Amongst the rays of joy and sunshine, my grief thrives, and deep down I know it always will to some degree. How can I not grieve when a part of me, the first life born of the love between my husband and myself, will never be here with us? Her loss has cut through me at an organic level. It has altered the very core of my being.
A wound like that is chronic. It may lay dormant at times, hidden beneath the surface of our smiles, but the pain at losing Peyton, in the manner in which we lost her, will always be there, and reminders of what we don't have, will always be evident.
I was coming home from the cardiologists office the other day (I have been having some cardiac issues this pregnancy too, but will go into that on another post) and passed a woman on the street pushing a twin stroller with two 18 month-ish children in it. Beside her, a girl who appeared a few years older, pushed a stroller of her own with a doll inside. The mother waved, and smiled, and I waved, and smiled, but it hurt like a dagger through my heart.
THAT was what should have been.
My daughter should be here, trying to make whatever sense she can in her own toddler way of my ever growing belly. She should be that little girl in a year and half's time, walking alongside her momma and siblings, pushing a doll down the street. There are so many things that should be with Peyton, but they won't and never will be, and that hurts.
I can accept that she is never coming back. I can accept that for all of my life I will struggle answering "how many children do you have" or wonder what she would have looked like at a particular stage in her life. What I can't accept is what I can't understand - that for reasons that have still never offered any answers, two perfectly healthy people made a cancer ridden child, and a month of suffering was the only life she ever knew. I do my best to hold onto the beauty - the memories of holding her, how she smelled, the touch of her cheek against my chest, but I will never understand why she is no longer with us. Why part of me is no longer with us. Why my husband and I will never again be "whole."
That's not to say, of course, that we can't live a life of joy. It's just to say that a life of pure joy is not possible.
We have seen too much.
Lost too much.
Cried too much.
I experience joy daily from the love of my husband, my family, my friends. The reassuring nuzzle of my dog Charlotte against my side. Each bout of morning sickness, though it taxes me physically, that offers a sign that things are moving along as they should be.
Each day I offer gratitude for these babies. After hearing the words, "you will never again have children" I know full well that each kick is a grand accomplishment, and every punch or jab is a reassuring gesture of love that all will be okay. I rarely allow myself to dwell on all the reasons that have me on bed rest, or the scary complications they can bring, and instead tell myself that in four months time, God willing, these little snowflakes will be born into this world healthy and whole, and another level of healing in my heart can begin.
A level of healing. Not a cure. There is no cure that can undo what has happened to our sweet Peyton.
I look for joy and blessings in the every day - but I am only human.
I have found it impossible to experience so much loss - to carry a child I believed was healthy and discover at birth that she would most likely not survive; to try to live with making end of life care decisions that come to haunt me daily about that child who I so wanted, planned for, and loved; to have to bury that child, and then just get over it, or sugar coat it beneath life's other blessings.
I know that there are many who have had it worse than me, and remind myself of this every day, but somehow that just doesn't make this journey any easier to take.
Most days I wake up and I feel content - not whole, I will never feel whole, but content. On other days I am paralyzed by the fear of possibly re-living the nightmare that has been the last few years. Scared mostly by the knowledge that I got through by the skin of my teeth the first time.
Right after Peyton died, a friend told me that people would be looking to me as an example of strength. This friend has since all but vanished, and I have felt in my heart that it is because I didn't live up that expectation. I wasn't strong through Peyton's death, I didn't and still don't know how to be. The best I have been able to offer is honesty - my weakness and vulnerability exposed every step of the way.
In my current journey, the one of walking the tightrope between bereaved mother and expectant mother, I follow much the same path. Most days I feel confident that all will work out, but on others words like pre-term labor, infant loss, high risk, and leukemia come banging down my door, and when they do, all I can do is hold on tight waiting for that storm to pass.
There are certain African cultures where young boys are sent out into the woods to hunt at night as a right of passage. Some of these boys, too, struggle to be brave. Some of them find that they, like me, are not "examples of strength" but walking into that dark jungle is what they have been called to do, so they go out and try none the less.
Fears surround them - of the dark, of what lurks in the shadows, of the stories of other young hunters encountering wild beasts that over power them. They are sent into these woods with a spear and a message - a token of advice from the elders to get them through. "Yes these terrible things can happen in the jungle, but that doesn't have to be your story."
I think of these boys on the really tough days. The days full of guilt and grief and fear and I remind myself that yes I lost my first child with no warning and no answers and yes I am scared it could happen again, but even though Peyton's birth story and life were tragic, and will always stay with me, that DOESN'T HAVE TO BE the snowflake's story.
I repeat this message to myself until it starts to feel true, and when it finally does, I pick up my spear, and my gratitude, and push forward through the jungle once again.