Right after Evan was born, Jarom’s grandma took us shopping at Ikea and got us, among other awesome things, a stuffed fox. It was so cute and photogenic that I took a lot of pictures of Evan with it when he was little, and then I brought it with us to our first family photos later that year.
And the next year’s family photos…
But not in 2012.
I honestly just forgot that time. It didn’t even cross my mind.
We also didn’t bring the fox with us to the hospital when we had Christian. I should have, as it would have been something that each kid had a picture with. Again, didn’t even cross my mind.
But then a few months ago, I got to thinking… what if the fox is Christian?
Not literally, of course. That would be weird.
What if the fox in our pictures is there to represent Christian? That’s why no fox in 2012 – I was pregnant at the time. That’s why no fox at the hospital – Christian was there himself.
So this year, we took the fox with us for family pictures, knowing it was there to stand in for Christian.
I’ve mentally composed this post several times as I try falling asleep the past few weeks, but now I can’t remember what I was going to say. Trust me, it was eloquent, witty, and just the right amount of heartbreaking. You would have loved it.
Instead…I’ll be making this up as I go along, and it won’t be nearly as eloquent, funny, or appropriately heartbreaking.
I would absolutely say that sitting here at Year 1.5 feels wonderfully, unbelievably different – and better – than being at 6 months or a year after Christian’s birth/death. In a lot of ways, I’ve come a long way in healing. Of course, in a lot of ways, I also feel irreparably broken.
Things that have gotten easier:
- holding (some, not all) babies. I even held a one-day-old baby this summer!
- getting through my days, weeks, and months without wanting to stop existing. I was really depressed for the first few months, and I’m so glad to not feel that way anymore.
- making birth announcements for friends.
- talking about Christian to strangers. The first time I told someone that my baby had died, I barely made it through a sentence without wanting to run away and cry.
- thinking about having another baby. There will be at least 2 years between Christian and whoever comes next, and I do appreciate that he’ll have his own space.
Things that are still hard:
- going to church. There are SO MANY babies and pregnant women.
- hearing pregnant women complain. I know pregnancy can be miserable – but from my perspective, I would give anything to have a healthy baby safe inside, even if it meant being on bed rest or giving up sweets (seriously) or whatever.
- seeing baby clothes at the store. This had gotten way easier until my recent “Wait, what? I’m pregnant? Wait, what? I’m not anymore?” Now it feels like I was so close…
- rare moments when I think about how old Christian would be and what he’d be doing. One of my friends was due at the same time as me, and sometimes I realize that Christian would be toddling around with her little girl, he would have had his first birthday, I’d be chasing after him and getting frustrated about teething and naps and dirty diapers.
- family milestones, like Evan starting school or a nephew getting baptized. These are things I will never see Christian do. I don’t know if this sense of loss will stick around for the rest of my life, but it’s certainly here now.
- baby showers. I tried one a few weeks ago, and made it all the way until gifts were opened. I took off because…baby clothes. They’re so tiny, but they’re still so much bigger than Christian was.
But, even with the list of things that are still hard, overall my life is so much better than it was last year. Or six months ago. I don’t spend every day feeling awful. When I drive Jarom to work, I drive past the hospital where I got the news that Tiny Baby would die. When I drive Evan to school, I drive past the mortuary. So there are lots of daily reminders, but they don’t make me feel heartbroken (usually).
I know this sounds weird, but I love – love – love meeting other parents who’ve had a baby die. They feel like instant kindred spirits. Maybe it’s just nice to talk to someone about Christian, and about their baby, without the awkward “I’m so sorry for bringing that up, I don’t know what to say, let’s talk about something else” moment. I like talking about Christian. Actually, I love talking about Christian. I can’t see him or hold him or watch him grow; I can only talk about him. So I do, maybe too much. But I really appreciate being able to talk about him with someone who understands, from experience, how wonderful it feels to talk about him.
Was that eloquent? Heartbreaking? I didn’t get much wittiness in there, sorry. Maybe at Year 2!
In my mind, my pregnancy with Christian (and, really, my life as a whole) is cleanly divided into two parts – “Before the Ultrasound” and “After the Ultrasound.”
Everything before was normal. Hopeful. Innocent. And, from my perspective now, naïve. Even the morning of the ultrasound, I remember getting ready for the day, trying to deal with an Evan breakdown, going about life without any idea I was about to get such horrible news. My concern was really just whether we’d have a boy or a girl – Jarom and I couldn’t agree on a boy’s name. The ultrasound was a way of settling that question, not raising more heartbreaking ones.
About two weeks Before the Ultrasound, I was at a bridal shower. I had just transitioned to maternity shirts, but only because I had one I really loved. I was barely showing a tiny, tiny bit. Someone commented on it at the bridal shower – “You don’t look pregnant at all!” I cheerfully agreed. I hadn’t been sick at all, I had very few pregnancy-related complaints, it was nice to be pregnant without feeling like it.
For the past year and a half (it’s really been that long since Christian was born!), I’ve felt a mixture of disgust and pity when I think about the seemingly foolish optimism I had Before the Ultrasound. At the time, there wasn’t any reason not to be optimistic – yes, I knew women who’d had miscarriages, and a few women who had “lost the baby” during pregnancy, but those are friend-of-a-friend and I-read-this-really-sad-blog stories. Not things I thought of as real possibilities. Not things that could or would happen in my own life. But with the disturbing perspective of grief, every part of my life Before the Ultrasound took on a “Why were you so cheerful?” cast. In really dark moments After the Ultrasound, I hated my Before the Ultrasound self. She had no right to be happy.
A little over two weeks ago, I started having a weird pain in my side. Very early in the morning the next day (a Tuesday) I took a pregnancy test to ease my mind about the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy causing the pain. I knew the test would be negative, but it wasn’t – which fed my fear about an ectopic pregnancy. I went into the OB office that afternoon; no indication of implantation outside of the uterus. So I began to very cautiously hope that things would be ok. The nurse sent me in for a blood test to check my hcg level. For the next few hours, I thought I’d be able to enjoy pregnancy until I got closer to the 20-week ultrasound (at which point I would become overwhelmed with the fear of another fatal birth defect).
But when the nurse called with my hcg results, she said they were so low that I was either barely pregnant or I was going to miscarry. Come back in on Friday, she said, and we’ll be able to see if the levels have gone up significantly (yay, pregnancy!) or down (boo, miscarriage).
Wednesday I tried to distract myself. I watched for signs of an impending miscarriage. I tried distracting myself some more. And I assumed the worst. But Thursday, when nothing bad had happened yet, I very consciously allowed myself to feel excited. I figured out my due date. I thought about baby clothes. I let my heart be light.
Unfortunately, Friday came with bad news. My hcg level had gone up only a few points, when it should have more than doubled. I was told over the phone that “This is not what we’d see with a healthy, growing baby.”
And, of course, the world crashed down around me. Not to the extent it did with Christian’s diagnosis and death, but with an added note of “You should have known better than to hope. You DID know better.”
But since then…I’ve actually started to regret not having been more optimistic. Tuesday to Friday was not a long time, and I only let myself be happy for one day. I was suddenly jealous of Before the Ultrasound Mika, who had 20 weeks of optimism and innocence. Yes, I knew that there were (and still are, with any future pregnancies I may have) lot of things that can go wrong. Miscarriages happen. Fatal birth defects happen. Inexplicable stillbirths happen. Tragedies during childbirth happen. But optimism feels so much better than pessimism (or, perhaps, even realism). Letting my heart be light felt so good. So refreshing. I’ve been weighed down by fear for so long that hope was a blessing.
Instead of being disgusted with my Before the Ultrasound innocence, I’m uplifted. Instead of hating my brief Thursday excitement, I’m motivated to be optimistic about the future. I’d much rather do that and crash later than spend months or years in despair.
What are you optimistic about?
Last year I had this great plan for a Christmas present for Jarom. I had the kids make up stories, I wrote them down, and I was going to illustrate them (or adapt the kids’ drawings) and make a book. A really great book.
Guess which part actually happened? Just the stories. I did try to write them down word-for-word, though. And I found the papers the other day!
At the time of the storytelling, Evan was 4 (almost 5) and June had just turned 3. See if you can guess which story is by which kid.
Once upon a time there were dogs. They ate everything in the whole world because they liked every type of food. Suddenly, they accidentally ate someone’s house. It was a giant ant-eating dog-ant that ate every type of house so it can eat the dogs. This is a good giant ant-eating dog-ant because it ate a bad guy’s house. Then suddenly CRACK went the ant! KABOOM went its nose in a big explosion. There are dogs eating their food and other stuff. The end.
Once upon a time a cow said moo. The cow saved the other cow. Then he ate the other cow. Then Farmer Brown heard the cows say click-clack-moo. Then the cow said “I don’t want to say moo.” The end.
Once upon a time Santa Claus had ponies. They gallop. The reindeer is a type of pony. The pony eats Santa Claus. The end.
Once upon a time there were dinosaurs. They eat people. They’re big and scary with big teeth. T-Rexes have giant eggs. The egg-knappers steal the eggs. The T-Rex chases the egg-knappers and eats the egg-knappers in half. People come to steal and make a trap for ALL the dinosaurs to fit in. One of the dinosaurs bit a person but had no teeth so it was ok. Another dinosaur did have teeth and it bit a person with a bug in their hair. It was a bug-eating dinosaur. The end.
The unicorn takes the crown back in her hand and gallops with it. The end.
Once upon a time there were 3 little pretend dinosaurs that came alive. They pretend that they’re dead but actually they’re alive. They look like they’re statues. Two Os and an E. They turn into a toy again. Then they come alive again and they eat meat from the meat store. They go outside to eat their meat. They eat everybody’s food that was made out of meat! Everyone is sad so they sneak up to kill the dinosaurs but the dinosaurs are just toys. The people are sad because they lost all their meat. The live T-Rex that doesn’t turn into a toy comes to town and he EATS the people. That’s the most frightening part. Then the T-Rex ate everyone’s treats. All the alive-not-toys dinosaurs came from the whole planet. They were good ones and they didn’t eat the T-Rex but made him a good guy except he still ate everyone’s treats because the whole earth of people was in his stomach. The end.
Once upon a time, ponies had a toy Flufferfito. They fight when they gallop and the other ate the black Flufferfito. The end of the itsy-bitsy story.
I have really mixed feelings about today being Evan’s first day of kindergarten.
I’m partly overjoyed. Evan and I really need a break from each other; he’s recently decided that he LOVES reading (hallelujah!); he wants to be around kids his age; I’m not prepared to teach him everything his teacher is.
And I’m partly anxious. I got a handout with a list of “‘I Can’ Statements” for each term of the school year, and there’s a LOT to learn. I’m anxious on Evan’s behalf – what if he doesn’t like school? What if he doesn’t make friends? What if he’s a bully??
And, of course, I’m partly sad. While Evan is at school he’s in a world that doesn’t include or need me. (I realize this is a weird, probably untrue statement, but it describes how I feel.)
That being said, may I present a very excited kindergartener?
We did the same questionnaire as last year.
Who is your favorite person in the whole world? Caitlyn (our 7-year-old neighbor who moved into Cooper’s house)
What is your favorite color? purple
What is your favorite tv show? The Aquabats
What is your favorite outfit? “My dragon cape from Grandpa Glenn.”
What sport or game do you like best? “All kinds of dragon games.”
What song do you love? “The song with all the monsters that we use when we clean up.” (The mini-boss music from Wind Waker – we really do put it on when we need to clean up quickly!)
What is your favorite cereal? bird cereal (Fruit Loops)
Who is your best friend? Caitlyn
What do you want to be when you grow up? a fireman
What is your favorite book? any book about sharks
What are you really good at? “Playing dragon games.”
Where do you wish you could go on vacation? the beach again (We spent a week in Monterey at a family vacation)
What is your best memory? going on rollercoasters at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
What would you buy if you had $1,000? “A super huge giant T-rex toy.”
What is your favorite food? ice cream
If you could have a wish, what would it be? “When I wanted to shrink I could do that and then grow back.”
What your favorite ice cream flavor? chocolate
Who is your biggest hero? “You [Mama]. Actually it’s mostly Pa.”
What do you like to do most with your friends? play dragons
What do you hope you’ll get to do in school this year? go on field trips
Do you remember the part in Finding Nemo where Marlin is trying to leave Dory behind? He attempts to explain tactfully why he doesn’t want her to come with him anymore. “I can’t afford any more delays and you’re one of those fish that causes delays. Sometimes it’s a good thing. There’s a whole group of fish. They’re . . . delay fish.” And after Dory worries that he doesn’t like her, he says, “It’s because I like you I don’t want to be with you. It’s a . . . complicated emotion.”
I have complicated emotions lately.
Everyone is pregnant. Close friends and family, acquaintances, people I vaguely recognize from our neighborhood. And those who aren’t pregnant have just had babies. In the past few weeks I’ve had at least 4 people tell me they’re expecting.
And they’re so excited.
I want to be excited for them.
But a little bit, I’m just heartbroken?
This was all compounded by seeing my not-quite-5-month-old nephew this past weekend. I avoided him at first; then in a moment of “That baby realllllllllly needs help going to sleep” I offered to rock him to sleep to give my father-in-law a break. And holding this little baby, having him snuggle against me clutching his blanket . . . it was awful and wonderful. Extremely awful and extremely wonderful. I will never rock Christian to sleep. I’ll never be frustrated that he’s still awake despite my best efforts to put him down for a nap. I don’t get to see him happily clutch a favorite blanket.
I can’t even hold him. He’s gone.
It seems like it would be nice to have a new baby. One that I could grumble about and cuddle with and be miserably tired with. And I think if I had a baby, not to replace Christian but to help me heal, I might not have such complicated emotions about other people’s babies. Since that isn’t an option, I’m left with conflicting feelings of heartache, jealousy, excitement, guilt, and aloneness.
So if you’ve recently told me you’re expecting, or if you’ve recently had a baby, and I haven’t seemed particularly thrilled – I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be bothered (at least, not so much) by a stranger having a baby – it really is because I like you that I don’t want to be around you sometimes. It’s a complicated emotion.
So. Evan is 5 now; June is 3 (and a half). This is what they’re like right now:
Evan has learned what “I’m bored” means. Oh heavens. Since I’m not a particularly I-want-to-play-all-the-time kind of mom, my brain isn’t full of constructive ideas for projects and activities that he can do. Mostly he plays with his best friend Cooper, who is also 5, who lives 3 houses down, who is unfortunately moving at the end of this month. What are we going to do then?! Cooper has a fenced backyard with a swingset. It’s been so nice to just let my kids go over and play without worrying, since we have neither a backyard nor a fence at our house. And given that Cooper will be moving so soon, I don’t mind letting Evan play as much as he wants. It must be hard to have your best friend move at that age.
The school year is ending in a few weeks, so I do have some tentative plans for summer projects and fun things to do. Otherwise I’ll just replace Evan with a recording of “Mama, I’m boooooooored” and me with a recording of “Did you clean your room yet?” Evan has loved preschool, more or less. There have been some big battles with getting him to agree to wear clothes (instead of pajamas or swim trunks) to school, and he’s refused to go at least twice – because of said battles. But when he does go, he has a blast. His teacher is great, and although Cooper is in his class, Evan has made new friends too.
He’s a solid sleeper. He gave up napping at 18 months, but traded it for consistent 12-hour nights. Deal! Evan usually wakes up on his own rested and happy in the morning. He falls asleep easily at bedtime, too, which is a huge blessing.
June, however, would probably rather not sleep at all. Ever. She’s gotten better recently, but for a while she’d stay awake in bed until 10 or 11 every night – and still get up with Evan in the morning. And not nap.
She has picked up quite a few bad habits from Evan, things that we’ve been working on with him and haven’t quite resolved yet. Most notably: anger. Okay, so this is my fault. Really. I have a bad temper and I have gotten so much better over the past year, but sometimes I still just – it’s so frustrating – why won’t they just listen to me! You know what it’s like, right? Anyway, there was a month or two where Evan would try threatening me if he didn’t like what I said. Things like “If you don’t let me eat a cookie, I’ll take your pillowcase off of your pillow and hide it in my room!” (He wasn’t very good at threats. At first.) He’s gotten past it, but toward the end it turned into “Just let me have a cookie and I’ll be nice” which to me is just a turned-around version of his earlier threats. Now June says stuff like that all the time, in a very angry June voice. With a very angry June face. I’m working on correcting this behavior . . . but it’s a lot harder when her angry face and voice are so amusing.
Aside from that, June is constantly playing ponies. She has an extensive collection of toy ponies, both My Little versions and realistic ones, and has (on more than one occasion) introduced herself to someone as Starlite. More often than not she is pretending to be a pony. When we’re driving somewhere and see horses, she shouts, “LOOK PONIES! Can I ride them?” I personally don’t understand this obsession as I was never into horses; Jarom says it’s a typical little girl thing. Huh.
One of the things I like most about June is how independent she is (when she’s comfortable). Even as a baby, she’d wander off into another room by herself. She, unlike Evan, is never bored; she makes up games and finds things to do on her own. When Evan goes to school I basically have free time because June wants to play alone. It’s pretty nice. And I’m sure it’s good for her creativity or something. Yeah?
Oh, and she sings. A lot. Jarom and I noticed from the time June started talking that she memorizes songs (both words and melody) very quickly. She learned the alphabet way before Evan because she knew the song. I love hearing her make up songs in her room, usually about ponies and dinosaurs. Together.
I decided not to put June in preschool this fall. After talking with Evan’s teacher, I’m going to try having her do preschool next year (when she’s turning 5) and then skipping to first grade the following year. If she did preschool this year, she’d be in the 3-year-old class, which is a very . . . um . . . well, I don’t think it would benefit June much. As much as I’d like to have a few hours every week by myself, I’m glad to keep her home with me for another year.
And Christian is still dead, so no updates there.