Mama, Papa, Eleanora, E

I haven’t known what to say for nearly three weeks. I keep telling myself, “Your brain feels clogged. You need to write,” but nothing comes. I feel like I’m on autopilot as we move into our first holiday season as bereaved parents.

I told my therapist this morning, “I’m tired of feeling like I’m in survival mode. I feel like I’m not living. I’m just trying to ‘get through’ everything.” She reminded me that this is normal, and that I can’t expect my holidays to feel like they used to, but I’m frustrated regardless. She’s right, of course, but I am tired of feeling tired. As Taylor Swift says, “I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it.” (There is a Taylor lyric for everything.)

Normally by this time of year, I’m playing Christmas music around the clock, shopping for gifts in all my spare time, and wrapping in the evenings. I’m baking the little sugar cookies with snowmen on them and making hot chocolate and driving around with Daniel to see everyone’s lights. I’m overjoyed with the warmth of the season that snuggles up so perfectly with the chill in the air.

This year just isn’t the same.

There should be an extra pair of hands here to pull on the garland as we decorate. I should be taking a picture of a wide-eyed, wiggling baby next to the “Baby Main Coming 2021” ornament we bought last year. That extra pair of big, beautiful eyes should be shimmering under the Christmas lights. There should be an extra little giggle, and a tiny puffy coat, and a pair of baby boots.

Instead, all is quiet. The nights are silent. The presents we bought for our daughter will be taken to her gravesite. There will be no carseat in the backseat when we drive around to look at lights. The tiny coat and baby boots will stay hidden in the closet, collecting dust. The words “sleep in heavenly peace” will feel like a knife through the heart, jagged and twisting.

I miss my daughter more than words can ever say. I fear that she will be forgotten. I fear that having a new baby someday will take everyone’s attention away from my firstborn. I’m scared that I’ll never be able to love another baby as much as I love her. I’m scared I WILL love another baby as much as I love her—because if I do, and that baby dies, I might not survive it. I’m scared of opening myself up to heartbreak again. When the worst has happened to you, and the statistic becomes your life, you assume that it will always happen to you, that it will always be your life.

I feel as though I’m being pulled in two different directions—on the one hand, I’m being pulled toward Eleanora, toward keeping her at the forefront of everything. On the other, I’m being pulled toward having more children. I cannot reconcile these two things. If I release my vice-like grip on Eleanora, I will never forgive myself. (I know this isn’t possible anyway. One does not just “let go” of one’s child.) If I release my vice-like grip on my desire to have more children, I will be letting go of the one thing I want most in the world: to raise my children.

To put it another way: I will never—never—hold all of my children in my arms at the same time. To hold one child in my arms, and only the memory of another in my heart, feels nearly impossible. I know I already have and already am surviving the unsurvivable, but my life as a mother will never be simple, simply because a piece of my heart will never be here.

I’ve been told that these are “normal mom things,” that every mother worries that she won’t have room in her heart for another baby, but they always do. But how can I learn to crawl, and someday walk, forward with a new child when one foot is firmly planted in my daughter’s grave?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am trying every day to figure it out.

I’m starting with these: Christmas stockings, one for each of us, above the fireplace. One for Mama, one for Papa, one for the child in Heaven, and one for the child who is still just a dream. The child I’m scared to fall in love with, but I desperately yearn for nonetheless. It feels strange to hang four stockings when only two people live in this home. It feels strange to hang a stocking for someone who never will. But it also feels perfectly right because whether they are here or not, Eleanora and my Someday Babies are and always will be my children. As terrified as I am, I know I will fight my way toward having living children. If Eleanora has taught me anything, it’s that I can survive the unthinkable. I can dust myself off, stand back up, fall to the floor, and come back up again, bloody knuckles and all. Again and again and again.

I was destined to be a mother, and I AM a mother. I think I’m destined to be a mother not just to my girl in Heaven, but to kiddos here, too. I’m trying every day to gather my courage so that I can be the best mama possible for all of them.

Even so, it’s hard to know how/if/when your heart is ready for another. Many people have told me, “You’ll know that you’re ready when your desire for another outweighs your fear.” I don’t think that will be true for me. I’m someone who falls fast, and falls completely. For me, there is no such thing as loving someone halfway. The flip side of that coin is that my fear of having that love taken away from me again is insurmountable.

However, I read the other day a comment from someone who said, “I knew I was ready when I didn’t want to spend another day missing out on time I could be spending with my future children.”

If that is the benchmark, I know I can reach it. I do miss my future children already. I look at the fourth stocking on our mantle, simply labeled “e,” and I picture a bright-eyed, wiggly little love, who grows and learns all about Big Sister, who fills our silent nights with noise, who sleeps not in Heavenly peace, but in the peace of our home. I picture a family that is always never-quite-here but never-quite-there, but absolutely overflowing with love.

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