Within the time span of one year, I will have held my 3-year-old son for the last time and welcomed his baby sister into the world, holding her for the first time.
My husband and I always wanted three kids. After two daughters and a son, we felt a sense of finality (and, let’s be honest – exhaustion) of our family being complete.
We were definite about this decision until that unsuspecting Sunday evening when we witnessed the end of the world, but it didn’t take us with it.
Our precious 3-year-old son, Levi, drowned during a non-swim time on June 10, 2018. He somehow slipped out of a room filled with people – including both parents – during dinner while we were on vacation and drowned, all within minutes.
Levi’s tragic death sent us tumbling in an abyss. We were forced to make decisions we never imagined would be part of our parenting journey.
One was simultaneously the hardest and easiest all at once: will we try for another baby? This path felt like the only glimmer of light in the fog that clouded our future.
Before tragedy interrupted my life, I understood little about child loss.
Often, families I knew who had lost a child would have another baby. Relief and attempts at justification would swirl inside my heart.
Of course, this new baby doesn’t replace the one they lost… but logic proves they wouldn’t have this child unless they had lost the other.
Doesn’t this make it ok?
But, now I know a new baby after child loss is never simple, never black and white.
People tell me “Congratulations,” and it is heartfelt and genuine. They mean well, but I don’t know how to respond.
If I say, “My heart is still broken,” does this new baby feel less loved, less wanted?
But, my heart IS still broken. So, I just stand there, confused.
My arms are overflowing with well wishes, while I keep trying to find the voice to say: “But, Levi. He is still dead. Don’t you realize Levi still doesn’t get a childhood?”
I was never expecting my life to have changed so much in one year.
I want to throw a tantrum, like I’m a child, and demand that I get to have both of them. I want to stomp my feet and argue and plead that I be allowed to defy the rules of logic and time.
I just want both, whole and healthy, here together.
If only my anger or despair or regret or love or hope could make it true.
Choosing love feels like a risky move, and I just want the safe route. But, my Aunt Paula, who lost her two-year-old son, Jeffrey, in 1973, told me “It is absolutely necessary that we continue to love no matter the outcome.”
She is right, of course – it is the only way.
So, even if I am holding my breath just a bit, we are choosing love.
This baby is not “instead of” Levi, and I have struggled with the reality she is “because” Levi died. But, she will be ours not just because Levi died but also “because” he lived.
BECAUSE he lived, we know our hearts, and home can expand. It is because of our love for him that we are determined to live intentionally despite this sorrow, to not let his life’s legacy become one of despair and anger.
So, she is not instead of Levi, but she is because of him.
Does Levi know?
Does he think we are flipping a switch, replacing him?
Does he think we have already forgotten him, that we choose her over him?
But, also: Does Levi know?
Did he call in a favor?
Handpick her for us?
Send her to us as a gift to tell us he wants us to keep living?
We love her. She is part of our family’s story- this fourth baby with two big sisters and a big brother.
I feel her kick and see her little heartbeat, each tiny thump reminding me that despite our immeasurable loss, we are gaining as well.
We will love her because she is our daughter and our sister. Our love for her will never be measured in terms of being Levi’s replacement.
I struggle to identify her as a “rainbow baby,” despite the beauty and meaning behind this term for a baby born after loss.
The rainbow comes after the storm, and the dual storms of grief for Levi’s life and of anger for not knowing the real truth about drowning are most definitely still raging inside me.
I worry about tucking her neatly into some category. It is not her job to heal us.
But, she is hope. As our friends fought to save Levi on that horrific Sunday evening, a rainbow in the sky broke through a cluster of storm clouds.
So, maybe this baby is a light determined to shine even in the midst of this darkness.
I feel certain this baby girl will be my favorite part of the legacy Levi left behind.