all these years later.

I became a survivor of triplets on May 15, 1989. As I am told, it happened something like this: my parents were busy preparing for our arrival, anticipating both the joy and the stress of becoming parents to five children. My mother had been on bed rest in the hospital for a number of weeks leading up to our birth. During a routine ultrasound the doctor informed her that there were only two heartbeats. He offered no reasoning or medical insight, except to say that the baby had most likely died on the previous day, on Mothers Day, of all days. He explained that since two of the babies shared a placenta, the loss of one put the other in danger. We were born not long after by emergency c-section.

5:28 p.m.: Lora Miriam, screaming and fragile. 5:29 p.m.: Jacob Shimon, impossibly small and fighting. 5:30 p.m.: Ezra, stillborn.

I was there. My body had been near his for seven months, developing, growing, awaiting life together. But while my body emerged with life, his did not. While my body continued to grow, his stopped. But even though I was there, I still don’t feel like I really was. I never experienced my parents’ excitement, that expectation, and so I never really experienced that loss. For me, there was no loss. I only knew Ezra as my brother who had died. So while I’ve asked my parents a million questions about that day and the many days that followed, while I’ve tried to imprint their memories onto mine, I cannot. I experience that day in an entirely different way from my parents and sisters, in a way that I imagine only Jacob and I, as survivors, share. I experienced that day as a child when my curiosity would spark long conversations with my parents about the events surrounding my birth. I experienced that day when a friend told me a joke during silent reading and then to keep me from disturbing the class with my laughter she whispered, “Be quiet. Just think of something sad” and I immediately thought of Ezra. I experience that day each May when we visit his grave at the cemetery. I experienced that day on my fourteenth birthday, when Jacob and I, on our eighth grade trip to Washington D.C., said the mourners’ prayer in Ezra’s memory. I experience that day when people ask if Jacob and I are twins and I ask myself whether I should tell them about Ezra.

Mostly, I experience that day each year on the anniversary of Ezra’s death, my Hebrew birthday, when my family and I light a candle to remember him. But what’s most difficult about this particular way of experiencing Ezra’s loss is facing the reality that there is nothing to remember. When we remember our other relatives, we allow for a few moments of reflection and then we share some memories from that person’s life. But when we light the yartzeit candle for Ezra, we have no memories to share because he never had a life that could be remembered.

So instead, we talk about what might have been. How the dynamic of our family would have been different, what kind of relationships he and Jacob and I would have had with each other, what his favorite color might have been. Growing up (and even now), these musings were always easy for me. I never had any difficulty imagining these hypothetical scenarios. These fantasies might have been abstract and it might have been impossible to really visualize any of these scenes as possible alternatives to my reality, but I could always imagine something. But when it came to creating an actual picture in my mind of Ezra himself, I always thought of him as a child. I could never picture Ezra at his bar mitzvah or high school graduation. And whenever I did imagine him, he never looked the way he would have if he had lived. I found it impossible to even think about another person being identical to Jacob. So in my mind’s eye Ezra always had bright red hair and lots of freckles, even though Jacob looks nothing like that. Perhaps, at the surface level, this was just my limited ability to imagine a person I had never met. But I also think it reflects a deeper grappling with Ezra’s absence. I couldn’t picture him because he was (and is) so intangible, more like an idea than an actual person.

But my struggle to imagine him does not make Ezra any less real to me. He is present each year on our birthday, the anniversary of his death. Jacob and I share that day with him. I do not share it begrudgingly. It is as much a day to celebrate another year of our lives as it is a day to remember him and his place in our family.

So much of my childhood and my family were shaped by the experience of that day that some things only come into focus now. I remember playing a make-believe game one day with my older sister. I couldn’t have been much older than six or seven. She was narrating the story, and she decided that one of the characters would be pregnant with twins. When it came time for the birth in our little game, my sister made it so that this imaginary woman lost one of the babies. I, being young and not understanding the significance of this role playing for my sister, remarked, “But at least she still has the other one.” My sister became so angry with me and at the time I did not realize why a silly game made her so upset. Now, looking back on this episode, I see that my sister was attempting to act out an important event from her life, perhaps as a means of coping or thinking through some of her feelings. I can still picture this scene so vividly and I cringe every time I think about what I said because I know how much callous remarks like mine hurt my parents and my sisters during the time immediately after Ezra’s death. I do not share this story merely to demonstrate my naiveté as a child. Rather, I share it in order to illustrate how different my experience of Ezra’s loss was from that of my sisters and parents. Even though I am now old enough to be sensitive to their feelings, I know that I will never be able to fully understand the nature of their loss. So while this common experience unites us as a family, it also divides us. I cannot share in their grief even though mine is inextricably linked with theirs. And while their memories become my second-hand memories, they can be only thatÑsecond-hand. We can only share so much of Ezra’s loss. I even sometimes question how similar my experience of Ezra’s loss is to Jacob’s. Even though we are both survivors, maybe because Jacob and Ezra were identical they shared some closer, more intense bond. And so perhaps Jacob feels Ezra’s absence if not more strongly than I do, then at least in a way that, like my parents’ experience, is inaccessible to me.

But just because my family and I experience Ezra’s loss differently does not mean we cannot express ourselves or communicate our feelings to each other. My parents have shared with me much of what they went through during the time following our birth. How they feared that Jacob would not survive, how they worried about the two of us when we were in the neonatal intensive care unit, how they shuttled us from doctor to doctor for the first months and years of our lives, how they struggled to grieve and raise four children at the same time.

Through sharing my thoughts and in discussing this with my family I have come to realize that we have more in common in our experience of Ezra’s loss than I might have initially thought. They also do not really have memories of Ezra. And the ones they do have are few: they remember the pregnancy, the birth, seeing him, holding him, and my father and sisters remember his burial. I cannot claim these memories as my family can. But in the end, we all feel the emptiness of the life Ezra never lived in the same way and that unites us. I see this unity especially when we share our feelings about Ezra. There has always been an openness in my family when it comes to talking about him and I have always appreciated that. And I think it is that openness that has allowed me to explore this part of my life in writing and in art.

I’m not sure if I feel that writing and drawing about this has been a healing experience for me, because I don’t really feel that I needed healing in the first place. But I do feel that I’ve learned a great deal about myself and about my family in this process. A few years ago, I did a drawing about my birth and Ezra’s loss for a final project in an art class. It was important to me, but not nearly in the same way that this piece has been. The images I chose to draw the first time were relatively simple and the act of drawing them required little emotional investment: a picture of Jacob and me as newborns, a picture of Ezra’s footprints, and a picture of my mother holding Ezra’s blanket and hat. I suppose the same can be said for three of the four pieces I did for this project. The collage, the picture of Jacob and me with Ezra missing, and the sonogram image of triplets were easy to draw. But when it came to drawing the final piece that was based on one of the few photographs we have of Ezra, I found it very difficult to get it down on paper. I started with the blankets and the background, avoiding his head and arm, his tiny fingers, his discolored body. But I had to do it. And I did. But it wasn’t easy. I kept thinking about how strange it was to be replicating this image of my lifeless triplet, especially because there is so much about the picture that makes him look almost alive. The hat and blanket placed protectively around his body, his hands seemingly reaching out to grab onto… what? I couldn’t stop thinking: Did someone place his arms like that? Why did he need a hat? He wasn’t cold; he was dead. My stomach turned and I had to stop at a few points just to get through it. And while it was a challenging piece to complete it was worth every second of discomfort, confusion, and sadness that went into it. And I can say the same about working on the project as a whole. In drawing and in writing and in the many hours of thinking and talking that went into this work, I feel that I uncovered some thoughts and feelings about Ezra and his loss that I didn’t know were there. I’m sure that as I grow older I will continue to think about Ezra and perhaps even discover more about myself in the process. For now, though, I’m glad that I chose to explore Ezra’s loss and its meaning in my life, even as I continue to unravel its effects on me and my family. Thank you so much. It has meant a lot to me to read what others (parents, survivors, siblings) have written in the newsletter, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my own thoughts and feelings about being a survivor of triplets.

Lora S.