Another Year

Yesterday I turned 31. As has become the custom in recent years, I spent my birthday in the most enjoyable way possible for an introvert like myself: A laid back day filled with good food, sunny walks, and laughter-filled conversations with my husband. Of course, this birthday was unlike any other I had experienced before, as it was also filled with diaper changes, cluster feedings, and intermittent cries from my four-week-old son.

In short, it was the best birthday I could have asked for, having accepted that Leah’s absence will be felt on such occasions, both now and in the years to come.

Inevitably, I spent much of yesterday thinking back to this time last year. Still in the throes of fresh, raw grief, my 30th birthday was anything but “happy,” despite the celebratory wishes offered by well-meaning family and friends. It still pains me to think about those excruciatingly bleak summer days, and how I struggled to fill the aimless hours that should have been spent caring for my firstborn daughter. Somehow this past year has passed me by in a flash, yet also at a snail’s pace, completely disrupting my previously-held worldview in the process.

During the months that I carried Leah, I assumed that her presence in my life would bring with it a newfound sense of permanence. Since I didn’t envision myself having more than one child, I expected that my family would be complete after welcoming her into the world. Likewise, I anticipated that having her at my side would solidify my new identity as “mother,” forever changing my self-conception and providing me with a new sense of purpose. As I understood it, Leah would be a central part of my world as I grew old and grey, and I would pass on from this life knowing that my love’s legacy would live on through her.

It’s difficult to explain how outliving your child can completely shatter these conventional expectations. Leah’s death has taught me that the only thing knowable about this life is its impermanence. I think about this each day as I look at the people whose love makes my life worth living: My husband, my family, my friends, and now, my son—none of whom are guaranteed to be here tomorrow, next week, or a year from now.

Each time I hold this beautiful boy to my chest and gently rock him to sleep at night, I can’t help but think how the time I have with him is both precious and fleeting. While these first days, weeks, and years of his life will undoubtedly be among my most treasured memories when I draw my final breaths, he will go through his own life with little to no recollection of the time we now spend together. Indeed, if he lives the long, full life that I hope he does, and if my husband and I do our jobs well, our family dynamic must inevitably change, seeing us become less central to his existence with each passing year. Simply put, every day I am cognizant of the fact that there is nothing permanent about this boy’s presence in my life. Yet as heart-wrenching as this is, it draws no comparison to the alternative that I know too well: Being the parent of a child who will never grow up and venture out into the world on their own, because they never got the chance to.

In this sense, it is perversely ironic that some of my initial assumptions about Leah’s permanence in my life turned out to be true. While Callum will continue to grow and change before my eyes each day, creating new memories along the way, I will spend year after year looking through the same photos of Leah, feeling the same ache in my heart, and pondering the same questions about who she would have been. As it is, I will always be the mother of a dark-haired, porcelain-skinned baby girl, because my daughter never got the chance to be more than that.

Still, as I plunge ahead into another year, I remain grateful for the brief but life-changing moment in time that my daughter was here. Likewise, I am equally determined to cherish every moment with my son that time allows.

Joyful Grief

On Friday, July 28, my life changed profoundly for the second time in thirteen months.

Leah’s brother, Callum, came into the world healthy, strong, and screaming by repeat cesarean section at 38 weeks gestation.

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Much to my amazement, all of the best case scenarios that I hadn’t dared hope for unfolded in a matter of hours: He cried heartily as my OBGYN removed him from my body. He received a score of 9 on his Apgar tests. I was able to hold him skin-to-skin while still being stitched up on the operating table. And, just as I had secretly hoped, he was born with the same glorious crown of full, dark hair that his sister had.

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Now, we are home, and my heart is so full. 

It is full of gratitude each time he wakes me up in the middle of the night to be fed or changed, as it reminds me how privileged I am to have a healthy, growing child.

It is full of awe each time he curls up on my chest after a feeding, as it reminds me how miraculous it is that my body created this delicate, beautiful life.

It is full of joy each time he opens his eyes and glances in my general direction, as it reminds me of all the cuddles, kisses, and “I love you’s” that I hope to share with him in the coming years.

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But my heart is also full of grief and sadness. It was beyond surreal to be back in the same hospital where I spent 33 precious hours with my firstborn daughter under profoundly different circumstances. It reminded me of the moments I spent holding her skin-to-skin, hearing her newborn cries, and marveling at her beauty—all the while knowing that her life was slowly slipping away, and that there was nothing I could do to save her.

Now that Callum and I are home, each moment of joy I experience with him is also a bittersweet reminder of what I missed out on with his sister. It seems that laughter and tears come to me in equal measure these days, often at the same time.

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With each passing day I am reminded that nothing is easy about mothering after loss. It is a tumultuous journey wherein life’s most beautiful moments are also filled with heartache and longing for what will never be. But it is my journey, and for now I am beyond thankful for the two beautiful children it has given me along the way.