I find out at our twenty week scan. Lauren’s quiet in the examination room. Blouse up, goop on her belly, eyes not quite fixed on the screen. The nurse has just told us our baby looks healthy. We had no reason to think otherwise, but I let out a long, heavy breath regardless. I look down at Lauren. When she reaches up and tucks her hair behind her left ear, I feel the skin on my bare arms prickle. Why is she nervous? Does she know something different? Then she says the words:
‘I ate my twin in the womb.’
The nurse takes a step back from the monitor. Busies herself with some papers. Lauren’s looking at me, shocked by her own admission. Her eyeliner’s an electric blue today. I thought this morning that maybe she had a feeling about the baby’s….what did she say? Everything around us – the nurse fiddling with files, the footsteps in the hall – it all slows to an impossible crawl. I stare at my wife. I don’t know when I let go of her hand.
It’s unnaturally quiet in the room. My brain ticks with the clock. I ask her to repeat herself.
Lauren’s calm. Hands clasped on her belly. ‘It’s more common than you’d think. They call it Vanishing Twin Syndrome.’
The nurse – Heather? – coughs. We’re taking up her time. I pass Lauren her cardigan. Why is she telling me now? ‘We should probably talk about this at home, darling.’ I don’t know whether I’m smiling. Four years of marriage and countless parenting books haven’t prepared me for this.
At the dinner table, Lauren says I must have a lot of questions. She frowns when I conjure one about the food up. Drops her spoon in her half-eaten bowl of chilli. She went upstairs when we got home. Her first nap this trimester. The first time she’s skipped her pregnancy yoga.
She taps red nails on the pine tabletop. Images flash. This morning, that bright red lost in the hair on my chest, fingertips circling ever so lightly. Her giggling as we tried to position a pillow underneath her –
– ‘Daniel.’ Her cheeks are pink. Tears aren’t far away.
I let my own spoon drop. Push my feet against the blue linoleum. Sit up straight and will myself to be sensitive.
She’s clearly rehearsed the speech she launches into. She just felt it was worth mentioning now. It doesn’t affect the baby. The baby’s fine. We heard the nurse. According to the statistics, Lauren was right earlier: it’s not uncommon. In up to a third of pregnancies involving twins, the mother miscarries and loses one early on. It used to be that lots of women didn’t ever realise they’d been carrying a second baby, but ultrasounds make the phenomenon easier to detect these days.
That catches my attention. I have a question for her now. ‘How did your mum find out, then?’
She strokes the wood. Follows the darker grooves. ‘Well. When I was nine, I got quite poorly and they had to take me to hospital. I was there for a week before they realised…’
Oh dear God. I don’t know which one of us is more mortified, but I won’t make her repeat her earlier revelation. ‘That you ate your twin.’
There’s this sickening distance between us as we face each other across the table. I sit there without the faintest idea how to breach it.
Now she’s crying. ‘I mean for God’s sake, I didn’t eat, eat him! Or her. It’s just how I developed. Nobody even knows why this happens.’ She’s ashamed, and I’m frozen, letting her be.
There’s a knock at the door. I answer it in seconds.
I watch her closely all weekend. I don’t know what I’m looking for. We make it to Sunday lunch mostly without incident.
I’m rummaging through living room drawers, looking for the extension lead for the lawnmower when she glances up from her crossword. ‘Do you still love me?’
She’s in her stretchy grey leggings, fluffy socks on the feet tucked underneath her. No eyeliner today. I don’t want to ever love anyone else.
I tell her that. Then, ‘When I was seven, I broke my brother’s toy dump truck. It was green.’
Lauren looks at me like I’m the lunatic I’ve become.
That night, we get into bed early like always. She doesn’t rest her head on my chest while I watch whatever gritty drama is in the primetime slot, and I don’t ask her about her book. There’s a deliberateness to her page-turning.
Eventually I switch the TV off and face her. This isn’t us. I won’t let this be us. I lift my arm. It takes a moment, but then she puts the book down and lies on her side, facing away but wriggling back towards me, settling into the space. I turn the lamp off, embracing my wife in the dark. I feel like I’ve been embracing her in the dark all along.
I hold her. Feel the solid curve of her hip under my hand. Catch the rose scent of her moisturiser when I lean down to kiss her neck. Her jaw. This, I can do. This, I know.
I wonder briefly, just before, what other secrets she holds inside her. And then it matters until it doesn’t.
By Kathy Chamberlain
- You can find Kathy over on Twitter: @KathyChmberlain