February 15, 2016 is the day I took the test. It's the day we found out about Brayden. The day we began to hope we'd be bringing home a baby.
I didn't get to write publicly about those joyful but incredibly worrisome and grief-filled first few weeks because we didn't "go public" with our news until we hit the "safe zone" of the 12 week mark. I think we did this more to try to be normal than we did because we actually believed we were safe. We never felt safe the entire pregnancy, honestly. So it was definitely more out of "tradition" than anything.
I thought it might be good to share some of those initial feelings now, one year to the day of getting the news. One of the first things I did this morning, after enjoying my morning routine with that same little rainbow, of course, was reach for my journal from last year. I flipped to February and there it was: an entry for the 15th. It was a letter to Ryan. I won't share it all, but here is a line or two that really capture the feeling:
"I'm excited baby boy, but so nervous too. I know you'll do what you can to protect us. And I'll do what I can to keep from worrying. But I need you to know that no new baby will ever take your place. You came first -- and you always will."
That's a lot to unpack. And I think really sums up the pregnancy after loss journey. The joy. The worry. The fear. And the desperation to hold on to the baby who died despite taking such huge steps in moving forward.
My chest kind of tightened when I read those last lines.
"You came first -- and you always will."
It goes without saying that in my day to day life, Brayden obviously comes first. His needs are so great, literally no one could ever get in my way of taking care of him. But it makes me think about what if Ryan lived? What if I was mother to two living boys? How does the whole coming first thing work then? I'd assume that BOTH boys would come first. That I'd put both of their needs ahead of everything else, right? Maybe some day I'll know what it's like to tends the needs of two living children. But this morning it was a heart crushing feeling to know that Ryan really doesn't need anything from me. Everything I do for him is more to fulfill my own needs to remain connected to him.
Back then I was confused about how life with a living child and one who slipped away would look and feel, and I think in a lot of ways, I still have those confused feelings now.
I'm so grateful to have my rainbow here in my arms. Though, I still don't ever really feel "safe." That feeling of safety was torn from me 17 months ago. But on this day, one year ago, I started to feel hope again. I felt hope despite the confusion. Despite the worry. Despite the fear.
Today is the day I caught my first glimpse of the rainbow. And despite the more confusing and troubling feelings it brought, it's a day that will always be worth celebrating.
PAL. 3 weeks ago, it meant “Pregnancy After Loss.” If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the last 10 months, you’d also know that the journey of a pregnancy after a loss is no easy road. It was laden with stress, anxiety, fear, detachment… It also had hope, love, joy… It was ride to be certain. And although pregnancy is still this beautiful thing to me – seriously, I love being pregnant – I was pretty grateful when it ended, this time, happily, with a whimpering, breathing, living baby in my arms.
I spent my PAL living day by day. We didn’t really physically do much to prepare for his trip home. We didn’t even install the car seat until hours before we were discharged from the hospital. And if we did so little to physically prepare for what might come next, I know that I, at least, did not do enough to emotionally prepare for the next step. I did little thinking about what having a baby at home might look like. What it would feel like. How it would be. Perhaps for only fleeting moments did I consider what it would be like to really parent a living child. And though I was protecting my heart in the moment, I did not do myself any favours in the lack of preparation.
You see, now, PAL has a new meaning. PAL refers to “Parenting After Loss.” And that’s a whole new journey. Though I’ve never parented without loss in my past, I can bet it’s different from what the other 75% of women who have never experienced a loss might know.
Before we were blessed with the knowledge of Brayden growing inside me, I would pray silent prayers. This was the only “talking to God” I’ve done since Ryan died. Apart from the unspoken “Thank you” I sent to Him when Brayden was placed, pink and squirming, in my arms. When Ryan died I cut off most of my ties with God for lack of understanding and lack of faith in Him. Except for the prayers begging him for a healthy, living baby. I get that that is totally selfish and not at all what real faith is – asking for things when I want them. But that’s what I did. I asked and asked. And I made promises to Him. And to Ryan. That if I could just have a baby here, I’d be the best parent. No one would ever parent like me. I’d be patient. My baby would know nothing but love. I would not take a single moment for granted. I would love the sound of his cries. I would cherish waking up in the middle of the night, because I’d have a living baby who needed me. Relied on me. If I could only have a baby, living, in my arms.
Those moments. Those prayers. That’s where my Parenting After Loss journey started off on the wrong foot.
The past 3 weeks have been what I expect the first 3 weeks to be like for all “new” parents. (Enter another problem – I hate referring to myself as a “new” parent. I’ve been a parent for a year now. I’ve actually done “the hardest thing a parent can do,” bury my child, and yet I’m still considered a “new” parent. Go figure). But these 3 weeks have been full of worry – Is he eating enough? Why am I not producing more milk? Why does he breathe like that? Is that what his bellybutton is supposed to look like? They’ve been full of love – Admiring little noises and smiles. Hours-long cuddles and snuggles. Intense eye contact during feedings. Actually tearing up just looking at him.
But I want to be really honest. Really truly honest because I don’t want other Rainbow Mamas to feel as lonely as I have felt the past couple of weeks.
Parenting After Loss is quite possibly harder than the pregnancy. Because now there’s still the worry and the fear. After all, since losing my baby during pregnancy I’ve met plenty of mamas who’ve lost their babies well after they were born. But there’s the exhaustion, too. And with that exhaustion comes the impatience that I swore to God (literally) I wouldn’t have. I’ve spent nights crying over Brayden in the rocker because he just wouldn’t latch. Afternoons begging him to just stop crying so I could put him down and eat lunch. I’ve found myself having to take a breath and count to ten so I could get my frustrations under control.
That’s not who I promised I’d be.
And that’s when the guilt set in.
That’s when I started to feel inadequate. And like I didn’t deserve this baby, this blessing. Because I wasn’t holding up my end of the bargain. I wasn’t being the Supermom I promised to be. Instead I was a mess.
I was crying for a baby who has been gone over a year.
I was feeling angry at a baby in my arms who is so completely helpless.
I was failing at this “parenting” thing.
And then I started to remember that I wasn’t great at “parenting” Ryan in the days and weeks after he was born. I was a robot. I could barely get out of bed in the morning, let alone do any of the things I do now to be an amazing mother to him. And I am. I’m pretty damn awesome at mothering my Ryan.
And so I know, that in time, I’ll be just as awesome at mothering Brayden here. It’s a different kind of parenting, but I will figure it out.
In the past 3 weeks, I’ve had many people reach out and offer me all kinds of advice on being a parent. But the best was from an old teacher’s college friend who told me that it’s okay to not enjoy every moment. Especially after what we’ve been through. That just because we lost Ryan doesn’t mean I have to love every second of this parenting adventure. It doesn’t make me a bad person, and it doesn’t make me ungrateful. Being a parent is hard work and sometimes some moments, just aren’t that enjoyable, and that’s okay. I repeat this advice to myself in the hardest moments. I remind myself that for every happy, blissful moment another mama shares online, there are just as many challenging moments that she's keeping to herself. A tearful feeding or screaming baby do not make for great social media fodder. This advice and these reminders take some pressure off myself. I spent 2 weeks under this unbearable self-inflicted pressure to be perfect, that I couldn’t even enjoy any moments, let alone some.
Now, looking at this past week, I finally spoke up to some friends, family, some other Rainbow moms, my husband… I explained the challenges I was having. And suddenly I could breathe again.
I can’t promise that I won’t be frustrated or angry or sad anymore. In fact, I’m here today to guarantee that I’m going to feel all of those things again plenty of times in the next lifetime of parenting Brayden. And to accept that as okay.
It doesn’t make me a bad mom.
It doesn’t mean I should feel guilty.
It doesn’t mean that I’m ungrateful for this blessing.
It doesn’t mean anything except that I am parent. A parent of a living child, after the death of another child.
I’m a so-called “Supermom” just by being a mom at all. Any woman who accepts the love for a child into her heart, whether that child is here on earth or existing apart from us, is a pretty spectacular woman. Because it takes courage and strength to take on that kind of intense, all-consuming love.
Parenting after loss isn’t easy, not like I thought it would be. I thought since I had been through the worst, that anything else would be a walk in the park. It’s hard. And confusing. But it’s another adventure we’ve taken on. And I’m going to figure it out. And it’s going to be okay. And I really am grateful for the opportunity to be on this challenging, complicated, confusing, wonderful journey.
To be honest, the last few days my whole heart has not been really in this. It's actually been off in two completely different directions lately. One piece of it invested totally in Ryan and spending this month with him. And the other piece focused on his baby brother. A baby who I'm trying to be so optimistic for this month as we prepare to hopefully bring him home.
The point of "Capture Your Grief" is to bring some awareness into what grieving the loss of a baby looks like. And wow, does it ever get complicated when you're grieving one lost baby and hoping for the one on the way.
But my mother heart won't let me stop this. Writing. Reflecting. If Ryan was here, I wouldn't stop caring for him just because I am preparing for his sibling. And that's kind of how it feels for me. But sometimes, to focus so much on Ryan, makes me more afraid for his brother. And to focus only on his brother, makes me feel so guilty.
The fact of the matter is, my heart will always be in two places. And this is just another way I'm learning how to be a mother of two.
I guess I'm kind of apologizing if recently these posts have seemed half-hearted. I'm still working on the realities of doing double-duty, and Baby Brother isn't even here yet. But anyway... Today I'm supposed to be talking about the creative things I've done to honour, remember, and memorialize Ryan. Or maybe even taking on a new project. Well, I definitely don't have it in me to take on something new at this moment. But in the past year, I've done so many things, big and small, that tap into some bit of my creativity.
Most recently, for his first birthday, I had a book put together. I called it "Ryan's First Year" and I filled the pages with photos and bits of my writing to try to capture how we journeyed together over his first year "on the outside." From his birth announcement, first holidays, every milestone month, and even those creative projects I was just mentioning. It's something as a mother that you imagine doing for your child, keeping track of the memories for them. And I wanted to be able to do the same for Ryan. Even though it ends up being more for me. (But doesn't it for all moms?)
That's what "Creative Heartwork" means to me. It's doing little things for him, that help heal my heart a little. And hopefully over these next few weeks I'll find some inspiration for a little creative heartwork to help me through the confusion with which I've been struggling.