I sit here making silly puns for something that doesn't seem so silly to me.
As a loss parent, parenting a living child for the first time after the loss, it's hard/impossible(?) to know which feelings are normal for a parent and which come from my experience with loss.
After a few weeks of very challenging feedings with Brayden, the doctor has agreed that Brayden is suffering from symptoms of reflux. We've had to make a whole bunch of little changes, and along with those changes I've decided to stop pumping breastmilk for him.
For weeks I've worried that there's something in my milk that's not agreeing with him, but I struggle to commit to changing my diet. The idea of that makes me stressed. Of documenting every little thing I eat. I barely have time to prepare food let alone dissect every meal. But at the same time, the idea of my milk hurting him makes me stressed. Seems like a no win. So I thought, he's doing fine on the formula, maybe it's for the best if I unplug the pump. No more breastmilk for Brayden.
Well. This decision has sent me on a tailspin and I think I've traced it back to that moment, over a year ago, when after Ryan had died, my sister tapped me on the shoulder to discreetly let me know I was leaking. It's a moment so burned into my memory I could tell you what shirt I was wearing that day. I can't begin to explain the horror I felt in that moment, realizing that I had no baby to care for, but my body thought I did. Shouldn't it have gotten the message? No. Instead, I had to spend a few days in the great discomfort of engorged breasts and all of the emotional baggage that went with them.
Fast forward to now. Here I am, with milk to give a living child, and I'm choosing not to. So I can change my diet and keep pumping, all while trying to feed Brayden on an every 2 hour schedule. Or continue to eat what I'd like, dropkick the pump out of my life, and just focus on managing this reflux thing. I can tell you which one sounds easier, and which one I've chosen. I just feel like I'm letting my boy down. (Let down... another breast-feeding pun! I'm on a roll...)
But seriously. All I've wanted to do since Brayden was born was to soak him up. Enjoy him. But between all of these feeding issues it's started to feel like the opposite. So, as the title says, I think hanging up the pump really is for the best. Even though it makes me so sad. So sad to think that I would have given anything to breastfeed Ryan.
It's this weird little reminder that I've idealized him in my head. I imagined this incredible bonding over breastfeeding. A beautiful closeness like they describe in all the books. I never imagined both of us crying in the middle of the night. Pain. Stress. Worry that my milk was causing him pain.
I guess what I'm here to write about today is a justification. As if by explaining that the stress of it was getting to be too much would make me feel okay about "quitting." It doesn't. I still feel sad. But I know it's for the best. As a nurse once told me, first and foremost, a baby needs a happy mom.
Most women cheer and celebrate when they decide to give up pumping. It's such a "hassle" to be "chained to the pump." It's a reclaiming of freedom of sorts. I think eventually I'll get to that place of celebration. But for now I think I'm hanging on a bit to the guilt.
I will have to find a way to let that go.
There is not a second that goes by that I don’t realize how fortunate we are to have Brayden here with us this Christmas. Baby’s first Christmas is as much for mom and dad as it is for baby. And the past two days have been such a blessing. So full of joy. So full of love.
My days leading up to today have been full too. Full of the hustle and bustle that have come to define the season. Shopping, wrapping, visiting. Singing and dancing to Christmas carols in the living room with a little one bouncing in my arms. Santa photos. Planning for travels. Packing for overnight visits. The days have been non-stop.
I didn’t take a lot of time to think about the reason my heart has been hurting. Didn’t take a lot of time to sit alone with Ryan in my heart. Not this year. Not compared to the entire season being devoted to him last year.
Yes, wistful smiles crossed my lips as I hung his ornaments this year. Trying to comprehend how we were embarking on our second Christmas without him, and how truly different this year looks from last.
New traditions began as we trudged through the snow at the cemetery on Christmas Eve to decorate the tree nearest his resting place with cute little ornaments Santa’s elves must have dropped off in his stocking.
We lit his candle on the mantle and it burned all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Ryan Bear never sat out of sight. Slept in my bed.
And yet, it wasn’t until 3am on Christmas morning, as I sat in the dimly lit bedroom, feeding this little bundle in my arms, this little baby who has brightened so much of my holiday season this year, that I realized I had finally slowed down long enough to think of him. Truly think of Ryan. And how even though so much has changed, so much progress has been made, one thing has stayed the same.
I still miss him. And he should still be here.
I wish I had an active one-year-old tearing open gifts and cheesing it up for the camera. What it must feel like to see your two boys posing together in matching pjs by the Christmas tree.
I still miss Ryan. And here on our second Christmas without him, I’m reminded that no number of incredible blessings will ever take away the sting of his absence. The injustice of the empty place at my table. The pain of the hole in my heart.
In my life, Christmas has always been a time for family, and here I am, with this little family I never expected to have, and I make it work.
Brayden’s first Christmas was a beautiful, wonderful, special, and joyful occasion to be certain. And it was full of special little touches of Ryan that brought some extra special light to the celebrations. And although this Christmas was abundantly more joyful than our first without him, it wasn’t much easier. It was full of complicated emotions. But I’m proud of how special and joyful we were able to make it for Brayden. I’m proud of how we continue to find ways to celebrate the season and Brayden and Ryan all at the same time.
I hate that he’s gone. I hate that I have to miss him instead of cuddle him and tuck him in at night. But I love that he is part of my family. I love that even in his absence he has become part of our Christmas traditions and I know in time those traditions will only gain in strength and importance.
And so, from my little family to yours, no matter what your family looks like, or how you choose to celebrate it this holiday season, we wish you all the best this Christmas and in the year to come.
Ryan, so sorry I missed your milestone. But it's not like I actually missed it. No, I didn't forget the day, December 7. I could never forget... And not just because it's neatly marked off on the calendar with a little blue butterfly either. But because every 7th of every month makes me think of you. But this month, your little brother was having some tummy troubles and wasn't his content little self, so it was hard to steal some time away to write to you. And that is called life getting in the way. Which kind of makes me cringe.
Recently, I was told I should live more in the present moment. To be less concerned about doing so much for you and just being present. For Brayden. I have to admit, for a brief moment I thought of how unfair it might be to Brayden that I spend time thinking about or fussing over you when you're not here. But then I realized, what actually isn't fair is that you two can't grow up together. What isn't fair is that if you hadn't died, we probably wouldn't even have Brayden. That you had to die for him to be here. When I think of you, and worry about doing enough for you, it's not because I'm trying to be unfair to the baby here in my arms. No, it's that I'm simply trying to make sense of these cards I've been dealt. Of this life I have been given to live.
I'm not living in the past when I think of you. I'm living very much in the present, Because you are as much a part of my present as Brayden. You are both pieces of my heart in equal measure.
I am sorry I missed writing to you on your actual milestone day. But we both know you're never far from my thoughts as Brayden is never far from my side.
I may have missed your day, but this weekend was very much for you. Yesterday we attended a Holiday Remembrance Event for absent babies. On the way there, my Christmas song for you came on the radio. Thank you for letting us know you were with us in that moment. The ceremony was very lovely with some freshly fallen snow, a tree full of sparkling ornaments, each baby's name read aloud, and a reminder that we are never alone, that as a community of loss parents we all have each other to lean on and support one another, simply by standing together in a cold cemetery on a December afternoon listening to the names of each other's babies. It was pretty special and I'm glad we went. When we got home I hung your ornament, along with two others for babies who are spending their first Christmas not in their mommy's arms, in the tree in your garden. They look so pretty out there, glittering in the snow.
Then today, as we embarked on one of our last shopping days before Christmas, your dad, your brother and I picked out one special toy for a baby aged 18+ months old and dropped it off in the Toy Mountain drop box. It made me smile to once again do something to brighten another little one's Christmas in your memory. We all stood outside the donation box and I know your dad and I at least were thinking of you as we made the drop. It also made me smile to think that in a few years, Brayden will be able to pick out his own toy, something he thinks you might have enjoyed and make his own donation. A gift for the brother he never got to meet.
I love you, baby boy. And know I'm always thinking of you. Milestone days and every day.
Happy 15 months!