It’s a Monday morning, and my son and I are outside in our back yard enjoying the early spring weather. Not usually one to stay confined to one place for too long, he squats in the corner by the fence, digging intently in the dirt with two small potting trowels. I observe his expression of intense curiosity as he explores, watching as he sifts through the dirt, unearthing rocks and then burying them again, perfectly content with this simple setup.
Meanwhile, I sit in the dirt, rhythmically pulling weeds, relishing my toddler’s independence and celebrating the realization that I’ve somehow made it to the point of motherhood where we can have a morning like this—each of us doing our own thing, in our own space, happy and content.
Suddenly, the familiar sting of grief hits me as my mind flashes to a vision of what I thought my life would look like right now. I imagine how the morning might have unfolded, mentally adding a newborn to the scene, picturing what it would have been like to balance the needs of an infant with those of a busy two-year-old and his burgeoning independence.
In this alternate universe, I didn’t have a miscarriage, and the last eight months are not filled with the pain and struggle of this grief that I carry. In that place, there are three of us here in the backyard, enjoying a typical Monday morning together.
But today, there are only two of us. I blink back tears and swallow the lump in my throat. I glance over at my son, still focused on his dirt, and I feel a pang of guilt that I am celebrating this milestone of his independence while simultaneously mourning the fact that something—or rather, someone—is missing from this sweet moment, that this life is not the way it was supposed to be.
It’s a Wednesday morning, exactly one week after we learned that our baby’s heart had stopped beating. I have absolutely no desire to leave the house, but I am forcing myself to stay busy, to keep my toddler engaged in fun activities so he is too distracted to notice the grief that is consuming me. Every time I feel tears well up in my eyes, I remind myself: You have to keep it together. You don’t want to cry in public in front of strangers. Your son needs you to be strong. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this.
I see the sign for the gymnastics studio, and I slow down as I make the right turn into the parking lot. My eyes dart back and forth as I look for a parking spot. A dozen moms cross the black pavement in front of me, tugging at toddlers, carrying babies snuggled in wraps against their chests, pushing strollers laden with diaper bags, and I feel the hot tears starting to spill down my cheeks. I pull into a parking space, put the car in park, and begin to sob. That was supposed to be me: a mom with a toddler and infant in tow. I should be flaunting my baby bump underneath the cute maternity shirts I bought this spring, not desperately trying to conceal the evidence that, only a week ago, I was 16 weeks pregnant with our second baby.
I pull out my phone and text my husband. All the minivans in the parking lot are killing me. It’s not fair. This isn’t how it was supposed to be.
It’s less than a week before our baby’s due date and I sit in my car, emotionally spent, breathing deeply and intentionally to avoid succumbing to another wave of tears. I just left my therapist’s office, and I’m feeling drained and disconcerted and raw.
I replay the words that I just spoke out loud to her: “I’m just so freaking ANGRY that this happened. And I don’t know what to do with that.”
I lean my head back and close my eyes, feeling a fresh wave of tears coming on.
I’m angry because, despite all the odds, we got pregnant without even trying to. Our little miracle baby. I believed that this sweet, precious life must have been meant for our family—that even though it wasn’t what we had planned for right now, it was the way that it was supposed to be.
I’m angry because despite the little bit of spotting I had in the first trimester, despite the feeling I had from the very beginning that something just wasn’t right, our first ultrasound showed a perfect little bean with a strong heartbeat. I let my guard down and I breathed a little easier after that, believing it was somehow proof that everything was going to be okay.
And then, after all that, I’m angry that our baby died anyway.
I’m angry at my body, that I carried our baby for five weeks before learning that our little one’s heart had stopped beating.
I’m angry that, at the appointment where I was so excited to finally hear our baby’s heartbeat, there wasn’t one, and that I left the office with my world shattered instead of with that rushing, galloping rhythm in my ears, the one I’d longed so much to hear.
I’m angry that, aside from a few ultrasound photos, an incomplete copy of The Belly Book, and a bag of ashes in a little pouch my drawer, I have nothing tangible left of our baby, just the ever-present ache in my heart where the memory of our sweet baby now resides.
I’m angry because I want our baby’s life to have meant something. I want to shake the universe, to demand an answer, some sort of explanation for this cruel twist of fate.
I just want my life to be the way it was supposed to be, instead of the way that it is. I long to go back to the “before,” rather than living this life divided between the “before” and the “after.”
It’s a Monday evening, and my son is cuddled on my lap as we rock in the chair in his room. It was a challenging afternoon, complete with no nap, and his heavy eyelids tell me that he will be asleep in no time. Knowing that he won’t fight the break in his routine, I turn off the light and rock him to sleep for the first time in—well, I don’t even remember how long.
I close my eyes, giving in to the back and forth rhythm, letting the darkness envelop me and the drone of the sound machine wash over me. I feel him relax as he fades deeper into sleep, and I listen to his breathing change, trying to savor the sweetness of our morning in the back yard, when everything was perfectly right, but also very wrong.
I need to snuggle my sweet boy tonight as I sit with this very real paradox of gratitude and grief. My heart aches with so much love for him, and also for the desire to have both of my babies filling the space in my arms, for my need to divide this love that beats so urgently in my chest that it hurts sometimes. My soul longs to know what it would be like to see him as a big brother, to hear him call his sibling by name and watch the two of them develop a special bond, rather than only knowing our baby as a memory that he will solemnly acknowledge “makes mommy feel sad.”
As I rock him, holding back the tears, I think about the way it was supposed to be right now. Twice the challenge, and also twice the love. Twice the exhaustion, and also twice the joy.
It has been almost a year since the word pregnant appeared on that test. It has been almost nine months since the hardest day of my life. This is not the way I thought my life would look right now, yet somehow, I have started come to terms with the fact that this is the story that is being written. I have begun to accept that we live in the “after,” and we must keep moving forward from here. And even though losing our baby is a painful chapter of our lives, even though the pain persists and the missing part of our family is still constantly on my mind, I know it’s not the end of the story.
Because there’s always more ahead, even when you’re living in the “after.”
Guest post written by Nicole Watford. Nicole is a family and newborn photographer living in Columbia, SC with her husband and their two-year-old son who keeps them laughing (and keeps them on their toes!). Writing has always been a cathartic way for her to process her life’s experiences. She is a homebody who loves brunch, good coffee, insightful conversation, thought-provoking books, and hardcore belly laughs—most of all when they can be shared with those she loves. She spends her days growing her business in the fringe hours, trying to keep up with her toddler, and attempting to finish her coffee before it gets cold. You can read more of her musings on life and motherhood on her blog, or find her on Instagram.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.