The Ugly Side of Surprise
There are surprises we warmly welcome. Those gifts from friends who know our hearts well enough to select the most perfect gift, whether a tangible thing or the beautiful gift of time. An exciting selection from a restaurant menu that far exceeds expectations. That moment as a mom when you get to go to the bathroom ALL. BY. YOURSELF.
And there are those surprises that aren't happy, that cause you to pause and take your breath away in a completely different way. Take today, for example, when my daughter and I were working on unpacking boxes in the basement of our new house, and we went into the "mechanical room" where very functional but less thrilling items like the water heater, well pump, and other things live. As I looked around for where I could put a backpack full of sleeping bags, my little one looked at the drain on the floor and said, "A frog!" Cue panic.
Confession time: frogs scare me. Irrational fear that I totally own, but I don't like how unpredictably hoppy they are. Once I fully comprehended what she said, looked with my own eyes to know for sure that there was truly an amphibian on the basement floor (she tells no lies; well, not in this case), I then told her to WATCH WHERE IT GOES as I ran upstairs and sprinted around trying to figure out how the heck I was going to catch this thing without touching it. And, by time I got back downstairs, my little one told me, "Oh, it's gone. It crawled back down the drain." UUUUUGGGHHH! So this unpredictable creature of all of two inches is still in my basement, which means I will be spending little to no time down there. Ever.
October is going to be a hard month for me. For those of you who have been following along and read the post about Clearings, you know that my impetus to dive into creating my own business came from the tragic loss of our third baby during the middle of my pregnancy. There have been a lot of beautiful things that came from this very difficult and unexpected clearing. A summer in my garden with my two earth-bound kiddos. Learning how to care for chickens. Doing an organizational analysis of a very cool family-owned, partially woman led business with an incredibly competent young professional who totally has her stuff together and a passion for learning. Finding a stunning new house on acreage where we can see shooting stars, smell the peaceful calm of fresh air, and run non-stop.
But October is hard because our sweet baby was due to be earth-side any day now. I knew, long ago, as I tried to lean out of grief and into hope, that as we got closer to when our baby would have come, it was going to get harder. When I know those hard times are coming, I can usually find ways to prepare for them. But the surprise moments in this grief have been the hardest.
For example, did you know that October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Me either. Until it started showing up on my newsfeed and my amazing OB started posting about it. Apparently Ronald Reagan first declared this month in 1988 saying, "When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.” Yep, there is no word to label you when you lose your child, but there are a crap ton of emotions.
The emails that JUST KEEP COMING from retailers I ordered maternity clothes from so many months ago that now try to sell me clothes for nursing and postpartum. There isn't an unsubscribe option that allows you to say, oh hey, my baby is in heaven, so I'd like to get off of your maternity listserv, but please keep sending me emails about every sale on yoga pants and leggings...
The day we went to a local theme park with some of our best friends, and on the way out of the park, our oldest suddenly said, "I wish Baby Bobby wasn't in heaven. I wanted to teach him to go on rides," which was immediately followed by our younger child adding, "Yeah. I was going to teach him to sit."
The day I filled out kindergarten paperwork asking us to share more about our family, and specifically, how many siblings our new kindergartner had. The air immediately left my lungs. How should I answer that? I wrote one and put in the info about his sister. But that felt horribly wrong. Because he doesn't have one sibling; He has two. So I wrote more about the angel baby he never got to hold.
At school pick up one day when our three year old saw another mom with a "baby" (meaning any kid younger than her), walked over, and immediately said, "Hi. My mommy had a baby in her tummy but he went to heaven." Thank God this mama was gracious and responded with, "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that."
There is beauty in the moments when our kids talk about their brother. The fact that they keep talking about Bobby is hard and comforting all in one. Bobby is a part of our family; it's normal that we talk about him, think about him, and know that he is still with us. To be honest, I talk to Bobby every day. One of our dear friends got us a beautiful wind chime with the saying "Loved you once. Love you still. Always have. Always will." Every time I hear it ding, my response is always, "Hi Bobby." We know he is here and part of our family, certainly not in the way we planned or wanted, but he is here, our angel baby.
Back in May, I bought a shadow box to put the special items we have from Bobby in. His ultrasound picture. A few beautiful sayings from the cards people sent us. The card with his birth date and time that our amazing nurse wrote for us. Angel wings to go next to his ashes. A swatch of soft fabric from the tiny wrap that held his body, made by volunteers to help comfort families in the very situation we were in. The birth mantra bracelet I wore constantly with the phrase, "She believed she could so she did." The picture of us holding our baby. His tiny, beautiful, perfect footprint that our doula, nurse, and funeral director worked so hard to get that means more to me than I can put into words.
Completing Bobby's shadow box has been on my to-do list for, well, months now, but it was too hard. Finishing that box felt like this last chapter of a story that I don't want to end, although would love to rewrite. As I put pictures on the mantel in our new livingroom, I wanted, and in some ways needed, Bobby to be there too. And so, I sat down Saturday night with the intent to finish. A few minutes after getting everything out, I found myself edgy, angry, and overwhelmed. There is a physical sensation I feel in my heart when I'm really hurting and thinking about Bobby, and it was poignant; I retreated to my bed for a cry like I haven't had for a few months.
The next morning, I started again. It still felt hard, but I wanted to complete it. In many ways, this was the emotional "transition" that women experience in the final stages of labor. Ask a woman who has had a baby, especially without any drugs, and they can usually vividly remember this phase. A bit later, the shadow box was done and carefully placed on our mantel, perfectly surrounded by our family.
I want to have some poignant, uplifting ending and call to action, the way I usually try to end a post. But this post is different. Sharing our loss opened a floodgate of others, moms and dads of all ages, who had lost babies of their own. Many told us this was the first time they had really talked about their loss(es). My sincere hope is that those who have experienced the loss of a child find their community of people to hold them up, support them, and provide an understanding that is hard for those who haven't experienced this type of loss to fully grasp. So for those of you out there who are part of this "club", I send my love and hope that you honor your loss, family, and self as fully as you can. And for those of you supporting us, thank you for your love, prayers, willingness to ask about our angel baby/babies, and granting space and silence when needed along with unwavering support.