Three Years

Well, hello there. It’s certainly been a while.

Almost a year, as a matter of fact. And what a year it’s been.

To be honest, after a year’s involuntary hiatus from writing (and any substantial personal social media sharing more generally), I found myself struggling with whether creating a new blog post for Leah’s third birthday was relevant or necessary. After all, do I really have anything new to say that I haven’t said already (or hasn’t already been said far more eloquently by other loss parent writers and advocates)? Likewise, in a world filled to the brim with injustice and suffering, aren’t there far more important things to spend my time writing about than the death of a single baby girl and her mama’s grief?

And then, I think about the loss parents who continue to reach out to me after finding this blog during their early days of grieving. I remember how, during my first excruciating weeks and months following Leah’s death, I savored and clung to every book, movie, message, and blog post that reflected my loss experience and made me feel less profoundly alone. And, perhaps just as importantly, I have had to remind myself that, if I don’t do something meaningful to honour my daughter’s memory on what would have been her third birthday, who will?

So, here we are. Tomorrow it will be three years since I said hello and goodbye to the girl who made me a mother. And next month, it will be two years since I welcomed her little brother into the world, just a few hospital rooms away from where his sister breathed her final breaths. Once again, it feels like so much has changed during this time, yet so much remains the same.

Last September, I returned to work full-time after having the privilege of spending a year’s parental leave at home with Callum. In many ways, this transition was far easier than I imagined it would be: We were lucky to find a wonderful childcare provider whom my son adores, and the busy yet steady rhythm of this new routine proved to be surprisingly enjoyable for me, despite the obscenely early mornings and sleep-deprived nights.

Yet at the same time, my third year as a bereaved mother seemed to bring with it a reckoning of unexpected (and occasionally painful) lessons about my “new normal” as a loss mama with a living child.

I’ve learned that I will always feel uneasy taking “family photos,” knowing that a member of my family will always be missing from them. As a small consolation, preparing greeting cards and notes addressed from my family poses less of a conundrum, since writing Leah’s name on her behalf always provides a welcomed opportunity to remind others that she is remembered and loved.

Our attempts at capturing a family photo at my sister’s wedding this past spring.

I’ve adapted to the fact that not a day will pass whereby I won’t think about my son (or my husband, or myself, for that matter) dying. And no, this is not an exaggeration. Since starting this blog and becoming immersed in the loss community three years ago, I have connected with parents whose children have died at every stage of pregnancy, infancy, toddlerhood, and beyond. Simply put, the brief and precarious nature of life becomes irrevocably palpable once you start living on the other side of the statistics. Any time I hear about the death or suffering of a child of any age, it isn’t some abstract tragedy that reminds me how “blessed” I am to have my healthy, living son—rather, it is a direct and visceral connection to the pain I carry in my heart of hearts each day, and it makes me wonder how I or anyone else can ever feel entitled to joy in a world that is marred by so much pain. It’s the reason why I still check to see if Callum is breathing whenever I happen to wake during the night; it’s also the reason why I am never content to accept that his cough is “just a cough” or his cold is “just a cold” until its symptoms have passed.

I’ve also learned that making new connections with non-bereaved parents is far more challenging than I expected it to be. During the first few months of Callum’s life, I didn’t have the energy or courage to venture beyond my family and close friends for social support. However, since the bulk of my loved ones live a considerable distance from my current home, I eventually decided to start “putting myself out there” and try to forge new friendships with parents in my community.

To say these efforts were largely unsuccessful would be a bit of an understatement.

I’ve learned there’s no more surefire way to send a group of moms scattering like flies than to introduce yourself by mentioning your dead daughter and the ensuing slew of mental health issues you’ve been battling as a bereaved mother. As it is, I don’t know how to articulate my motherhood experience without talking about Leah, as well as the grief, trauma, anxiety, and depression that are so ubiquitous among loss parents. But, I’ve learned the hard way that these are not usually palatable topics of discussion outside the safe grieving spaces I’ve grown all-the-more thankful for this past year (even if I do bring cookies to the occasion).

And then, of course, there are the infinite triggers, which can vary from hour to hour on any given day. Sometimes it’s a pregnancy announcement posted with untethered optimism on social media, or a photo of a blissful new mother holding her firstborn child. Sometimes it’s floral-print dresses and bathing suits on display in the girls’ section of a children’s clothing store.

Sometimes it’s a lingering glance at Leah’s mementos in the corner of our dining room that, I’m ashamed to admit, often blend into the scenery during the bustle of every day life: Her urn, her photos, the heart-shaped boxes that hold the casts of her hands and feet.

Always, however, it’s the sight of any girl who would be Leah’s age—the tangible, walking-and-talking reminders of her unlived life, and the lifetime of memories with her that I was robbed of.

And then, of course, there is the basket of clothes that most poignantly and painfully embodies the baby girl who never made it home: The carefully selected onesies and pajamas that had been waiting in my hospital bag for several weeks before my June 17th due date; the beautiful bibs that had been lovingly hand-made for her by a dear friend; the newborn-sized dresses that had been gifted to me for her baby shower, and had been hanging in her closet with so much hope and anticipation. These are the triggers that never cease to undo me at the seams, and I seem to only summon the resolve to confront them once a year.

And so I will do this tomorrow, on her birthday.

My darling girl, you are so, so missed. Every day I ache for the hugs and kisses I never got to give you and the “I love you’s” I never got to say. Nothing and no-one can suture the wound you left on my heart—and, of course, I wouldn’t want it any other way.