Describe Family

I have words to describe my family members. Ger is steady, logical, my constant. Theo is inquisitive, my inventor, and always wants to please. Quentin is spunky, creative and determined. How do I describe the babies I never met? Generically, like precious or sweet? I can only say that they were mine. My babies.

I am sometimes worried that this baby will always live in the shadow of the babies that we lost. Because I have no way of describing them, do they become forever intertwined with the baby that followed? Is it a continuum of what “should have been?” It hurts to think this way. It hurts to know that by honoring Nelle and Iris, we would always be reminding Baby Three that existence followed loss.

What struck me recently was reading about Patton Oswalt’s engagement. I have appreciated his openness about grief since his beloved wife died unexpectedly. I rarely follow celebrity culture, but reading that he was engaged, I braced myself on his behalf. I knew the backlash he faced… Sheryl Sandberg described the same in her book Option B. Judgment that “it’s too soon.” A friend of mine was asked how she was doing months after losing her baby, and when she replied honestly that she has good days and bad days, the response was “Still?” As if any of us could judge what is right. This post summed it up perfectly:

You aren’t entitled to an opinion. You don’t get to comment on the choices of a widower while you sit happily next to your own living spouse. You didn’t have to stand and watch your mundane morning turn into your absolute worst nightmare…. You didn’t have to stand in the ashes of what was once your life, when the sun itself darkened and the very air you breathed felt toxic in your lungs. Go back to scrolling Facebook and keep your ignorance to yourself.

She also wrote “One love isn’t moved out to make room for someone new. An addition is built. Just like my love for my daughter was not diminished by the birth of my son, so too, the love widows can have for someone new does not diminish the love of the one lost. The expansion of the heart is part of the grieving process.” I compared it to what we have experienced over the past 22 months. I was pregnant with Iris within 2.5 months of losing Nelle. No one said to us “It’s too soon.” The reactions to pregnancy after losing a baby are always joyful and encouraging. Our hearts expand to let another baby in. I don’t pretend to know what it is like to lose a spouse, but why is it different for widows/widowers who choose to let their hearts expand let in another? Just another example of how our culture has rigid, irrational, and unfair expectations regarding the grieving process.

We talk more frequently about Baby Three’s upcoming presence in our home.  We talked about the name recently and almost changed it. Though we have known the gender and been set on a name for a long time, suddenly we were not sure if it fit. For all of my previous children, once we selected a name, that was it. I began to refer to the baby by that name and there was never talk of changing it. This time, we did talk seriously about it and I realized why I was open to changing it: because I do not refer to the baby by the name we’ve selected. Mentally, I just say “the baby.” For all of the connections I’ve made in tracking movement and seeing images on ultrasounds, I cannot say the name. It makes it real. A real baby, so close to being born. We went all the way around and came back to the name that we had already chosen.

Quentin, my current youngest living child, has been excited and preparing for this baby as the reality sets in. This week, he has been bribing me notes that he writes in camp. Each one comes home in a sealed envelope with “TO: ANNA. FROM: QUENTIN” printed on the outside in his 5-year-old hand. I have to laugh at his formal use of “ANNA” in his notes to me. One this week read the following. He is all ready for our family to expand.

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Dear Mommy: I love you because you’re having a baby.  From Quentin