A few weeks ago my rainbow baby and first living child, “El”, turned 5 months old. I wanted to take a picture documenting this milestone, so a few days after El hit the 5 month mark I laid her on the quilt I had FINALLY finished making for her and took a picture with blocks denoting her age. She had drooled on the onesie she had been wearing earlier, so I had just changed her into another one. The onesie I grabbed was one I liked but not one I often put her in. It was a hand-me-down with the words “Little Sister” on it.
El is my husband’s and my third child. As I have written about before, we lost our first two babies, Lentil and Danny, at 20 weeks 11 months apart from each other.
When we were getting ready to welcome El, friends and family gifted us hand-me-down clothes. As I sorted them at 32-weeks pregnant, I came across a few clothing items that said “Little Sister.” In the moment, these onesies brought tears to my eyes. I am sure that those who had gifted us the clothes may not have even realized those onesies were in the bins and bags they gave us. Through no fault of their own, they likely would not have thought about what it would be like for us to see these onesies.
These items were a clear reminder of the babies that we did not have.
At the time, I put the onesies like this in the keep pile. I wasn’t sure whether we would dress her in them. I didn’t know whether she was a little sister, but I knew that she wasn’t clearly not a little sister. I figured that was a problem for our future selves.
While this day a few weeks ago documenting El turning 5 months old wasn’t the first time she had worn one of these onesies, it was the first time I had taken her picture in one. It was the first time I had to think about whether to share an image of her wearing a “Little Sister” onesie publicly.
The thing is, it felt so good to see her in this onesie. It felt right. It made me feel whole.
So often I think of how others may see our family and not understand the pain that it has taken to get to this place. We may on the surface seem like first time parents who must just be overjoyed. While it is true that we are full of joy and feel so grateful to have El, it is also true that we still feel pain for the two babies we lost. It doesn’t feel as simple as it might look.
Seeing our rainbow baby in this onesie that acknowledged the babies that came before her felt beautiful. It felt complete. It felt accurate.
When I started to post the picture on social media that evening, I struggled to share an image that clearly showed the words. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt uncomfortable at the idea of putting it up on my personal page. I don’t know if I was embarrassed in some way or just nervous about what others would think. I felt concerned that others who had never experienced a loss like us wouldn’t understand.
As time has gone on, our losses have become more real to us. I hesitate to say it in this way, as if they weren’t “real” before, but I don’t know what other word to use.
I have written before about how my relationship with our babies and my identity as a mother has changed over time. Having El finally join our family has partially filled a huge hole in our hearts, but the hole is not gone and never will be. Loving El and caring for El also contains reminders of all of the ways in which we never had the opportunity to parent Danny and Lentil. There are so many moments that we didn’t get to have with them that we are getting to have with El.
What I mean when I say that our losses have become more real is that it feels less and less like we lost two pregnancies and more and more like two of our children died.
I haven’t publicly referred to El as Lentil and Danny’s sibling. I wasn’t always sure whether I thought of them as her brothers and her as their little sister, but the emotions I had related to this 5 month picture were significant. They caused me to again reflect on my relationship with my first two babies.
El’s brothers’ existences have an impact on this family. She exists because of them. I am confident that as our family grows and as my husband and I change, the ways we think about and relate to our baby boys will change too.
My hesitance to share this picture previously was concern over others potentially disagreeing with me or judging me for how I am handling my grief.
Others might not see El as a little sister. Of course they might not. I can’t blame them for that. I wasn’t even sure whether I saw her as a little sister until these past few weeks.
What I often need reminders of, from friends, from my husband, and from amazingly supportive women in the pregnancy and infant loss community, is that none of this is for others to define.
These relationships between El, Danny, Lentil, my husband, and I are for us to define. We are the ones who are living this life and who have experienced this pain, and it is up to us to determine what is right for us, even if it feels like what is right for us is ever changing.