When my daughters were born, I reveled in the beauty of new motherhood. The lack of sleep, the diapers, the nursing round the clock, the aches and pains of recovery from childbirth – it didn’t faze me. I love babies. I love the warm, sleepy snuggles, the gentle pull of a nursing newborn. Of course, there are the less fun parts, but they were always eclipsed by the beauty of my children.
In November of 2015, I found out that I was expecting my third child. My eldest was four and my youngest 2. They were past the snuggly baby stage – walking and talking, little mimicries of us. And so when I found out that I would again hold a newborn, my heart leapt with joy. I pictured the long, lazy days of nursing, of sleeping nestled in my bed with an infant against my chest. I warmed to the thought of wearing my sleeping baby against me in a wrap. I envisioned a baby snuggled in a muslin blanket, light as air, sleeping in a cradle in the living room while Evaline and Hazel cavorted nearby.
Then, my dreams were dashed. Instead of quiet, sleepy days of nursing and nights snuggled in bed together, we had nasal prongs and a feeding tube. We had an oxygen concentrator and 13 twice daily medications. Those first days of new motherhood were replaced by the NICU and the nurses and doctors there.
Nothing was what I expected.
I loved every moment of being James’s mother. I would never trade him for a healthy baby. I wouldn’t undo him, because he was a gift. I try not to lament the things that we didn’t get to do.
When Gemma was born, I thought things might be better. I thought, since infants take so much care and attention, that my grief might shift. I might feel “better” for a little while. I thought, naively, that maybe life would suddenly start to feel more normal again. Maybe my world wouldn’t feel so fragmented. And in some ways, Gemma is healing. I am able to do the things that I missed so terribly with James and that brings me comfort. I don’t take it for granted. The waking up at 4am to nurse, the dirty diapers, the constant need to be held, I revel in it, because I know what it’s like to have that stolen from me.
But in other ways, I am broken open anew. And I had so little emotional reserve to start. I look at Gemma, and I see the baby that was but is no more. I see the dark hair and the bright eyes, and there is James. I lie in bed at night and remember the nights of broken sleep, alarms warning me that my son might die. I see his dark head, and I hear his quiet baby coos – the ones that cost him so much effort to make. Where is he? Is he really gone? Did I really hold his chubby body to mine as he took his last breaths and went to a place where I could not follow? WHY?
I am still steeped in grief. I am still confused and lost. Why did this happen to us? Why isn’t James here any more? If anything, life is more difficult – balancing the needs of my daughters with my need to grieve my son. We aren’t healed. We are nowhere close to healed. Gemma is a bright light, but there is still so much darkness all around.