Today, I feel them near.
I don’t feel their weight so acutely at every moment anymore, a survival mechanism that’s developed thanks largely to medications, and while that allows me to breathe more effectively and function more efficiently on a daily basis, I do miss the constant reminder that my children were here, and that they were real.
The reminder this morning is heavy.
I worked last night, watching a new mother nurse her day old infant, explaining the role of hydration in the elimination of the bilirubin that had built up in her daughter’s body and led to her admission to our NICU for phototherapy. The little murmuring noises that the baby made, the reach of her tiny hand upward along the side of her mother’s breast as she swallowed, the mother’s comment about the painful uterine cramps she experienced every time her child latched, her squinting eyes shedding tears of hormone-soaked love and exhaustion and fear and persistent presence, all brought home afresh just how powerfully intimate this relationship between mother and newborn is, how visceral the bond. I remember those cramps, those noises, those tiny fingernails on my skin. I am honored to witness the magic and breath-stealing beauty of these moments between a mother and child that I do not even know. It is a privilege to glimpse this new relationship in its infancy, these sacred roles playing out quietly and humbly at 0200 while the world sleeps.
Clearly it’s a relationship that I deeply longed to experience again myself. I celebrate this mother’s opportunity to do so, to nurture this child and this love. I think of my own two living boys at home, sleeping in their beds, remember their tiny reaching hands on my neck and all of the growth that has come since, and am grateful. I try not to think of what almost was, what should have been, what was buried a year and three years ago.
When those thoughts do sneak out of their compartments and into the present moment, I give silent thanks that their hearts ever beat at all. I acknowledge how deep and shattering their losses were and are, I remind myself that I cannot go back and change their outcomes, and I try and allow the grief to come through as compassion and support that I can offer to the mother and child currently in front of me. And no matter how hard I try, no matter how clear-headedly I inhale and exhale and remind myself that this story in front of me is playing out independently of my own, that this isn’t some form of cruel torture that the universe has contrived just for me, that the hurt and sadness won’t bring them back and that I can best honor and experience them by distilling my grief down to kindness and love that can be expressed and given away, when I step away from my patients I always, always long to hold my own babies again. And that’s ok. Of course I long for that, to watch them breathe and sleep and stretch and smile, and for their gaze to meet my own. How could I not ache for that? I am a professional, and I am also a human.
I slept this morning and into the early afternoon, and woke, disoriented,with a heavy brick of terror on my chest. Time is passing. School is starting. They aren’t here. And the world is moving on. I remember that every year at this time a low-grade sadness settles over me and always has, even before my summer babies died and I was cast into heavy post-partum grief right as summer descended into fall. It dawned on me that this is what’s happening, that I’m wading into the depths of my season, and once I see it I am surprised that it caught me off guard. I feel myself spiral, sitting on the couch staring at the wall, too sad to move. A few breaths later I realize that a sudden downward spiral toward a place that feels a lot like somewhere that was once my baseline means that I must have been doing at least somewhat better, and that I will hopefully rise again.
I have a whole list of things to accomplish today. But I feel them calling, so instead I step outside into the afternoon summer haze and simply sit, and listen, and notice. And I feel them, their weight painful but so familiar and safe and sweet over my heart. They feel like home.
The air is cooler than I expect, not as heavy with humidity as I’d imagined, and slips easily into and out of my lungs. My heavy heart rises with the hum of insects into the canopy of tree branches over our patio, hovers with the leaves dancing in the breeze as is their nature. A flower head bobs in one of the planters I keep for them, and the lantana has rebloomed a brilliant fiery red after shedding its initial blossoms earlier this summer. I had feared the color might be gone for the summer. But it is back.
Gavin’s wind chimes, a gift from a sweet friend that have lifted my eyes on many dark days, occasionally ring softly, a gentle reminder of love that is still present. The glass orbs and sun catchers that I hung for them last year and three years ago are still on the branches where I placed them on another summer day that now lives only in my memory. Since then, a winter has come and gone, and these comforting items are still present.
My babies were real. I did not imagine them. Their love is real, their energy is still with me.
The moss rose’s petals are open now, responding to and embracing the sunlight. There are fewer feathers this year, but I have cherished every one of them. Fewer butterflies also, but this afternoon one drifts brightly by.
Gavin would have been three this month. Had Heath survived to term, we would have been planning to celebrate his first birthday in November.
As the light changes and the shadows lengthen, I will get through it by pausing more often. Embracing the bittersweet more often. Noticing them more often. The pain cuts but the love fills and lifts. Heaviness and lightness entertwine, and they are both mine. They are the stories of my children in heaven, they ground me and they live on as long as I pass their love along. I will continue to breathe, to rise, and to reach.