There is something I want to write about, but it is hard. I have wanted to write it for weeks now, but have hesitated, worried I would offend someone – or everyone – and worried I am behaving like a spoiled brat. But, on the weekend, I attended an event that sparked so many feelings in me, feelings I feel I need to share or they will eat me up.
Ever since M was born, I have struggled with how to come to this space. This struggle has to do with the presence of a living child in a space where dead children are the norm and the reason we are all here in the first place.
When A died, I had a living child. My sweet E had just turned three years old and I loved her with all my heart (of course). But loving her did not make up for losing A. Having a living child does not lessen the pain of loving a dead child, and I burned with resentment at any person who dared to hint it might. This line of thinking bothered me for two reasons: first, because it minimized the loss of my particular child, by suggesting that a child is a child is a child and hey, you’ve got one, so no complaining (or least, not as much complaining); and second, because it placed an enormous burden on E, to ‘heal’ us or to make up for the death of her sister, when a) she was only a child; b) she was grieving herself; and c) children are not replaceable and/or interchangeable and one child can never ‘make up for’ another.
I understood after A died that for some bereaved parents, the existence of my living child was a provocation, a painful reminder. I knew that her existence was hurtful to some parents. Still, I bristled at the thought of having to apologize for her, to preface my story with a warning that it included a living child, because my living child is a part of my dead child’s story and because, as I already mentioned, my living child grieved the death of her sister; because our loss was her loss, too; because this was what our family looked like and our family was bereaved.
Now that M is here, I am feeling another kind of defensiveness with respect to my living children. M is my so-called ‘rainbow baby.’ The baby who comes after. To me, he is a miracle. He is the baby who made it after so many did not. He is the baby who lives with us in this realm because his sister exists in another. He is the baby whose smiles yank upwards all the joy and sorrow I have in me so that both emotions wet my eyes and pull up the corners of my own mouth. He is a balm. He is pure love. He is nothing short of amazing.
And so it hurts in the the most excruciating way to know that in some spaces he is not wholly welcome; that for some people he is a source of pain, of anger, of resentment, of denial.
And I understand, to the best of my limited capacity to understand a reality that is not my own, why his presence causes pain. I understand that for some parents, some parents who have no living children, or who have been unable to conceive a ‘rainbow baby’ or who haven’t wanted to, my boy is a reminder of loss, of struggle, of pain and suffering and anger and fear.
But I also know that he is just a baby. He is innocent of his crime, the crime of being born alive when others are not. He is innocent in every way. And he is love. Pure love. For me, knowing that his presence causes pain to some is both saddening and enraging. Saddening because I hate to bring pain upon others, hate to think of others feeling sad or upset because of me and my child. Enraging because he is just a baby. He is faultless. He is a perfect, innocent, miraculous being made of love, and to know that even one person might look at him with resentment fills my mother’s heart with rage.
And he is miraculous because he lives after she died. Just as having E did not make losing Anja any easier, having M here now does not mean we don’t still mourn and grieve for our dead daughter. M being alive does not make Anja any less dead. The love I feel for M does not cancel out the enduring sorrow, the tremendous confusion, the aching absence I feel for his sister.
I am still the mother of a stillborn daughter. I am still a mother who knows what it is like to listen in desperation as a doppler ranges acros her belly relaying only silence, who knows what it is to carry a dead baby, to labour with and deliver a dead baby, to hold a dead baby in her arms. I know what it is to realize that my dead baby is just as beautiful and just as loved as any living baby, and I know what it is to have to leave that baby behind in a hospital room, to walk out empty armed and aching with the kind of ache that can never be assuaged.
I am still the mother of a stillborn daughter and I always will be.
My living children are living through no fault of their own. They exist in this world because of love and they deserve nothing but love. They are only children.
And they are part of our story of bereavement, part of our experience of stillbirth. They grieve, or will grieve, too. They are bound up in Anja’s story so completely; there is no way to extricate them from the narrative and there should be no need to try, no cause to apologize for their presence on the page or in the world.
Maybe I imagine the resentment, the anger, the denial, the wish that E or M would not be mentioned, would not appear. I hope I do. And I know that even if I am not imagining it, there are many, many bereaved parents who do not resent them, do not require me to apologize for them or hide them away. I do know this. But for some reason, right now, I needed to get this all off my chest. I need to stand up for my living children, to acknowledge their beauty, their perfection, without reservation or qualification.
I hope this doesn’t hurt you. (Wait, that’s a qualification, isn’t it? Well, shit.)
I felt extraordinarily isolated last week, on the 18-month anniversary of Anja’s death. Probably more isolated than I have felt at any point in this ‘journey’ with grief, and it was because of my ‘rainbow baby.’ Of course, I feel like an asshole saying that, but I also feel compelled to be honest about it. I hate that his presence hurt others; I hate it for them, but I hate it for me, too, and especially, I hate it for him.