Three sets of shoes lying on a rug at our back patio door. I caught the sight out of the corner of my eye. Something that others would have not noticed in their own homes or perhaps would have taken the opportunity of noticing them to pick them up and move them to their correct place, but for me, seeing these three pairs of shoes lying together struck me.
What used to be two is now finally three.
Three people living in our house. Instead of just my husband’s shoes and mine, there was a tiny pair sitting right with them. A tiny pair that belonged with them. Those tiny shoes symbolize so much. Because they belong to a little pair of feet. The feet of my living, breathing, walking, talking, one-year-old child.
It is the smallest things, like seeing these three pairs of shoes, that I savor in parenting after loss.
I am sure parents who haven’t experienced loss savor the small moments too, but I don’t know what it is like to be a parent without loss. My identity as a mother has always had the trauma of loss. When I see these shoes, my loss mama heart knows there are two other children whose shoes could have been there, too, but they didn’t make it this far.
So for me, these small moments tell me that I have arrived. That I survived what will hopefully always be the worst moments of my life. That I am finally a parent in ways that the non-loss world sees and understands.
There are so many of these moments. Watching her dad carry her on his shoulders or seeing them sit in the driveway next to each other. When she hands me a book and then climbs into my lap where she settles in for me to read it to her. When she gives me a kiss on the cheek and then turns my face so she can kiss the other cheek. When she says an unprompted “I love you” while I am rocking her to sleep.
It is these little moments that fill my soul. They help heal some of the wounds of the grief that I still carry with me.
The wounds are still there. The grief is still there, as it will always be. But letting myself savor the emotion of these moments can sometimes make the wounds hurt a little bit less. They make the intensity of the grief fade.
These little things, like the toys strewn about our house and the dirty sippy cups and high chair tray, are signs of the chaos of parenting a small child. They are signs of the chaos that I so longed for in the nearly three years of pregnancy, loss, grief, fertility treatment, and pregnancy after loss that it took to bring home a living baby.
Parents who are pregnant or parenting after loss, I hope you can savor the little moments.
Find the things in pregnancy that will bring you those joyful emotions, even if they are bittersweet. Use those little moments to get you through the fear and the grief. Hearing your baby’s heartbeat. Feeling their kicks. Getting the chance to talk to them or see their face by ultrasound.
Soak in the sound of your baby’s cry and the first moments you get to hold them. When you feel their warm skin on your skin and you know you have made it. You survived the initial trauma of loss, you are surviving the continuing grief, and you endured the anxiety of pregnancy after loss.
Let yourself enjoy the chaos and the mess of parenting. Take note of the fulfilling feeling of finally getting to the place you longed to be for so long. Find the things that remind you of how far you have come. For me, these three pairs of shoes are a clear sign that I am actively parenting and raising my child, instead of only getting to parent my children through grief. They are a sign that my family, although it will always be missing a few members, is growing and thriving in the ways it is supposed to be.