My daughter, Frances, has a favorite game that we play. It’s called ‘baby in the mirror’ and it consists of her father or I holding her up so she can watch ‘the baby in the mirror.’ She is fascinated by her reflection and she seems both elated and unsure of what her mirror baby might do next. I know this feeling well because my other daughter, Dorothy, has a mirror baby that I watch longingly. His name is Patrick.
Patrick is the son of my friend, Lynn. She and I grew up together and were very close for a long time. Over the years, our friendship has found itself weakened by distance but the bond we once shared was so strong that it has remained intact. When I was pregnant with Dorothy, Lynn was pregnant with Patrick. She was expecting her baby in March and my baby was due in April. We reached out to each other during our pregnancies, marveling at how close our babies would be in age. Mere weeks would separate them. It was nice to be connected to her again and I remember thinking that it was all because of our babies. I never imagined just how connected our babies would become.
Dorothy was stillborn on Feburary 22. I found out, a week later, that Patrick was born on the same day. Up until that point, I had been in shock. There had been times when I had wept, but I mostly spent my days numb and afraid to feel. Patrick’s birth awakened, in me, my first emotional onslaught. All at once I found myself feeling angry, heartbroken, devastated, curious, and elated. Here was this little boy, connected to a person that I care for deeply, who was going to be my constant reminder of my little girl.
Lynn’s social media quickly filled with well wishes for her new baby and photos of his precious beginnings. Every time a photo or a “congratulations” popped up, my already fragile heart ached a little more. Every moment of his life was a reflection of the life that I couldn’t have. Patrick coming home from the hospital the way that Dorothy never did. Patrick celebrating holidays that Dorothy will never know of. Patrick being held by family and friends who would get to know him the way Dorothy’s family and friends never will. Every one of these moments made me feel more broken. I wanted to look away. I wanted to hide Lynn and Patrick from my life. But I couldn’t.
I continued watching Patrick grow up and meet milestones that I knew would never happen for Dorothy. It was painful, but over time I found my pain mingled with another emotion. I actually felt a little bit happy to see Patrick thriving. This didn’t make any sense to me. I tried to deny this little bit of joy because it felt like betrayal. How could I feel happy about this baby who made his first sounds on the day that my daughter arrived in silence? To be completely honest, I’m still not sure where that joy comes from. The only thing I can come up with is this: as long as Patrick exists in this world he will be the living touchstone for my Dorothy.
For me, Patrick’s life is a reflection of the life that my daughter could be living. It will never stop being unfair that Patrick is here and Dorothy isn’t. I want them here in this world together. But I can’t have that. I will never get the chance to watch Dorothy grow up in this world, but I can watch Patrick. When Patrick took his first steps, I could imagine Dorothy doing the same. When Patrick goes off to preschool, I can envision Dorothy right there with him. Every one of Patrick’s birthdays will allow me to daydream about the parties I would have planned for Dorothy. When I wonder what Dorothy might have been doing, I can look to her mirror baby for my answer.
It’s painful to look at another child’s life and have all of my dreams and what if’s merely reflected back at me. I wish I could be like Alice in Wonderland and step through the mirror to other side where I could live a life with Dorothy instead. But just like Alice, that mirror world is only in my dreams. But when my dreams aren’t enough to feed my soul, Dorothy’s mirror baby gives me a deeper glance into a world that should have been and that will always live on in my love for her.
Rachel Whalen is a mother, wife, and Kindergarten teacher from Barre, Vermont. Her life’s work is to keep the memory of her daughter, Dorothy, alive through words both spoken and written. Rachel shares her family’s journey through loss and all that has come after on her blog: An Unexpected Family Outing.