When you have a preterm baby who dies, your original due date becomes seeped in pain. It becomes the marker in time that symbolises everything that could have been but never was. While it is never a simple given, I can’t help but think IF my baby was born around his due date instead of when he was, chances are he would be safely in my arms right now.
The lead up to his due date late year was excruciating. All I could think of was all the excitement, joy, hopes and dreams that we had when he was safely inside my womb that had become crushed so quickly. I thought about what I would be doing to prepare to bring our baby home and the things I’d be worrying about which now felt so menial and stupid. I thought about the newborn outfits I had already brought home that were now packed away out of sight that he’d never get to wear. I yearned so desperately to go through his birth all over again so I could see and touch him once more. Every time I saw a happy birth announcement around this time I was so happy and relieved but also secretly jealous that we never got to have that with Elliott. I was so angry at myself for being worried about the sleepless nights that we were supposed to have again, when I would do anything to be getting up to our baby. I was angry that I was having them anyway, caused by the fact I had no baby to get up to.
“It won’t be this hard next year” my husband told me.
After his due date a certain heaviness that was attached to it lifted and we went through the following year riding the waves of grief through other milestones. In what felt like an eternity but also the blink of an eye we were a year on and passing the milestone of his due date anniversary again.
Turns out my husband was wrong, it was just as hard the second time around.
This year all I could think was “it should be his first birthday”. This time I thought of the outfit he would have been wearing and how we’d be planning a party for him. I wondered if he’d be walking and how much hair he’d have. I imagined what his personality would be, asking myself if he’d be curious and confident or shy and quiet.
Strangely i wasn’t as consumed with these questions for his actual birthday. For that day I focused on pouring my love and energy into celebrating him and his life. We celebrated the day he was born and how blessed we were to have him. His birthday wasn’t about celebrating him at 1 years old, it was about celebrating the day we saw his beautiful face, the day we held him and kissed his cheeks, the day we fell even more deeply in love with him. I also quietly celebrated the fact that we had all survived 1 year which felt impossible to do at the start. Yes it was overwhelmingly sad, bitterly raw and heartbreaking but it was also beautiful and special. His birthday gave us an opportunity to look back on that special day I brought him into the world, a day that included love, magic and pride and holds warm and beautiful memories. It also gave us the opportunity to have other people celebrate and acknowledge him too.
His due date on the other hand had all the pain of loss with nothing to cherish. Leading into his due date I was back to having moments where I was consumed by thoughts that start with
He/we should be…
Thoughts I hate, thoughts that hurt, thoughts I just couldn’t for the life of me stop.
Learning to adjust between the “what should have been” and the “what is” is no easy task. You must adjust to being a different person with a different life that no longer carries the future you were supposed to have. You don’t just lose them as a baby- you lose them as a 1 year old, a toddler, a teenager, an adult… you lose a whole lifetime with them. So you constantly adjust, not just once, but over your life to this. I feel like my mind accepted our reality from the start but my heart still hangs on desperately wanting it to all be different, and perhaps it always will.
Just like his first due date, the lead up was torturous but much worse than the actual day. Since it has passed the bitter rawness has eased again and the waves are much calmer for the moment. Just like every milestone, I’ve survived and gotten through one way or another. I feel like every milestone so far has left me with deeper scars and i miss him no less than I did 16 months ago. I know however that with each milestone I pass I also learn a bit more how to live with it all. Each milestone I get better at believing that one day I’ll emerge like a Phoenix out of my own ashes. But I wonder if I will always be brought to my knees every year as this time floats by.