In the last trimester of my first pregnancy, when I’d yet to taste the pain of losing a child, I spent hours preparing. I folded baby onesies into neat piles and arranged board books onto nursery shelves in order of descending height. I felt nervous about the uncertainties of childbirth and of caring for a newborn, but mostly, I dreamed of all the picnics and ballet classes and storytime snuggles I hoped would come.
In this last trimester of my fifth and final pregnancy, with two living daughters and two daughters gone too soon, I am still preparing – sorting baby clothes, arranging the nursery, and scheduling childcare for my daughters while my husband and I will be in the hospital. I am excited about this baby to come, but often, I struggle to believe he actually will.
I put away presents from my baby shower, and I wonder what I will do with them if this baby never comes home. I make an extra pan of shepherd’s pie to put in the freezer for a quick post-delivery meal, and I catch myself thinking that it will be useful even if he doesn’t make it. I know now that death and new life make it equally difficult to perform menial tasks.
The choice to have a baby in an uncertain world is, I think, always a radical act of hope. I knew this in part in my first pregnancy, when pain and grief were at the periphery of my consciousness, but now, with seven years of parenting and two painful losses as part of my story, I know it more deeply. “Love anything,” C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves, “and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”
My children, those living and those dead, have stretched and broken my heart in ways I didn’t know possible seven years ago. I prepare for my last baby with a measured sobriety that was not there with my first.
But my children, those living and those dead, have also grown and expanded my heart in ways I didn’t know were possible seven years ago. And so, almost to my own surprise, I also prepare for my last baby with hope.
I choose pictures of mountains to hang above his crib and a sign for his nursery wall: “Adventure Awaits.” Because life is full of both loss and joy, and it is not possible to have the one without risking the other.