The most reliable trigger for me is seeing sisters playing closely together or holding hands. I was so happy when I thought E would have a sister. Of course I am glad now that she has a brother, but I still find it hard to know she doesn’t have a sister to grow up and grow old with…

The most recent thing that got me was stumbling across an old shopping list tucked into a notebook. It was a list of ingredients for our Thanksgiving dinner two years ago and notes about when each dish had to go into the oven. When the list was made, I was safely (haha) into my second trimester, after the two first trimester miscarriages, and feeling…thankful.

I didn’t know yet that the baby was the sister I wanted for E. Had no idea she would die and I would have to learn things like: how the weight of a non-breathing baby would rest in my arms; how the lips of a stillborn baby are a dark crimson; how some funeral homes don’t charge for cremating babies that die at birth.

I could not have imagined that on Thanksgiving weekend two years later we’d be attending a memorial walk with a heartbreaking number of other families who have become our friends.

That shopping list made me pause.

It is those kinds of things, the things that jolt me back to the time before, that really get me. And then realizing how long ago before was. I thought at first it must have been last year that we made that list, and cooked our dinner for just the three of us, but last year we were in New Brunswick and I was pregnant not with Anja, but with her brother. How how how can it have been two years since she was here with me? One day I will be twenty years out and wondering still…

One of my best friends is pregnant right now and due late March. Her pregnancy is following the exact timeline as mine with Anja, and as I celebrate with her each milestone passed and her joy at finally being where she is, I am continually casting my mind back. It is Thanksgiving and my friend is 17 weeks pregnant, just like I was two years ago. Sometimes it seems like a dream: was she real? Was she really here?

Today we took E to a birthday party at the police museum. The kids stayed in a main room and did dress up and stories and cupcakes, but the parents could wander around and see the exhibits. Last year this little girl’s party was difficult for me and I found myself crying near the coat rack. This year I could smile and laugh with the other parents. There were three baby boys there, including my own sweet M.

The police museum is in the city’s original morgue and courthouse, and at the back, you can see the old autopsy room and a wall of specimens: healthy and unhealthy organs, some small animals, and two fetuses.

And there it was: the moment that marked me as different, (this time. There is always at least one.) Because how could I look now dispassionately at an ancient fetus preserved on a wall, a 20-week-old baby, observe it as a specimen, consider it a gruesome thrill and then turn to the next thing? I know people now who loved, delivered, held, mourned, keened over babies like that ‘specimen.’ I know something so different than any of the other parents at that party who could shudder glibly in and out of that room.

Me? I found myself again thrust back into that blue room, that snowy night, screaming as I contracted and pushed, full of fear of and for my own baby, my baby perfect except for being dead in my arms.

I suppose in a horrible way, it’s almost funny. To be tasked with writing a post about triggers and then to encounter a preserved fetus mounted on a wall at a child’s birthday party. What a life.