In the month after we lost our second son, our second 20-week loss in less than a year, my partner and I purchased two new decorations for our home to encompass all that we had been through. We bought a slice of wood with the word “love” containing one of our son’s footprints on it and a heart to represent our other son, whose footprints we do not have. We also purchased a sign with a quote by L. R. Knost that has resonated with me so strongly in our journey of parenthood and grief.
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”
The beauty of this quote is visceral to anyone who has been through the terrible, awful parts of life. The joy and the sorrow of life reside next to each other and are so deeply intertwined.
For me, these words capture the joy and the fear of pregnancy after loss. They represent the awful reality of learning that the baby inside you has had no heartbeat for three weeks, dying before they were born. They encompass the joy of expecting again and managing anxiety, having hope that it will all be different, only to have it happen again. To relive the worst experience of your entire life. To be told that once again your baby is dead, inside of you, without you knowing. To deliver that dead baby and hold him in your arms. To be afraid to kiss him for fear of how fragile his body was. To have to leave the hospital for a second time without a baby in your arms or your body.
It seems like it would be impossible to find just a few sentences to encompass these experiences. And yet, with this quote, L.R. Knost did just that. She spoke to my broken mama heart and soul.
When the new sign with this quote arrived, we put it up in the center of our home, next to our kitchen table, alongside our wedding photo and the “love” sign representing the babies we didn’t get to bring home. I envisioned our family growing around this wall, with love and loss at the center, heartbreak and beauty and joy. I envisioned being able to add photos of our family as it grew.
This quote also speaks to the hope and the joy that can come before, during, and after the painful struggles in life. It captures the amazing moments in the past few years, such as getting an answer, utilizing the scientific miracle of IVF to improve our chances of having a healthy baby, and managing the anxiety of another pregnancy after loss. It describes the relief and the joy of delivering our rainbow baby, holding her in our arms, living and breathing, and bringing her home. It is reflective of the amazement of watching her grow and learn and the beauty of hearing her talk about her brothers and kiss the stuffed animals that represent them.
When our rainbow was born, as eager as I was to add her picture to the wall, I felt bad that we did not have pictures to put up for our other babies. The unevenness in this is a fact. It is unavoidable, and actually, it is essential. It is healthy. It is healthy. But it is also hard, and it brings on all sorts of parental guilt.
A few months ago, we finally ordered some pictures of our daughter for our wall. We had family photos taken with some of her holding the otter and penguin stuffed animals to represent Lentil and Danny. I had planned to try to find some pictures for Danny and Lentil too, but while the photos we have of Danny are so meaningful to us, none of them felt right to put on the wall. We only have ultrasound pictures of Lentil from 12 weeks, and ultrasounds have just been so traumatic for us that this didn’t feel right either. Instead, we decided to order some pregnancy photos, to encompass the joy that Lentil, Danny, and our rainbow baby each brought to us.
The moment that I saw the photo of our daughter on the wall, I was overwhelmed with emotion.
It was another moment of arrival. She has been here, outside of my body, living, breathing, growing, learning, and loving us, for almost two years. And yet still, seeing her picture on that wall, with Danny’s footprints and the heart for Lentil, next to our wedding photo, it was a moment of having arrived at something that had felt out of our grasp for so long. It had been taken from us twice, and yet here she was.
She is here. She is ours. She is alive.
Adding the other photos to our wall made it feel complete for now. We have some pictures of all of our babies, in utero, in stuffed animal representation form, in footprint form, and in picture form. They are all three with us. Always in our home as they are always in our hearts. And it is perfect along with that quote, encompassing the life of our family. The amazement, the heartbreak, the joy, the healing, and the awfulness, all surrounded by the ordinary mess of everyday life with a toddler. In the words of Amie Lands, it is perfectly imperfect.