Have you ever been afraid that by loving someone so much you will lose them, simply because the universe hates a happy ending? It’s a disturbing, paranoid and not really rational thought but there’s a reason that the axiom, “It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all” exists. Loving someone can be scary. Because losing that someone is even scarier.
Of all the Big Things I have been through in my life, there is one I almost never talk about. At least not in a public setting. While I have no problem writing all about my sexual assault, the court case and the aftermath or going on TV to discuss my reincarnating eating disorder or ‘fessing up to my myriad mental health issues (it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!), I don’t often talk about the birth and death of my first child, my daughter Faith. The silence isn’t because I don’t remember her or because it’s too uncomfortable or even because it feels unresolved. Rather, it’s simply because it still hurts. And that hurt feels sacred because it’s all I have left of her.
She would have been eight in September. It’s been enough years that the pain is no longer that sharp, breath stealing, nauseating pain of immediate grief that makes you wonder if you can even get out of bed in the morning much less return to normal life. And yet, she would have been eight in September. The ache is there every time I see a child her would-be age. It’s there when I stop to admire a beautiful girl’s dress in a store and realize that instinctively I’ve picked up her would-be size. And now it is there when I see her baby sister, perfect in every way that she wasn’t. Alive in every way that she isn’t.
That long ago day the hospital put a rainbow on our door. None of the other rooms in the labor and delivery unit had door decorations. We were special. The rainbow was there to let the staff know that the room they were entering contained a dead or dying baby. Even still the anesthesiologist slipped and asked me if the baby had any health concerns he should know about. (“Um, all of them?”) The silence after she was born was deafening. She died of Turner’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that while not always fatal proved to be so in her case. There is no feeling to compare to going into a hospital pregnant and walking out empty handed, save for a tiny memory box tied up with a green ribbon.
I refused to let her death make me bitter. Still, it left a legacy. I had decided – not through any direct consultation mind you – that God did not mean me to be a mother to a girl. I was sure I would be bad at it. As three boys filled our home and our hearts, that idea grew stronger. I even told people that I couldn’t have girls, almost willing it to be true so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the inevitable fear and anxiety that would come with growing another baby girl.
And then God decided to show me that I should not put words in his mouth. We conceived a girl. At the midpoint ultrasound, the same point when we learned Faith was so sick, we cried with relief when the technician assured us that everything was fine with our baby. But even then I was afraid to think about it. I didn’t shop for her (a situation remedied by our very generous friends) . I didn’t paint the nursery (it is indeed still blue). But the most telling indicator of my fear was that I didn’t write about her. I didn’t chronicle her pregnancy like I did my boys’. I didn’t write her love letters as I had to my other children. In fact, my journal is completely empty from the day I found out I was pregnant until the day she was born. I was afraid to hope.
Any mother will tell you that one child cannot replace another, even if we can’t keep all their names straight when yelling at them to take their breakfast dishes to the sink. Yet as I held our newest daughter that first night I was surprised to discover that she filled a hole I didn’t even realize that I had. Or at least wouldn’t admit that I had. It wasn’t her job to heal me and yet somehow she did.
“I’m so happy,” I said to my husband tonight as I rocked our beautiful girl, my heart cracking with the enormity of it. Something in my eyes must have betrayed my fear of that happiness because he answered, “There is nothing wrong with taking joy in your child.” Slowly I’m coming to realize that it doesn’t mean I love Faith less because I love her sister so completely. And hopefully I’m learning to love her in spite of my fear of losing her. As Khalil Gibran says, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. ” Loving and losing are two sides of the same coin – we can’t appreciate the immensity of love without experiencing the grief of loss.
I am so happy.