It's hard to give voice to the thoughts. I want to write and say to everyone, "It's all perfect now. Once you get your baby, everything goes back to normal and all of the dead baby things just vanish, they slip away into the air carried by the cries of a new life." But that is just not the truth. Not even close.
In the moment of Cason's birth, it is true that I saw for the first time the permanence of Caleb's death. Maybe the more accurate thing to say is that I felt it. I let myself feel it. I had to stop holding onto the wishing this had never happened feelings and I had to embrace the reality of my life. I have a child who died. And now I have a child who lives. I have both. I have to live with both. Forever.
I want to tell you that having Cason has taken the sting, or more aptly the full body blow, of losing Caleb away. But it doesn't. Not even a little. I think I thought it would. I wonder if we all think that.
I was wrong. Having Cason didn't even quiet the noise, the running dead baby soundtrack in my head. It's all still there.
Maybe I thought or even believed that having another baby would somehow replace Caleb or fill the void left by him. I didn't think I thought that. I really didn't. I know I wrote during my pregnancy that I didn't want anyone to ever think that Cason would replace Caleb or that I would somehow be healed if I got the live baby. But I wonder if the biggest fool in all of it was me. I think somewhere deep down inside I thought, or maybe hoped, that that is exactly what would happen.
Which isn't to imply or even hint at the idea that having Cason is or was in any way diminished by having lost Caleb. Exactly the opposite is true. Having Cason is by far the best thing that has ever happened to our family, to me, since, well, ever. Do I love him more than my other two living children? No. But my love for him is colored with different emotions. My heart is in an entirely different condition than it was when they were born. Obviously, right? I am not the same anymore. One of my friends once said to me, "No two children are ever raised by the same parents." I always loved that idea because it does truly capture the uniqueness of every child's experience in a family. And never has it felt more true to me than it does now. For Cason is surely not going to be raised by the same people who raised his older brother and sister. We have nurtured two children and have survived the loss of a third. We have a humility and awareness of life and death that we did not know before. We have lived the very best and worst moments as parents. We are most assuredly not the same two people we were a decade and then some ago when we ventured into this thing called parenthood. Even if we wanted to we could not be the people we were before he was born.
And Cason, his very existence is illuminated by his lost brothers life. Can I tell you how many times my husband has called Cason, Caleb? No, I stopped counting a while ago.
And for me, every time I hold him, especially in the quiet late night hours when he and I are alone, him snuggled warmly against my chest, his body curved into an impossible "S" shaped bundle, as I imagine he must have been when he dwelled within me, I stroke his back, my hand now able to reach his skin and not be shielded from him by my belly, I implore him never to leave me. My love for him is so fierce it is almost frightening. The lingering fear of a dead baby mom always hovering around me, reminding me that nothing is certain, that anything can be taken away at any moment. (I sometimes try to shake the fear away with images of me doing an impersonation of Shirley McClain in Terms of Endearment. Early in the movie when she doesn't hear her baby daughter moving in the crib, she tells her husband that the baby must be dead so she climbs into the crib and shakes the baby enough to get her to cry at which point she says "there that's better" and leaves the crying baby and goes back to her own room to sleep. I don't shake Cason but I have been known to move him around a bit, to make sure he is still breathing, often waking him in the process.) I want not a second to pass without him feeling me loving him. I wonder does he know, can he ever know, how much he was wanted, needed in our lives. Will he ever be able to understand just what his life has meant to all of us. Will he feel burdened by his lost brothers legacy or grateful for it? I can't answer that question myself, I have no idea how I will raise a child to.
And then my thoughts are with Caleb and everything that he is missing. All of the love he never got to know, to feel, the life he never got to live. All of the things we will never know about him. Cason is an impossibly easy baby, would Caleb have been? Cason loves his baths, would Caleb have? Cason still has red hair and the beginnings of what seem to be green eyes, a true leprechaun, what color hair and eyes would Caleb have had? The list goes on and on. And it hurts me now more to think of these things than it did before. I think maybe the joy I feel experiencing these moments with Cason makes me feel as though I am somehow cheating Caleb out of something. I don't know how to parent a dead child. I don't know how to love him the right way, if there is such a thing.
It's as if the grief has started all over again. First you get to grieve the emptiness of your heart and your arms and then you get to grieve the fullness of them. I suppose it's not the fullness really, it's the awareness of the stark truth that one is always going to be missing. And while your arms and heart are filled they are never going to hold everything they should have.
My daughter seems to have grasped this reality easier than I have. She will often talk to me about the 4 children in our family, her and her 3 brothers. How if Caleb had lived she would have been a big sister to two brothers. I wonder if she will always include Caleb or if her memory of him and the loss of him will fade over time as Cason and his presence fill her daily life.
I guess I wonder that about me too.
I'll take it though. Living with this confusion is infinitely more bearable than the alternative. I know that. I am not whining. I know how lucky we are, I am. I know not everyone who gets a membership card to the db club gets a living baby afterwards. I remember the night and day I labored and delivered Caleb, two of the three nurses I had were members of this club. I asked both of them if they had a live baby after. Neither did. Hearing that from them was devastating to me. I was already trying to plan another baby and they both were crushing my hopes of the possibility. Getting here, to this place, getting my baby, I am beyond grateful. There aren't words to express the feelings or the emotions that come with the magic that is handed to you in a living, breathing baby when you have already lived through the devastation of being handed your dead baby. And when people see him, people who don't know the story, when they offer the standard congratulations or other baby type welcome words, I feel compelled to tell them everything. I want them to know this is no ordinary baby, he did not come easily, we didn't just decide to have a baby and get one. I want them to understand as much as possible that I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this little boy. I want them to see the magic in him too. But I don't think anyone can truly see it unless they have a membership card.
I see it.
There will never be a time that I look at him or think of him and don't see it. And for that I am grateful.
ETA: Blogger rotated my pic...sorry for any neck strain:)