I’ve been trying to write a new blog post for nearly two months now. I can’t count how many times I’ve sat down with a coffee, my laptop, and the best of intentions, only to find myself staring vacantly at the screen in front of me, not knowing where to begin.
I imagine a good chunk of this writer’s block is caused by the inevitable fatigue that comes with parenting an infant. Most days it’s a challenge to cobble together twenty minutes of “me time” at any given point, and when this does happen, it can be difficult to muster the energy to shower, let alone write. I can’t complain about this shift in priorities, however, given how much I resented the endless void of time I had to create this blog after Leah’s death.
But mostly I find myself conflicted over what I should write about. After all, if I focus on my ongoing emotional and mental health struggles, I fear it will detract from the undeniable joy and gratitude I feel each time my son meets my gaze and smiles.
Likewise, if I write about how fulfilling it is to mother a living child and how privileged I am to have this boy in my life, I am undoubtedly minimizing the very real difficulties that come with parenting after loss.
My current and messy truth is that, while I am loving each and every moment of being Callum’s mother, my days are also shaped by the grief, fear, and trauma that Leah’s death has etched indelibly onto my motherhood.
And so, because it is the very best that I can do for this moment in time, I offer the following glimpses into the thoughts, emotions, and experiences that have comprised the past three months of my journey as a loss mama.
I gently coax Callum out of his pajamas for another late night diaper change. He begins to fuss and squirm, eager to finish the process and start his next feeding. I chuckle at this theatrics as I reach into a fresh bag of Pampers.
And then, I draw a sharp breath. It’s the same involuntary reaction I have each time I am confronted with a Cookie Monster diaper. The same Pampers print that Leah was wearing when I held her for the first time.
Several tears roll down my cheeks as I proceed with the business at hand.
It is Callum’s one week check-up. For the past seven days, I have been pleasantly surprised by my lack of debilitating anxiety. I was sure that I would be terrified to bring this boy home from the hospital and away from the medical profession’s meticulous gaze, but I have been reasonably confident in his good health and my ability to take care of him.
I smile as I watch the doctor examine my dark-haired, blue-eyed newborn while he wriggles around on the cold metal scale. “Everything looks good,” he says as he finishes up. “But I’m concerned that he hasn’t gained any weight. I’d like you to come back next week so we can check on his growth.”
And just like that, my confidence is shattered. As is the case with most women I know, these first few days of breastfeeding haven’t exactly been a cakewalk, but I did believe that my hard work was paying off and that my body was providing this boy with the nourishment he needs. My mind is instantly inundated with fear and doubt.
Has he been malnourished this whole time while you’ve been oblivious to his distress? Will this do irreparable damage to his physical and cognitive development? Have you been unknowingly starving your baby?
Serves you right for feeling at ease and believing that everything is okay. Last time you felt this way, you were blissfully unaware that Leah was dying inside your body.
That evening, my husband takes me out to buy a double electric breast pump so I can monitor exactly how much milk Callum is drinking. It will be several weeks before his visible growth eases my fears enough to return to exclusive nursing.
I dream about Leah for the second time since her death.
Somehow, she and Callum are both home with me, and she is still a newborn. I am breastfeeding Callum, all the while watching Leah cry in her bassinet. I want to feed her too, but I know I can’t; she doesn’t have the reflexes needed to suck and swallow, and the doctors said there was no point in trying to feed her since she is going to die soon anyway. So I continue to sit there, feeding Callum, watching helplessly while my daughter cries from hunger.
When I awake, I break into sobs. This dream continues to haunt me for weeks.
It is the evening before Callum’s two month vaccinations. Ironically, I have been looking forward to this upcoming appointment, hoping that it will ease my fears about his delicate newborn immune system succumbing to life-threatening illnesses and infections.
Wanting to prepare for the side effects that commonly appear after these shots, I decide to consult Dr. Google. Much to my horror, I am bombarded with stories of babies suffering from terrifying symptoms, and even allegedly dying after their vaccines (I swear I don’t actively seek out such fear-inducing accounts; somehow this information always manages to find me). Suddenly I am plunged head-first into the worst anxiety spiral I’ve experienced since the final weeks of my pregnancy.
I try to rationalize my fears away, reminding myself that such extreme side effects are rare, and there is no reason to assume they will happen to Callum. Except that Leah’s fetomaternal hemorrhage was also rare, and there was no reason to assume that an otherwise healthy infant would die at full term. You can tell yourself repeatedly that Callum will be okay, but that will not make it so. You know that faith, prayer, and positive thinking will not protect your children from senseless tragedy.
Overwhelmed by my feelings of fear and helplessness, I clutch my beautiful baby boy to my chest and cry uncontrollably for the next two hours.
I do not feel at ease again until 48 hours have passed after his appointment, with no traces of fever, infection, or other disconcerting symptoms in sight.
Callum has fallen asleep on the nursing pillow during another feeding. Once again, I take the opportunity to sit back and quietly drink him in: His enviably long eyelashes; his roly-poly cheeks and chin; his long hair that is starting to show hints of auburn.
In this moment, my heart feels as though it could be crushed under the weight of love I feel for this boy.
And then, in the same moment, I see her.
I see her beauty in his face. They really do look like brother and sister.
I see the haunting reminders of her still, silent body. Make sure he’s still breathing. Do his lips look blue, or is it just the lighting? Stroke his cheek to see if it’s warm.
I see the bittersweet hints of the life she never got to live. I wonder if she would have been a comfort nurser like Callum. Would she also smile and coo in her sleep each night? She looked so much like her dad. To me, Callum just looks like her.
I get up and gingerly place my son in the bassinet that was purchased for his sister nearly two years ago. I stroke his head one more time before turning off the bedside lamp and drifting off to sleep, wondering if I will see her again in my dreams tonight.