It’s a beautiful spring Monday morning when I wake up. It’s my morning with my little guy and for the first time in a little while, I wake up before him. I check my phone at the camera pointed at his crib and he is definitely still out. While I get up, I also notice that it’s the first time in quite a few days that the sun is shining. I wake up, getting to take my time, even having a few moments to fold some laundry, while my son still sleeps. I start planning out the day a bit in my mind, thinking that the sun may be the perfect reason to take Elliott out in the backyard to burn off some of that toddler energy.
Elliott’s cries draw me into his room and the illusion of such a beautiful day ends. Elliott stands up in the crib with red down his sleep sack and on his sheets. Instantly, I hurry to pick him up while panicking about what the red is.
“Oh my God, he is dying, I am going to lose another child.”
These words echo loudly in my head, pounding my head, while my heart both feels like it is racing and that it has stopped. As I reach him and grab him, checking him out for blood, trying to see how he is, I feel like I have been transported back to the NICU as doctors told me words no parent should ever have to hear, as I saw Colette go from tiny, helpless, living baby as her numbers dropped, and we saw the life in her start to go. All I can think is please, please, please let him be okay.
I also know that Elliott is probably also freaked out and so I want to remain calm for his sake. As I examine him, I talk to him, feeling around, looking for blood, trying to piece together what happened to cause this scene. He looks okay, maybe a bit scared, maybe a bit sleepy, but he is okay. And then everything falls into place. Overnight or this morning, he got sick and threw up and whether it was one of his favorites—raspberries—or the grape tomatoes he had the night before, the vomit took on a red color.
At this point, something in me starts to relax and I realize that there is a lot of cleaning up to do with a kid who does not want to do much except lean his head on my shoulder.
I call out for my husband Mark and he runs in where I tell him, he’s okay, but I need an extra set of hands. Later, Mark will compliment me for how I handled this, telling me that I remained calm. I will laugh, thinking about the moments of trauma and PTSD that enveloped me at first.
Elliott was fine, just had a slight bug or something, but back to his usual self within a few hours, yet the trauma and the adrenaline rush and then crash left me exhausted. And this is why we as loss parents feel so exhausted all the time. Sure, I have an active toddler and work full-time on Colette’s foundation, two jobs that never seem to end. Plus, doing it in a Covid world means isolation and all that comes with it, but it’s so much deeper than that.
When you have lost a child, the reality and the subsequent fear of it happening all over again lives just beneath the surface, waiting for it to happen yet again.
The normal activities of life, parenting, kids, and so on continue on, yet for us, there is that little part of us that no matter what is happening has the nagging thought of how fragile life is and that there are no guarantees the children we plan to raise into adulthood actually make it there.
So, while I imagine all parents would have gone to blood quickly when they saw that scene, only loss parents then take the additional leaps to mean that one thing can lead all the way down a familiar and unsettling road, a road that we never wanted to travel in the first place, but that we definitely do want to do again. Yet, we cannot help ourselves from leaping there because our experiences, our reality, has taught us that the worst-case scenario, the unthinkable, the unimaginable can happen and has happened to us. Even worse, for most of us, we followed every rule, every guideline, listened to what doctors had to say, did it all by the book for it to then turn around and tell us that the books didn’t have all the answers, that we were missing chapters that never existed. Then, to turn around and parent our rainbow babies, to follow those books and our intuition and let our kids live normal lives while knowing that there is so much we cannot control is draining and complicated.
And the ups and downs of parenting for any parent is enough to qualify parenting as exhausting, but add in that we, as loss parents, live with the reality that so many other parents can hide from their memory and it is totally understandable that we are all beyond exhausted.
In the meantime, I am going to hope for no more red mornings and love my rainbow as much as humanly possible. That’s really all we can do.