What Raising Butterflies Taught Me About Miscarriage
How I learned to live with pain and possibility.
When a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it has at most two hours to stretch out its wings. If it doesn’t, its wings will dry shut. The butterfly will never fly. It can’t live. That’s it. There isn’t anything anyone can do.
I learned that last summer when my children and I started collecting butterfly eggs. Rescuing, we called it. That summer, my two boys and I spent the long days scanning the undersides of milkweed, parsley, and dill for butter-colored beads of possibility. When we found one, which we often did, we’d carefully pull off the green perch and carry it home.
When we collected our first butterfly eggs, there was an egg inside me, too. My egg divided and began to assemble itself. The possibility of a person.
After butterfly eggs hatch, if you look close, you’ll see a caterpillar in miniature. It looks like a made-up thing. Tiny and exact. No bigger than a hangnail. In our white mesh cage, we fed the monarch caterpillars flaps of milkweed. The swallowtails munched feathers of dill and parsley. And, every day, they grew.
The baby inside of me grew, too. In the ultrasound, you didn’t have to look close to see its arms and legs. In the middle, a reassuring flutter. Its humanness was undeniable.
When the caterpillars are as big as your pinky, they’re just about ready to make their chrysalises. After that, there’s nothing to do but to wait.
The morning that the first of the monarchs emerged from its chrysalis, I unzipped the white mesh cage. The butterfly pulsed its perfect wings slowly, then quickly. It disappeared into a tall maple. Poof. My four-year-old boy cried. He had wanted to hold it. It’s not easy to let things go.
When the nausea faded, I fixated on the butterflies instead of my body. I gathered more milkweed. More dill. I cleaned that white mesh cage two times a day. These caterpillars would have everything they required. Life finds a way, I told myself, coaxing a feeling like hope. It seemed like it could be true.
One day, inside our white mesh cage, I counted one. Two. Three. Six. Twelve. Fourteen. Twenty-eight butterflies in the…