This month, Jaden will be one year old. How life has changed in the span of a year! And how my grief has both changed and not changed. Getting to be Jaden’s mom has absolutely been one of the greatest joys of my life. He has brought fresh life and laughter to our home and I just love getting to be his momma. But it has also awakened fresh grief.
Mother of Three
I am a mother of three though when you see me in my day-to-day life I usually look like a mother of one. There is one child I’m taking care of throughout the day, one child I’m trying to get fed and dressed, one child I’m watching crawl all over the place, one carseat I’m pulling in and out of the car, one child I’m strolling around the neighborhood, one child I’m pushing in the shopping cart. And so many firsts that are not just my Jaden firsts, but the firsts I’m experiencing with any child.
And so in many ways I live and function as a mother of one. And that is where the tension of joy and pain rests on my soul. For I am a mother of three and every first is a reminder, albeit ebbing and flowing with the ache it brings, of the firsts I didn’t get to experience with my first two daughters.
Early on when we brought Jaden home, I felt a surprising amount of grief along with the joy. Realizing all of the things I didn’t know how to do, but would have if Sophie and Dasah were here, was both humbling and painful. There was a part of me that didn’t want to ask for help, to act like a new mom with all her questions and fears because I wanted to resist being a new mom, being treated as a new mom, even embracing the newness of this side of motherhood. “I’m not a new mom” I wanted to scream at times from the top of my lungs so that no one would forget that I’m a mother of three.
Functioning as a New Mom
But the thing is, in so many ways I function as a new mom. My motherhood certainly began the moment I found out I was carrying my firstborn daughter, continued through carrying her, celebrating her life, cherishing the moments I would have with her and then her sister, Dasah. I know what it likes to entrust my child to the Lord, to learn how to trust Him with the grief of knowing I can’t control their lives or their safety or their health. I know what it’s like to hold them in my arms and comfort their weary bodies. But I never heard them cry because they were hungry, I never had to figure out what this cry means or that cry means, I never got frustrated when they wouldn’t nap, or frustrated when all of a sudden I could get nothing done because, well I’m caring for a baby. I changed their diapers each one time, and not because they needed it but because I needed to experience that small normal part of motherhood. All these normal things that I wouldn’t get to do with them. And now I get to do them and experience them with Jaden. And I love it and also ache with it.
The Tension of Motherhood after Infant Loss
When you are a mother of a living child after losing a child, there is of course still your typical or normal mom guilt one might experience when you’re having a hard mom day, when you’re frustrated with your child’s tears, or frustrated with your child’s nap and not as loving as you would want to be. And then there is the mom grief guilt. It’s the guilt that comes on top of that and goes something like this:
“I wish my baby would just stop crying, I can’t handle this anymore.” –momma
“He’s just a baby, he just needs his momma, now I feel bad for not wanting to comfort him.” –momma guilt
“I can’t believe I even have the thought ‘I can’t handle this anymore’, I would give anything to hear my babies I lost cry and not stop.” –momma grief guilt
“I should be grateful I even have a baby that is crying, now I feel like I’m dishonoring the children I lost by not being grateful for their little siblings tears” –momma grief guilt (usually culminating in a form of a “I should feel, or shouldn’t feel…”)
Well, at least this is how it has gone for me. It’s difficult to navigate the emotions of new motherhood alongside the emotions of motherhood lost. It’s difficult to let others into those emotions, to express how grateful you are of the new life you are getting to shepherd and parent and how sad you are of the new lives you are missing parenting. It is the tension of joy and ache that forever exists in the heart of the mother who has lost a child.
It’s the tension that exists when you take a family photo and someone says “Is everyone here?” And your hearts cry is “NO, everyone is SO not here!” And still I’m thankful for the ones who are and deeply missing the ones who aren’t. It’s the tension that exist when someone asks you “Is this your first?” and you take a moment and think if you want to share the cliff notes version, you want to respond and still honor the children you’ve lost. It’s the tension that exists when you see your child’s personality start to come out and you think, or someone else says “that’s just like a firstborn.” And your heart aches because, “Did they forget?, Did you forget?” He’s the third. Of course you did not forget, but in so many ways it true that he will grow up being and acting as the firstborn.
It’s the tension that exists when you’re a new mom but not a new mom, when you experience motherhood after infant loss. And there is no easy way out except to press in. To allow the tension to exist, to be gracious with yourself, and to be gracious with those who make comments that unknowingly hurt, to allow God to bring healing to the places that ache as you parent your child or children who are living. And I’ve found God to be faithful over the last year as I’m slowly embracing this new tension, stepping into the new things to grieve and discovering fresh joy along the way.
Even this month, as Jaden’s first birthday approaches, an unexpected amount of grief has surfaced. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it catches me off guard these days. There’s so much less time to be aware of where I’m at emotionally as I care for Jaden. I realized that this ache that is surfacing is the familiar emotion of what I felt anticipating each of the girls’ birthdays. I have never known a birthday with my girls where there would not be pain and so to feel joy as I anticipate Jaden’s birthday, to realize he’ll be here to celebrate with us is foreign and strange. It will be the first birthday we’ve celebrated with Jaden as we met him 2 days after he was born, and it will be a celebration without the anticipation that we will lose him. And we won’t be releasing balloons in his honor or eating cupcakes through tears, or watching videos of the only time we’ve had with him. We’ll watch him smash cake in his face (and I’m sure I’ll cry as he does this for all the years I’ve longed to see my baby make such a mess), sing happy birthday, not care about the presents in front of him, watch his videos and think “how much he’s grown!”. And as my heart is so very joyful in this it is also aching with the realization of what it is we have actually missed doing with our girls. New things to grieve, new things to be reminded will one day all be redeemed.
I think Jaden’s birthday will be a sweet day of healing, of joy, of a small taste of God’s redeeming power, but no doubt in all the joy, it will hold some ache. A reminder that there is still the groan, there is still redemption coming. He makes all things new. Even birthdays lost. It’s not all new today, but one day it will be. And in the meantime He gives glimpses of that newness on this earth and no doubt we will get a glimpse on Jaden’s first birthday.
So I’m a new mom in getting to parent a child, but not a new mom. That is my normal and my reality of learning what motherhood after infant loss is like and the tension that it brings. And I’m learning ever so slowly to embrace the tension, press into the pain and so discover fresh joy.