It’s harder to know how now, isn’t it? We all begin innocently enough. We pee on a stick. We jump up and down. We kiss our partners. We think, there, we’ve done it; we’re having a baby.
Then, you don’t.
Then, maybe, you don’t again.
Then, maybe, you do.
Maybe, that first time, you also had three baby showers, “too soon” as it would turn out, and found yourself with a closet full of clothes and toys and bibs and bottles. Maybe you tell yourself you should donate it all, let everything be used. Maybe you marvel at how difficult it would be to give away the things he never even wore or touched, but that are so, forever, his. Maybe you dare to hope that another baby boy will wear them. Maybe when you finally have a living baby, your daughter, you dress her in his red T-shirt with the gray guitar on it when you take her to music class. It’s your message to a room full of mothers who have no real idea about what you’ve been through in order to sit in a circle with them.
My son didn’t die because I celebrated him. I didn’t miscarry five months later because I was too scared to get excited or even tell my mother I was pregnant. Fear does not protect us. So, when I could, I celebrated my daughter while we waited for her.
I stood in front of the same red brick wall of our apartment building at 28 and 32 and 36 weeks and smiled into the camera while my husband took our picture. It’s not the reason she lived. But it’s the reason she can see photos of me happy while I carried her.
I let her be showered. It took weeks of fretting to finally accept a low-key luncheon a girlfriend hosted at a date far enough along that felt “safe,” even though you also know better than to believe in those markers. I am grateful now, that I did, just as I am grateful that I have her brother’s things, though I have managed to give some away, too. Having them hasn’t made his loss harder than it already is to bear. Now, three and a half years later, it makes it a tiny bit easier to grieve. I have things to fold and refold as I think about him.
I’m pregnant for the fourth time, and I want that happiness and gratitude again for this little sister, due in April. I want even more because we are fairly certain she will be our last. So I am bonding with her with all my might. Despite fear.
If there is also that urge within you, to start a nursery now, I am here cheering you on. Nesting is a powerful, primal drive within us that even grief may not conquer. So why, dear Mama who has already lost so much, why deprive yourself of even one more ounce of joy? If you want a maternity photo shoot, give that to yourself and your baby. If you want a baby shower on your terms, talk to a close friend about how to make that happen. It will probably look different than anything you did when you were innocent, and that’s OK. You are different now, and your celebrations can reflect the ways your lost baby or babies have changed you. This time, instead of clothes and gear, two friends are helping me with a “virtual shower” that will collect beads and pressed flowers from friends far and wide. I will string the beads into a necklace to hold when I need their strength. I will gather the flowers into a book my daughter can hopefully one day see as evidence of all those who sent love her way.
None of this will guarantee your baby lives, but none of it will guarantee your baby dies either. What it can guarantee is that you honor your baby while he or she is alive inside you. I know you honor him or her if you don’t do these things, too. Either way, we are not waiting for them; they are already here, present, and members of our family no matter what happens. You, dear Mama, already learned that excruciating lesson.
I would love to tell you about my second daughter. She has a full name. Bright green reminds me of her. Her nursery is all but done except for washing her sister’s baby clothes, a few of her brother’s mixed in, and hanging a heart mobile over the rocking chair. I visualize nursing her there in the night, when it’s just the two of us. I’ve strung her expected birthstone around my neck. It hangs with the heart I wear for her brother. She is my fourth baby, but when I picture her alive, she is playing with her sister. They are the two who, I hope, get to be here with us for the rest of our lives. My first trimester, she made me far sicker than any of her siblings. I feel like it was her way of reminding me, even then, that she is here. When I learned I was pregnant with her, the first feeling that came over me was excitement, not fear. I try to remember that whenever the fear surfaces because, of course, it does. She is already teaching me so much, just like her brother and sister have.
Dear, brave, scared, excited Mama, I would love to hear about the baby you are carrying.
I am cheering you on as you dare to bond with the baby inside. I am your biggest supporter right now because I know how much courage that requires. I’m not perfect at this. I still wait until each Thursday before I mark my calendar with a heart drawn around the number of weeks pregnant I am. This week, it will be 32. We PAL moms still take things a day at a time. Minute by minute, even, when we are waiting for our babies to kick, to assure us they are there, alive.
So maybe you are also pregnant with a first or second or third rainbow. Maybe you feel that joy bubbling up despite all you’ve lost. Maybe try not to listen to the voice telling you:
“It’s too soon.”
“Don’t buy that ‘little sister’ onesie just yet.”
“Grief doesn’t allow room for joy.”
“You’ll have time later to be excited.”
Because when is the time if not right now? While her heart is beating inside you. While he can hear yours doing the same. How connected you already are in the most undeniable way. What a cause, right there, for celebration.
I celebrate YOU, Brave Mama. I see the smile behind your fears, when it’s just you and baby, your palm on your belly as it rises and falls, the glimmer in your eye as you catch your passing reflection in a window. I am smiling for you, too.