Olivia’s Story

by Marisa Baratta


I pull the blanket out of the box, giving it a gentle tug when it catches on the rough edge.
This shouldn’t be here. My brain freezes, producing no possible logical explanation whatsoever. How is a blanket that’s been tucked away in our attic for 24 years lying here right in front of me, in a city I haven’t been to in just as long?
I jump at the sound of Sarah’s voice, accidentally yanking the entire blanket into my arms.
My brain is still frozen. What is Sarah doing here, in Kingston?
“Where’s Mike?” At least my mind is starting to form logical connections again.
Sarah’s brown eyes are bright, and her mouth forms a tight, almost trembling line. “He’s checking the car. We were looking for…” Her gaze drops to the soft yellow pouring out of my arms.
She seems to notice how tightly I’m holding onto the blanket, and her eyes well up. “Mom, I’m so sorry.”
I open my arms and she runs into them, and I don’t know why she’s crying but I feel my eyes well up in response.
“Sarah, honey.” I stroke her hair and rub her back, and I can’t help remembering all the times I did this when she was a baby. The blanket is softly nestled between my left arm and her back, and I’m all too aware of the connection between us. “What’s wrong?”
Sarah’s voice comes from somewhere under my neck, too muffled for any of the mall go-ers walking by to hear—not that any of them are looking.
“I almost lost the blanket. I’m so sorry. I don’t even know how I forgot it—it’s all I’ve been thinking about this whole trip. I am so, so sorry.”
Losing the blanket would have hurt, a lot. My throat tightens painfully. “But it isn’t lost, and you’re okay. That’s what matters. Everyone’s okay.” Well, not everyone. The words pop into my head and this time the tears do start spilling out. I fight to hold them back. I always told myself I’d never cry about this in front of her.
Sarah holds on tighter, turning her head, her voice clearer now. “I don’t want to hurt you. I came here thinking I just had to meet them before our wedding, and I didn’t want to hurt you, so I didn’t mention it–I wasn’t going to do anything that could hurt you. I just wanted to meet them and…”
I keep rubbing Sarah’s back, not liking where this is going. “So it’s not a coincidence you’re in Kingston when you’re supposed to be in Ottawa?”
Sarah pulls back and looks at me, still holding onto the hug. “No. I found the blanket in the attic and I wanted to know more, but I didn’t want to make you feel bad. I thought if I came here, and found the rest of our family, I might…” She closes her eyes but tears sneak out anyway. “I’m so sorry. I can tell why you left, and I don’t want to bring you back into this or hurt you.”
It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. My daughter gets me. “Sarah. I definitely get that you don’t want to hurt me, and I appreciate that. Do I like the idea of you coming here, to visit them, and not telling me? No, not at all.”
Sarah cringes at the harshness in my tone, but I can’t help it. I shoved those people away in a part of my mind I never revisit, and now I’m standing mere kilometres away from where they live.
But I was worried about Sarah and seeing her safe is keeping me calm.
I remember something she said. “So you found this in the attic?”
“Yeah, when you suggested I go look for ‘something borrowed’ for me and Mike.”
Ah. So I started this. I nod.
Sarah traces the “O” on the corner of the yellow blanket, sniffling. “Is there any chance this is a zero?”
She cringes, probably hearing the words out loud as I do. Because if she already suspects what this blanket means, then even a “zero” means something. Something heartbreaking no one wants to think.
I don’t know how to answer.
Sarah looks at me. “Does this have anything to do with how you love the name Olivia?” She bites her lip. “And my name…”
Isn’t Olivia. The sentence finishes in my head and my breath comes out in a whoosh.
“Mom, honestly, I didn’t want to start anything or hurt you. I just felt something and I wanted to know, so I thought…”
My heart feels full. It feels kind of beautiful that she felt something. And hearing that convinces me that it’s okay to tell her now—or not just okay, but right.
I lower onto a nearby couch and put my head in my hands, then sit back, tears in my eyes. “I knew I wanted to tell you this one day, but I didn’t know when.”
Sarah’s eyes are red and puffy, her voice full of tears “Oh, Mom.” She sits beside me and leans her head on my shoulder.
Hearing her emotions is sending signals of permission to my body to let out all the ones I’m feeling inside.
“You know your father and I love you very much, right?”
Tears spill out of Sarah’s eyes; I almost can’t see them through my own. She nods. “Of course. And I love you both too.”
I nod, squeezing her hand. I rest my face in my hands again and feel her arm wrap around me and the gentle weight of her head against my left shoulder.
“In 1990—”
Sarah sounds confused. “The year I was born?”
I tense up, then nod. “I took a pregnancy test for the first time and it was positive. Your dad and I were hoping it would be; we were so happy. We told everyone and they were so happy for us. Our parents cried.”
“I can’t picture Grammy crying.”
I smile at Sarah, feeling the joy of that day tingling in my fingers and toes. “Even Grammy,” I insist. “They basically just found out they were going to become grandparents. And we were so happy and grateful to become parents. I got so sick only a week later—well, I mean I felt sick. I was throwing up every day. But everyone kept telling me that meant our baby was okay, which really helped me keep going. I just wanted our baby to be okay.
“Then one day, I saw blood.”
Sarah sounds scared. “No.”
I can do this part, because I know the blood isn’t the part that breaks my heart. “It was only a little but I went to the doctor and she asked for an ultrasound.” I smile through the tears, because this is something I will cherish forever. “Your dad had to wait in the hallway—which he hated—but eventually he was called in. The technician turned the screen so we could see. I didn’t really understand what I was seeing so I asked, ‘Is our baby okay?’ And after what felt like an eternity, she said, ‘Your babies look great.’”
Sarah jerks up. “Babies? Plural?”
I hear the surprise in her voice turn to pain. “Yes.”
Sarah chokes on a sob, her hair falling over her shoulders. “I have a twin?”
“I’m sorry.” My voice trembles more than I ever thought I’d let it in front of her. “We didn’t know how to tell you.”
Sarah gets up, walks two paces, then stops, her back to me.
I panic. “Sarah?”
She turns around and sits down beside me, soothing my nerves when she takes my hand. “I understand. But you can tell me now.” She looks at me. “What happened to her?” Her other hand is clutching her heart and I can only imagine how she feels, the same as how she can only imagine how I feel. I don’t have a twin and I wasn’t sure how Sarah would feel if she found out one day, but now I realize she must feel like part of her is missing—in a way that’s different from how I feel like a part of me is missing, too.
“No one really knows.” I bite my lip to keep it still. “We went home with a picture of the two of you.” Now my voice is high-pitched, tight, like when you squeeze a towel and there’s hardly any water left to drip out. “We framed it. We looked at it every day and every day when I threw up, I thought of the two of you in there, prayed that you were okay. And again I was reminded that throwing up is usually a good sign that everything is going well, that you’re growing.” I squeeze my eyes shut, then jerk them open when I hear a high wailing sound, then realize it’s me. Sarah’s arm brushes back and forth against my back. “When we went in for the anatomy scan, the technician was very quiet. But she kept doing the scan so I thought everything must be okay—I felt relieved.
“Again, they made your dad wait in the hallway. Then the technician finally let him in, but he came in alone. I thought that was strange, but I was happy to see him. He came to my side smiling and I told him everything must be okay because the technician was clearly moving the wand around, checking on you both, for a long time. Your dad said forty minutes had passed and he was thinking the same thing. We talked about that first ultrasound and about how excited we were to see you both again.
“Then the technician came back, but she wasn’t alone. She brought someone else with her. That woman wasn’t wearing scrubs, and that made me anxious.
“The woman told us that she had mixed news, and she asked if your dad wanted to sit. He said no, just stared at her, holding my hand super tight. It’s a toss-up who was squeezing more. The doctor told us the anatomy scan was complete, which made me feel a little better—I thought for sure that means our babies are okay.
“And then she turned the screen, and there was a picture of the two of you perfect darlings on it. I had about two seconds to feel my body fill with sheer happiness and joy at the sight of you two.
“And then the doctor pointed to the screen and asked if we could see any differences between you two. I said, ‘They’re both so beautiful’ and your dad’s answer was, ‘They’re absolutely perfect.’
“I still think the doctor just didn’t know how to tell us. At that point, she came right out and said, ‘One of your daughters is very healthy, growing right where we’d like her to be.’ Your dad and I looked straight at each other, smiling giddily. That’s when we found out we were having two girls!
“‘And the other, her heart stopped.’”
I break into tears. “And I swear my heart stopped too.”
Sarah and I are both crying now. I catch the eye of a group of strangers staring nearby and I give them a thumbs up, hating how that one gesture communicates that we’re “okay” when, really, we’re not.
I recognize the high-pitched voice this time as my own. “They let your dad and I stay in the room, crying, completely torn, broken-hearted, confused. I don’t know how to explain it. I was so relieved you were okay, so grateful to know you’re healthy, so full of love for you, and so full of love for Olivia, and so broken-hearted for Olivia. I didn’t know how to feel what I was feeling.
“When we told my parents, they were sad, but after a couple weeks, they acted normal again. I, on the other hand, was not doing okay. I still felt as torn as I did back in that room. I told them your dad and I decided we wanted to see someone, to talk to someone professional about what we were going through, and they didn’t get it. They, like us, had assumed all along that we were having one baby until that first ultrasound, and I think they felt like we should be happy because we were still getting a baby.”
I squeeze Sarah’s hand again. “And believe me, I was so grateful for you. Am so grateful for you.” Sarah smiles through her tears. “Your dad and I told you every day how much we love you, and I still thank God for you every day.”
I turn a little on the couch, brushing Sarah’s hair behind her ear. “If you want to have kids one day, when God blesses you with children, you will understand the feeling too that I felt when I was pregnant—I was overjoyed. I loved you both already, even though I didn’t know you were both there.” I smile; I can’t help feeling that love. “I knew that from then on, I would always love you and protect you and that we would take the best care of you.
“Finding out that Olivia wasn’t okay, just like that, that did something to us. I don’t know how to explain it. We hadn’t met you both yet on this side, but we loved you both already on that side. And we didn’t know she wasn’t okay, that she needed us. Your dad and I used to talk about you two every night, and suddenly…”
I choke on a sob.
Sarah’s voice is muffled. “I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s okay, honey.” I turn and she leans into my arms. “Neither did me or your dad. We were feeling a lot. And we got in a huge fight with my parents. I feel like they were just really confused, but it hurt so much that they weren’t trying to understand how we could feel sad in a time of happiness. It was too much pain to add to the pain we were already feeling.”
“Is that when you left?”
I nod. “That’s when we left. We moved to Toronto to be near your dad’s parents, and we found a therapist, and I started doing meditation, and in a way we built a bubble—and you can’t live in a bubble, but I needed that bubble to help protect you and for me, until it was time for you to arrive. I was already so paranoid about your health, and I didn’t want all that negative energy around me.
“But it wasn’t easy to move. In some ways Kingston is a big city, but Toronto is different. And I had never had a fight like that with my parents before. But I had to turn off all those thoughts so I could feel calm and at peace. And I wanted you to feel only nice things, so every day I talked to you and told you how much we love you.
“And then one beautiful perfect day, you were born.” I kiss the top of Sarah’s head. “And they put you in my arms, and I had so much happiness inside that I cried.”
Sarah laughs through her tears.
“And I never wanted to let you go—even to give your dad a chance to hold you, actually. But I did give him a turn,” I add quickly. “But before I did, I let myself keep staring at you, and I told you, ‘You have a guardian angel.’ I knew that even when you’re not here in my arms”—I choke up—“she’s watching over you, with you, in a way that only the two of you can be.”
Now Sarah and I are both crying, and I realize that the parents with two kids sitting across from us on another couch are crying too.
I lower my voice to Sarah’s ears. “I always told you you have a guardian angel.”
“I always remember that.” Sarah sniffles, sitting up and resting her head under my chin. “And now I know her name is Olivia.”