I have had a pit in my stomach over the past few weeks. I finally realized that I was reliving a lot of the anxiety I felt in the days leading up to her birth: a gnawing fear that something would happen. This time, I feared that she would never reach one year old, instead of the fear that she wouldn’t be born healthy. I envisioned a car accident, the day before her birthday, that would take her life. I imagined the words that people would ask me, like “How old was your daughter when she died?” and I would have to forever respond “It was the day before her first birthday.” Never able to say “I have a one year old daughter.”
I spent the days leading up to her birthday feeling that same nervousness. Same feeling like I could not control my body or my responses, no matter how much I tried to rationally tell myself that nothing would happen. I retreated back into my habit of taking a bath and letting the warm water try to regulate my pounding heart.
Time slowed for us the day that Nelle died in September of 2015. I spent weeks crying and doing little else. Then I was pregnant with Iris and spent every day of the 16 weeks I was pregnant with her being afraid. Losing Iris was not only a shatter on my heart, but knowing that I would have to go back to Day One in another pregnancy. Six months of waiting. Then nine months of pregnancy. By the time Autumn was born, it had been nearly two years.
Then Autumn was born and now it has been a whirlwind. I looked at the photos of her early weeks and how tiny she was. Now she sleeps through the night, eats anything we serve her, pulls herself to standing, and has several words in her vocabulary. She adores her brothers and flaps her arms excitedly when they wake up in the morning. She loves baths so much that she will stay in long after the water has cooled.
Theo was just weeks shy of turning 6 years old when Nelle died. Now he is nearly 9 years old. I wonder where the years went. I have never been a parent that says “Treasure every moment, because it goes by too quickly!” I have enjoyed watching my kids learn new things, and instead appreciate how they are growing. But for the past two years, I have been so focused on only myself and my pregnancy that now it feels like an absence.
Theo is now so tall that he reaches my shoulders and he continues to amaze me with his wit and his curiosity. Quentin has always felt older than his actual years. Probably the product of having an older brother and wanting to keep up, I often forget that he is younger. It is hard to believe that he was only three years old when we lost Nelle. Because he was so mature and acted older than his three years, it feels like he is now “caught up” to his six years. Like time froze at six years old… Theo was six at the time and now Quentin is six.
I see that time lost when I watch them interact with Autumn. Eight years older, Theo finds her interesting, but not a playmate. Quentin gets right on the floor with her, interested in her toys, her books, and the way she will reach out and try to grab his nose. If Nelle had been born when she was due, Theo would have been that age …. six. What did we lose there? What did we gain?
Their reactions to the babies that we have lost have changed. Theo was on the cusp of understanding at the time. He cried huge tears when we told him that our babies had died. Quentin cuddled near me, because he knew I was sad. Theo immediately turned into matter-of-fact mode after that. Now, Quentin is matter-of-fact. And, now older, Theo is visibly sad and affected when we talk about grieving his sisters, or other families that we know whose babies have died. And I expect that relationship will continue to change for both of them as we continue to incorporate Nelle and Iris into our lives.
I was at a friend’s house the night before Autumn’s birthday and when I arrived home, I wanted so much to go into her room and check on her. But I knew that it would likely wake her up and I would have a screaming baby. Still, at 10:00 pm, with only hours left until the actual day, all I could think was that something would happen and she would never make it to one year old. I felt relief when I heard her stir at 5:15 am.
She made it. Now she is a year old. Where did that time go?