My daughter Kiley knows no strangers. Within minutes of meeting someone, they will have her life story.
“Hello,” she says. “My name is Kiley. I’ll be five soon. I’m having a princess cake for my birthday. That’s my big sister…her name’s Kaitlyn. And this is my new baby brother. His name is Noah, but he didn’t build the ark. He was in mommy’s tummy, but now he’s out. I had another baby brother. His name is Isaac. But he died.
(pause for dramatic effect)
We’re a five family now.”
She always ends with that. We’re a five family now. In fact, she says it so much I’m starting to consider it her catchphrase. Isaac, for her, represents all the babies that came after her. All the babies that didn’t make it, and all the hurt her family endures. Her big sister, though, understands and remembers more. “I will always be their big sister,” she says. “And I will always remember their names.” It has the weight of a vow.
To watch their awe as they hold and stroke and love their baby brother is both joyous and bittersweet. Listening to them, I am torn between sadness and pride. Sadness that they know too well that sometimes mothers cry tears that are torn from the deepest places in their hearts. Pride that sometimes, and only sometimes, it seems that I am helping them understand in the right ways.
But too often I feel like mothering both them and the children we lost is the most daring of balancing acts. Like I’m balanced above the scariest cliff on the thinnest rope with no safety net.
And right around the corner…Mother’s Day. One of the longest, hardest days. With the baby dedications and pink carnations. The sermons and cards and songs. Restaurant and spa specials. It is a day when I am supposed to feel unstinting joy in being a mother. The day that seemed almost designed to hurt me.
My joy is great. This year, for the first time in years, I will not have to slip out of the church’s back doors in tears as the new babies and their families file to the front. I will be with them.
I am still not complete, though. There are still children missing. A gap of five years exists between my youngest daughter and new son. Five children who have died. Five years of grief. Those years and children are not easily shed, nor should they be.
I know that on Mother’s Day I will smile and sing. I will treasure the cards my daughters make and thank God for my son. My miracle.
And after they all go to bed, I will pull down the mahogany box that sits on a tall shelf in my living room. I will pull out the ultrasound pictures, tiny hats, and pictures. Trace the footprints of my children. Softly rubbing the onesie I bought for my daughter Kasey, I will open our family bible and read their names. Remembering my pregnancies and the painful joy of their births, my arms will still ache with emptiness.
Then I will carefully pack each item back in that same box, ready for the next time I need to feel them.
When I go to bed, I will thank God for all my children. Each and every one. I might cry a few more tears, and slip into sleep, glad that I have survived one more Mother’s Day – a day that hurts. And heals.