Holly Ellis Spiegel has written some of our most important articles this year, including Reclaiming  Miscarriage, and Why Are Doctors So Clueless About Breastfeeding?  Today, she’s sharing a more personal story about a simple pair of baby socks that hold more meaning than she could ever have imagined. 

I first learned I was pregnant just a couple weeks before Thanksgiving in 2014. It was already getting chilly, and I went online to buy thick wool socks for both my husband and me. A few nights later, I was walking to the train after work and my eye caught sight of a big-box baby store. I was only maybe 5 weeks pregnant. I hadn’t even seen my OB yet, but I couldn’t resist the temptation: “I’ll just buy the baby some socks too,” I thought.

I found a 6-pack of socks with woodland animals stitched in. They were about as gender-neutral as I could find. “I wanted to find something that a badass girl or a sweet boy could wear,” I wrote in my pregnancy journal. “You also have my permission to be a sweet girl, a badass boy, or any combination thereof.”

My favorites were hands-down the grey stripe with little red fox faces. I removed these from the package, laid them on my dresser and often caught myself caressing them lovingly, dreaming of the perfect little feet that would one day fill them up.

Two weeks later, my husband and I eagerly walked into the ultrasound room at our OB practice, never having considered that this appointment wouldn’t go as planned. There had been no blood, no cramps, so there would be no miscarriage, right? But there was also no heartbeat, and too little growth. A “missed miscarriage.” A procedure removed the embryo that same day.

We returned home feeling numb and gutted. The fox socks were tucked into a rarely used drawer and were not seen again until I next saw that positive pee stick again 6 months later.

When that pregnancy, too, ended at 8 weeks, I was encouraged by a holistic healer to create a sort of altar in our bedroom. My threadbare childhood teddy bear was propped up with a photo of my husband as a baby, gleefully smiling on the swings in an NYC playground. Placed in front of this was my grandmother’s leather baby shoe from her birth in 1920, and the humble fox socks, downstage center. Each time I passed it, I’d offer at least a fleeting wish (sometimes a lingering one) for those sweet feet.

In September 2016, two years after my husband and I first started trying to conceive, my water broke. I was at only 37.5 weeks of gestation, so I had barely started packing the hospital bag (I know, I know). Once we’d thrown everything we could think of into the suitcase (do I really need a bendy straw? Better take 50, just in case) and were on our way out the door, I made one last walk past the altar and clutched the socks in my hand. They remained there through the long night of labor – through the waves of contractions, deep breaths and counter pressure from my husband and doula – right up until it was time to start pushing.

When the nurse took them so that I could grip the birth bar, she must have seen the worry in my face, for she looked me dead in the eye and said, “they’re not going anywhere until they’re on baby’s feet,” and she set them on the rolling table next to my bed. Throughout the next two hours of pushing, I cast furtive glances toward the socks, using them as magnifying lenses to help me visualize the end goal to this discomfort.

When we took our son home two days later, I was shocked to find the miniscule fox socks were actually too big for him, but he wore them home anyway. I soon also realized – as the experienced parents reading this will already know – that keeping socks on a baby is an exercise in futility, especially inadvisable in the already harrowing days of new parenthood.

The socks were soon floundering at the bottom of the drawer, only to be unearthed when the time came for the first bittersweet rotation of outgrown clothes into storage and hand-me-downs. While all the other socks from the package were passed on to the new baby down the hall, the fox socks were given a permanent place of honor: they now reside in an ornament that will decorate our Christmas tree every year, as a reminder of our greatest wish fulfilled.

Holly Ellis Spiegel is a writer and freelance film and video producer based in Brooklyn. She’s produced four feature films including the Sundance-selected Prairie Love and countless videos for parents and families on CafeMom and other outlets. She is also a new mom. See her work at hollylynnellis.com.