I'm "at that age" where there are a lot of babies in my life. Friends, family, colleagues, are all having babies. Not to mention all of the babies and young children who were in my life before we lost Ryan. (That seems to be how I measure time now, remember -- before Ryan and after Ryan).
I have never had a "problem" being around the babies and children who were here "before." Little people who preceded Ryan have never given me anxious or wistful feelings.
It's those "after" babies that, for a long time, broke my heart into a thousand pieces just by thinking about them. I avoided them for a long while. A LONG while. It was like I'd see those babies and think: "Ryan would be like him right now." Or "Ryan would be older than her. I should be able to swap parenting stories with that mom, but I can't. Because I don't know what it's like to parent a living-child."
That thought still slays me.
That I'm a mom. A parent. And a great one to my Ryan. But it's such a special circumstance. I can't trade parenting stories with most of my mom-friends. The best I can do is contribute to discussions about being pregnant, and giving birth. But after that... I'm not a parent in the same way they are. And that's really tough for me.
As tough as the concept of "same-age" babies. I was really lucky to be pregnant alongside other friends. And to have due dates within weeks of each other.
I remember being at the gym about 2 or 3 weeks after Ryan was born, (by the way, WAY too soon to be getting that kind of exercise -- no matter HOW stir crazy you're going at home without your baby in your arms) and I was crying on the treadmill reading the birth announcement of my friend's baby. They got to have "that moment." When your baby is placed on your chest after all that work. And your partner squeezes his face by yours. And everyone is smiling at this pink little squishy-faced newborn.
And I was so sad for myself. Sad that we were robbed of that moment. Of all of the moments that this little baby would go through along the same timeline that Ryan should have been moving along.
There are a few of these "same-age" babies in my life and on my social media. And when I see their photos I think: "Would Ryan look like that?" "Would Ryan be doing those things now?" But the worst one is... "I can't even imagine what he would look like now."
That's the one that makes it hurt. He's always going to be a newborn. I look at his 6-9 month clothes and think, "How would he be big enough for these?!" Because he's always going to be 5lbs 14oz and 20 inches long to me. And I cannot imagine him any other way. I've tried. My imagination just won't take me there.
And so, with this pain in my heart, I continued to avoid, as best I could, interactions with new(er) babies.
But like all things, there comes a time when you've got to take a new step forward. So we recently got to meet one of Ryan's "same-age" friends. And it wasn't as scary as I worried it would be. Granted, 7 months have passed. But I never know how I'm going to react in different situations. Regardless, I was glad to meet her finally and glad that it was a sweet little visit, and not an overly emotional one. The only thing that "got me" was hearing her giggle. It was daggers to my heart. Because of course, "Ryan would be giggling now. I wonder what his giggle would sound like?"
I think I might always be knocked out by these unexpected little things children do to tug at your heart. Driving to the store tonight, I stopped at a stop sign and let a young family cross. They were heading to the park, tiny bike in tow, and the little girl looked up at me in the truck as she passed and gave me the biggest smile and wave. I smiled and waved back. And then cried myself all the way to the store. Why? I don't know. Little children now make my heart explode, apparently.
But I'm glad for all the little children in the world and in my life. They're little rays of sunshine, even when it hurts sometimes.
And I know Ryan is one too.