I’m no expert.

“Oh that’s a baby baby!” the stranger said in the parking lot. He was walking by the car with his kids in tow as I pulled Felix out of his car seat,
“How old?” he asked.
“three weeks,” I replied.
“Is he your first?”
“My second.”
“Oh, you’re an expert, then!” The whole exchange took place in the few seconds that passed as he walked by my car, but his parting remark stung just a bit.
No. I’m no expert. My first baby died. I should be an expert but I’m not.
I’m realizing that there may be few interactions involving my son that will be without the subtext of Mabel.

How has your loss pervaded common interactions in everyday life?

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Parenting a dead child

On Wednesday I went to see Mabel. It was July 15, exactly seventeen months after she died. In the first year after her death I would visit her grave every week- almost always on the weekend, bearing flowers as a gift. Some days, especially early on I would spend a fair amount of time there. I started reading her a book. I’d sit and journal when the weather was nice. I’d always say the same things “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here” and sing the lines of the wook well known in our community “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Going once a week was both a comfort and a stress. I had to see my baby-gave me a sense of purpose especially on those long empty weekends, let me feel like I was mothering her in a way. Though I’d sometimes feel stress if I had a full weekend and had to figure out time to visit and time to pick up flowers. Mostly though, it was a comforting routine.

I told myself that once her first birthday came around, I’d give myself a break- go when felt like it. I’m a creature of habit, though, with high expectations of myself so I also silently promised I’d go at least once a month. I’d go on the 15th bearing my usual flowers. And I do. The script is still same. The same emotions bubble up, a bit fuzzier around the edges, but still there.

I have mixed feelings on my routine. I love going and if it’s been a while I start to feel a gnawing- some anxiety even- an emptiness I have to fill with a visit. I seem overall satisfied with the once a month schedule. But at the same time I feel guilty. I should want to go more. I shouldn’t have to have a schedule, a day to remind me to visit. Honestly, I think about visiting a lot. The cemetery is five minutes from my house- a quick detour on the way home from work or errands. Yet, I don’t visit as often as I think of visiting. In the past few months my life got very busy and full- at times very stressful. An extra visit to the cemetery felt like one more thing to add on to a packed schedule. And I didn’t want to rush the visits- I wanted to give her time, be genuine with her.

At times I feel like a bad mom. I mentally gave myself permission to not visit weekly to help me with stress, but in some ways it also gave me stress. I know that the number of visits doesn’t not validate my mom status or quantify my love and grief for her- but its complicated. It’s hard parenting a dead child and still remain in the world of the living.

How often do you “visit” your child? Has that changed over time?

I made a lady cry

Yesterday I took Muppet and Felix out for a walk. We have a path in our town (that connects to several nearby towns) converted from a railroad track to a walking path- perfect for a stroll, a bike ride or a jog. I went there frequently after Mabel died because they plowed two legs of it in the winter, so it was one of the few places I could get out and get some fresh air safely. I met many friends there for walks as the air warmed. I remember my achey pelvis after the first few walks. It’s also a place where I would eventually take Muppet when we first got her. I guess it’s a place where I take my babies- whether they be dead and I take them in memory or whther they be furbabies. Yesterday I took my first living baby along with my furbaby.

We had a nice walk, with some interaction based mainly around muppet. She’s such stinkin’ cute puppy, its hard for her not to attract attention. I kept Felix well covered by a blanket over the stroller so no one would really see him and spread their germy germs to his fragile immune system. As we neared the end of our walk, a friendly woman walking alone approached and asked politely if she could pet my dog. She got right down on the ground with Muppet and gave her all sorts of puppy-loving. Muppet makes friends easily and loves just about anyone who will pet her.

After a few minutes of pets and belly rubs, she asked, again politely, if she could see the baby. I lifted the blanket and she was just awed by his small size.

“Yeah, he’s 10 days old. This is our first trip out.”

“My, look at you- a baby AND a puppy!! Wow! Is he your first?” she asked innocently.

“My second,” I answered with a smile.

“So does he have a brother or sister at home?” It often amazes me how many ways this question can be worded but my answer can be very different depending on the wording. So far I try to answer honestly and answer the question how its asked- though I’ve learned sometimes it makes me feel like I’m lying by omission- but it seems the right way for now. The same question can be phrased in many ways- is your first a boy or a girl? How old is your first? Do you have a son or a daughter? How many kids do you have? So many variations Presented with the question worded this way by the woman on the path, I felt the need to explain.

“He had a sister, but she died last year.”

The friendly, almost unctuous smile quickly melted into a deep expression of sorrow. Tears immediately filled her eyes and she began to cry a bit in front of me.

“Oh, I am so so sorry,” she said- and her empathy was genuine. She seemed at a loss for words for a bit and kept muttering apologies over and over. I smiled in a way that I hoped appeared gracious and resisted the urge to comfort her with “it’s ok,” when we all know its not ok at all.

“Thank you” I said softly in a tone trying to comfort her.

“It…just …makes you…think about…what’s important. The things we stress about…Oh gosh,” she stammered through tears.

I was kind of in awe about this woman’s outward display of emotion. She exuded joy with my puppy and now sadness hearing about Mabel. In some ways it seemed a bit over the top from a stranger, but in other ways it seemed so genuine.

I decided to comfort her a bit with words that I have already learned seem to make people feel better.

“Yes, so we are especially grateful for him.”

We soon parted ways, but I was reminded of the many times I was asked in pregnancy about whether it was my first or not. Some of those innocent conversations led to the admission that my first baby died. Awkwardness still followed, like it did before I was visibly pregnant, but my large belly and now the little human in front of me gave me an out. I can now comment on how fortunate/grateful/happy I am to have Felix.

This is all true- but a part of me cringes saying this as well. It implies a happy ending, that I’m no longer sad because I have a new baby (not true); that I’m less sad now that I have a new baby (both true and not true). The idea that having another baby makes everything better. When my only child died, I was so hopeful for another, thinking it would make things easier- and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. But it doesn’t change the fact that my baby died. I didn’t know when or if I’d get pregnant and if I’d stay pregnant and if that baby would be free of life limiting birth defects. What I needed to know then was that I’d be okay no matter what happened- whether I was fortunate to have a rainbow or not. We all know that not every story ends in a rainbow, and I feel like I want the world to know that too.