“And they all lived happily ever after.” Whether you like them or not, fairy tales have been a big part of most of our childhoods. Everything works out in the end, everyone is happy, and then we move on. There is nothing of importance that happens afterward. We do not hear about how the happy couple pushes each other’s buttons. We don’t hear about not being able to sleep because your partner is a loud snorer or how your partner can be so damn optimistic all the time. We don’t hear about all the other complexities that come about when two people love each other and agree to spend their lives together. It’s the boring, the mundane, the unspeakable that we don’t want to hear about.
This context feels very alive and present in most of society’s views of parents of rainbow babies.
There is some notion that says once you have that healthy baby home, everything is fixed, and you “live happily ever after.” But, in reality, much like the aftermath of the happily ever after in fairy tales, there are real issues and problems. The grief does not get magically swept away just because another child enters the family, and in fact, a lot of the trauma and the reactions to that trauma are reactivated and retriggered as another child comes home.
Yet, loss parents still often feel that pull—between being happy that their rainbow is alive and feeling the pressure to appear as if everything is happily ever after and living in the reality that parenting is tough, trauma and grief are real, and sometimes even our most treasured rainbows can drain us.
I’ve written in the past about feeling like when you have gone through so many obstacles to have a child at home, you often feel like you can never complain about that child or parenting. Yet, even years later, as I write this, I am reminded of how that internal struggle plays out in my head every time things are not perfect.
I am blessed to have an amazing little boy who, somehow, in the blink of an eye, will be turning three later this year.
He is healthy, he is loving, he is my heart, my love. There are so many things about him that I love and feel lucky to have. He has been a good sleeper from day one, he loves cuddles, and he has such a happy disposition that an out-of-town relative, upon meeting him in person for the first time, told us, from all the pictures, I thought you guys were just amazing photographers, but nope, he is always smiling.
But, this boy who stole my heart from the moment he and I locked eyes after he was born, is experiencing speech delays. He is an incredible communicator when it comes to non-verbal cues, but words are not happening. He has been in speech therapy for almost a year, and while we see progress for sure, it is frustrating for him to continue having these delays.
Throughout the process, I have been finding myself questioning all my emotions:
Am I overreacting when I worry about the long-term implications of him not talking yet?
Is he receiving the very best care possible to address these concerns?
Should I just be so grateful that he is here, healthy and alive, and figure that the delays are being worked on?
Am I doing enough to both address his issues and improve his future while also enjoying him in the moment?
Should I be doing more to set him up for success?
Is his delay just going to add to the problems he will already have as the child of parents who because of loss and trauma, live with panic and fear just below the surface threatening to break through when necessary?
Is the non-existence in the real world sense of a sibling causing or enhancing these delays?
If I do not do more to help this, will it feel like I have failed him just like I failed Colette?
All of these questions come flying at me regularly with a speed and intensity the likes of which have sent me on a rollercoaster of hell that sends me careening from one side to the other, between things are good and will continue to be so to everything is going to be a disaster.
And the truth is that I know in my heart of hearts the reality sits somewhere in the middle of those two sides.
He is a happy, healthy kid and will continue to be, that he has some delays now but that we are accessing all the right resources and treatments to help, and that this, like so many other possibilities of life down the road, will be tough at times and easier at others.
But, even knowing all of this, I still regularly struggle with that internal debate, that struggle between positivity and sincere gratitude and the reality of life and its obstacles. We are not in our happily ever after because the notion of such is just not possible with all we have been through, and the mere idea of such solely exists in fairy tales.
Parenting is tough. Parenting after loss is even tougher. Parenting a child with any sort of medical or developmental issues or delays is tough. Doing so while still living with and managing the grief of loss is even tougher. It is well beyond time to erase the narrative of happily ever after and instead describe it as the reality of ups and downs, good times and bad, gratitude and joy, confidence and fear. That is the better ending to the story.