My dear friend: As we begin a new year, it’s hard not to think about how different our lives are going to be. It seems so long ago that we were looking forward to the same things.
I still remember the day I saw your baby announcement on Facebook. I remember how excited we were that our due dates were so close to each other because that meant we would be able to share in this journey together. We bonded over our exhaustion, morning sickness, and “pregnancy brain.” We compared registry lists. I followed the Pinterest board where you collected ideas for your nursery (and stole some ideas for mine). I told you all about the maternity clothes I found on sale online.
But this excitement was short-lived, wasn’t it? After a few weeks, it became clear that our parenting journeys will take very different turns. My pregnancy ended abruptly, while yours proceeded normally.
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As you eagerly counted down the days to your due date, I was grieving the loss of my child. My husband and I gathered up newly purchased baby clothes and donated them to the local thrift store. We returned the stroller and crib that was delivered just days before. Meanwhile, I watched your gender reveal video on Instagram and flipped through pictures of your baby shower on Facebook. (Thank you, by the way, for understanding why I couldn’t be there in person.)
Maybe you think about me often. Maybe you’re careful with your words around me, not sure if you can mention your child’s name or mine, for fear of what it could trigger. You may have survivor’s guilt – your child lived, while mine was gone too soon.
But even though our lives look very different, we have one very important thing in common: we are both still parents – because I didn’t stop being a mom just because my child is gone. Like you, I love talking about my child. I love showing people pictures of her adorable little fingers and toes. Or telling the story of the first time I got to hold her, even though it was also my last. My child’s life – even though it was much shorter than I ever hoped or imagined – brought me a lot of joy. And I want to share that joy with others, as I’m sure you do too.
Like parenthood, grief is a lifelong journey. Years from now, you will tell me stories of your child starting kindergarten or going off to college, and I will think about what it would have been like to celebrate those milestones with my child. While you lament the “terrible twos” and the dreaded teenage years, and I will wonder what my child would have been like as a toddler or a teenager.
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But you don’t have to walk on eggshells around me. You don’t have to avoid talking about your child for fear of how it could make me feel. Please don’t let that survivor’s guilt come between us. The pain of losing a child will always be with me, and it will be a part of who I am regardless of what anyone says or does. Besides, if there’s anything this experience has taught me, it’s that life is full of joys and sorrows, and they can coexist.
I never imagined a life where I’d hold a memorial service before ever holding a baby shower for my child. Or that I would have memory books and shadow boxes instead of story time and walks around the neighborhood with the stroller. I would give anything for sleepless nights and diaper blowouts.
Grief, I’m learning, is unpredictable. There are days when it feels like I’ve got it under control and life even feels normal. And then there are moments when everything feels so overwhelming that I’m not sure I’m going to make it without the support of those I love. In a way, it’s a lot like parenting.
Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash
About the Author: Elaine de Leon is a strategic communications professional based in the Washington, DC area. With over a decade of advocacy and communications experience, Elaine has helped organizations change the hearts and minds of people on various issues including health and wellness, intellectual and developmental disabilities, environmental and economic policy, criminal justice, and human rights. Elaine is a mother to two angel babies, Francis and Zoe, and serves on the Board of Directors of Share, a national organization that serves families who have experienced stillbirth, pregnancy or infant loss. In her free time, Elaine enjoys watching baseball, reading good books, and supporting northern Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry.