My son cuddles up on my lap and fingers the bird’s nest necklace that lays against my chest.
“Tell me the names, Mama.”
“The big pink one is Lydia, and then the small pink one is Naomi,” I say, pointing to each bead in turn. “Then Kyria and Jordan are gold. Then YOU are the big blue bead, and then Hope and Christmas are gold.”
He listens intently, and then recites them back. “Lydia, Naomi, Kyria, Jordan, ME, Hope, and Christmas.” Satisfied with my answer and his performance, he scoots off to play.
It’s just a moment, but a precious one in our journey of life after loss. Our daughter Naomi, represented by my small pink bead, died in my second trimester at nearly 19 weeks. In the next 18 months, we lost two more babies, Kyria and Jordan, too early to know if they were boys or girls. It took a full year after losing Jordan before we conceived our now-five-year-old son, and when he was two years old, we had two more early losses, Hope and Christmas.
Seven babies. Two on earth, and five in Heaven. Our legacy.
Our oldest daughter was just over a year old when Naomi died. Although she has no memory of those exact events, she grew up knowing that she had siblings in Heaven who we talked about and remembered. But when our rainbow came along, I wondered how he would learn of the babies who came before him. How could we make sure he knew of his other siblings without casting a shadow over his childhood? Did we even need to, or did we just want to for our sakes? Was it selfish or sensible?
I quickly concluded that it was not selfish or macabre to want my son to know about our other babies, just as his sister does. Rather, it is the most natural thing, just as we want our children to know of other family members who have passed away. Our babies changed us from the inside out. To only speak of them in hushed tones when the children are not listening would be unnatural, and would point back to an earlier time when women were encouraged to move on and forget, in favor of the living – and I think we all agree that this does not help the grieving or healing process. Rather, embracing our babies’ short lives and making them a part of our family speaks volumes to our children about the value we place on every life and on the simple fact that death and loss are part of living and something to be survived together.
Our rainbow is now five and knows as much about his five siblings in Heaven as his older sister does. He frequently asks about them, or wants to say their names. And it has all happened very naturally in four particular ways.
We have pictures of Naomi, both photographs and a special drawing that a fellow loss mama made for me. Some of them are in a photo album, but the pencil drawing is on a shelf with other family pictures that we see everyday. Our babies are a part of our daily lives, even when we don’t speak of them. I know this is not possible in the same way for those who have had early losses, but perhaps you can find another picture or drawing or painting to represent the little ones you are missing and hang it in the hallway with other family pictures.
I have many symbols of our babies’ lives in our home – the memory necklaces that I have made or bought, the yellow silk rose that was on the door of my hospital room when I delivered Naomi, the ring I wear everyday for my first three babies in Heaven. Like the pictures, each is a part of daily life, something that we see daily even when we don’t talk about them. During Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, it is natural to add a PAIL pin or ribbon to those, and let it be another conversation starter not only with strangers in the grocery store, but also with my children. When the holidays come, we will add our babies’ stockings to the mantel as well, a reminder of the lives we treasure so.
Every October, we have a candlelighting ceremony at our Naomi’s Circle meeting, and while our children generally do not attend that, we do another one at home. We also participate in our local walk together, and they help me to purchase and arrange yellow roses for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Sunday at our church. We don’t observe every anniversary every year, but when we do, it is as a family, just as we celebrate their birthdays as a family.
Every baby has a story of how we learned they were on their way, how we found out they were with Jesus, and how they changed our lives, and those are stories I am not afraid to share with my children, in age-appropriate ways. There are also a number of books written for children about loss that are a gentle way to talk about these precious souls who are no longer with us. As a Christian family, we also find it easy to mention our babies when we talk about heaven and what the Bible says about eternal life, for our faith fills us with the certain hope that we will see them again someday.
I’m so thankful to be living in a time when the silence surrounding pregnancy loss is changing, including with our living children. What are some ways you share the legacy of the babies you are missing with the children in your arms?