I thought I was done with it. Done with the surge of jealousy, the searing resentment that would boil whenever I saw a pregnant woman at the grocery store, or the doctor’s office, or anywhere (everywhere). I envied her seeming not-knowing, her innocence of all the terrible ways that a blissful pregnancy could end.
The jealousy was one of many facets of that wretched new normal that everyone in the babyloss and grief communities is always talking about. Things are not as they once were, and we can never turn back.
But now I’m twenty-six months out from our first child’s stillbirth, two years and two months, and our rainbow is a happy sixteen month old who fills my life with a light so beautiful that my heart can hardly bear it.
And there has been healing, too. I can pass pregnant women in the grocery aisles and wish them well, hoping that I never meet them in our local babyloss support group. I see families cherishing tiny newborns and I no longer scowl at them, coveting what they have, what had almost been mine with our daughter who died before she breathed.
Two years and two months in this life after stillbirth is what it takes to leave the jealousy behind. Two years and two months, and the envy no longer surges.
Or does it?
I thought I was done. Thought I was okay, that I had achieved full acceptance. That is one of the so-called steps of grief, after all.
But recently a new form of envy has risen. It’s not the swollen bellies this time, and not the mewling cry of a newborn reaching my ears. It’s not a torturous trip past the infant section at Target, or saccharine baby ads on the television.
Instead, I find that I am jealous of first-time mothers and fathers. Whatever rocky or smooth road they may have traveled since they saw that positive pregnancy test to the crowning, groaning joy of birth, they have a living baby in their arms. Death did not rip their firstborn and their own innocence away. Fear does not now shadow their family, or their future pregnancies, or their children’s lives. They have not learned how easily, how silently catastrophe can shatter all that is sacred.
And – I am jealous. I would not wish their child’s death upon them, not ever . . . and yet I am jealous.
I am jealous of the mother whose initiation into the rite of birth was not marked by gasping, gaping maw of heartache.
I am jealous of the mother whose hospital room was not filled with her baby’s silence.
I am jealous of the mother whose pregnancy did not end with self-doubt and shame so thick, so heavy she could hardly lift her eyelids against it to meet the stunned gazes of her loved ones as they filed, numb, past her tomb of a birthing bed.
I am jealous of the mother who did not lose countless hours of sleep in the unforgiving night to the empty arms.
I am jealous of the mother whose postpartum discharge orders did not involve funeral parlors and grief counselors.
I am jealous of the mother who can drive by the hospital or her obstetrician’s office without the PTSD prickle of memory creeping cold up the back of her neck.
I am jealous of the mother whose voice never hitches in her throat when she is asked how many children she has. I am jealous of the mother who has never known the discomfort of telling the truth, or the pain of not.
I am jealous of the mother who doesn’t know, doesn’t know, doesn’t know (how could I not know what was coming, those two years and two months ago), and –
oh God, I envy that mother’s innocence, her naïve joy so damn much it shreds my crimson insides raw all over again, and just when I thought I was healed, done with the bloodiest part of all this shit, moving on.
To the new mother enjoying the blissful exhaustion of your firstborn – I am happy for you. I am so grateful that you have never known this pain, the confusion of grief, and that ache that subsides but never fully heals. I do not begrudge you your joy. I am glad that you, unlike so many of us, were not handed the drenched and bleeding blanket of grief to wrap yourself in instead of wrapping your baby up in your arms.
And yet, I envy you. This is one of the too-many paradoxes of life after stillbirth. I might apologize if all this was anything less than the truth.