I was a mother before I became a bereaved mother. I recall in my early post-loss days, one mother, who had lost her firstborn and then went on to have a second child, commenting that it must be much more heartbreaking for me, having a living child first then losing my second-born. I’m not sure about that. I only have personal experience on losing my second, but my (unprofessional, inexperienced) opinion is that losing a baby sucks, period.
These are just a few observations that may be a bit unique to someone who had a living child/children prior to their loss.
On Being a Big Sister:
A seems to think that being a “big sister” is a milestone, something that all girls get to be someday (despite pointing out examples of people she knows who aren’t big sisters). This has produced comments through the years like: “that’s the big sister box,” (referring to a box of too-big clothes stored in the top of my closet) and “when I’m a big sister, I will put the pacifier in the baby’s mouth.” This obviously raises the question of whether or not she is now a big sister. We certainly count Baby C as a member of our family. I refer to her as my youngest daughter. But it’s not as simple as that. After all, A isn’t putting pacifiers in mouths, singing songs to Baby C, or keeping her entertained in the backseat of the car. Even now, she begins sentences with “When I’m a big sister…”
And then there’s the fact that A never ‘met’ her sister. Although we spent nine long months preparing her to be a big sister, she never saw that tiny baby she was looking forward to meeting. I feel like this has made the entire experience very abstract for her.
On Explaining Death:
After Baby C died, my husband and I were faced with the task of explaining there wouldn’t be a baby living with us after all. A’s only previous experience with death involved Nemo, her classroom Betta Fish. Everything I read about explaining death to children detailed being very blunt and honest. So I was. But for days after, A would ask when the doctors would fix Baby C so she could come home.
And 10 weeks later: “If a people dies you don’t grow and grow anymore, you just die and you don’t have your birthday anymore.” (Birthdays are a HUGE deal).
On Mama Guilt:
In the earliest days, I felt TONS of guilt that I wasn’t able to pull myself out of bed for my living daughter. Mother’s Day was 6 days after I delivered, and I spent the ENTIRE day curled up in bed crying. I’m hoping this isn’t a memory that sticks in my child’s head
I often worry that A will become damaged from my grief. It cannot be healthy for a child to continually witness her mother crying.
Having a living child meant that, once I was able to remove myself from my dark bedroom, I was expelled into the world, no longer able to hide myself away from tiny babies and pregnant bellies. There were many tears held back in the middle of Target, parks, birthday parties, beaches, daycare, and Story Land. One day at my daughter’s gymnastics lesson, a mom was hiding in the corner breastfeeding and I started to cry. For that one specific example, I must have twenty more.
Audio books. Junie B. Jones. This one that my daughter LOVES but makes me cry every.single.time. I asked her why she loves it so much. Her response? “Because I love babies so SO much!”
One night I was crying, not just the streaming tears crying–it was the all-out loud sobbing crying. A gave me one of her dolls to cuddle and when my husband asked me what was wrong, she said “she wants Baby C,” something I had not explicitly said to her. She wiped my tears and patted my face. It was the most amazing thing to witness a 4 year old express such empathy for another human. I’m not sure that can be taught.
I often gaze at A in absolute awe. She’s alive. I lay my hand on her chest to feel the rise and fall. I listen close to hear her breathe. I kiss her temple. How? How could I deliver one amazing child, alive, and yet my sweet baby was cruelly jerked away from my loving arms? But in the midst of “why me” “it’s not fair” and “F-you, Universe,” I truly am “thankful to the nth degree” (credit: Angela Miller–and if you haven’t read her writings, DO IT NOW!)
What insights have you found in parenting after loss? Is there anything you find to be unique about parenting your living child? Or, if your loss was your first-born, what do you think is unique about your story?