It was a beautiful day for a birthday party. Your new neighbor Mary arrives with her son Dylan in tow. You have become quite fond of Dylan, who always plays so nicely with your own son. Mary is as sweet as can be, and you are happy to have made a new friend. Life is good. Suddenly, you notice Mary’s eyes go directly to your niece Sophia. Sophia is very striking; with beautiful brown hair and big brown eyes. Mary cannot stop staring at her. You notice that she has tears in her eyes. You have no idea what happened, but I am here to tell you: Mary’s first baby died at birth. Her own baby girl also had brown hair and eyes and would have been four yesterday. Sophia turned four last week. Yes, it has been a few years now. And, no, Mary isn’t “over it.’’ Not even close.
I can emphasize with Mary. I, too, lost my firstborn child in September of 2008. His name was Liam and he passed away at nine days old due to a congenital heart defect. It will be seven years this September. I still speak about him to my family and friends. I still commemorate his birthday every year on Facebook. I still tear up at the sight of another boy with red hair, and I still feel a lump in my throat every time I hear another mom call her own son Liam. I guess I am not “over it” either.
We bereaved parents live a difficult life. Not only are we left with pieces of our hearts missing, we are expected to eventually resume to “normal.” We are frequently given an unspoken allotted “grieving time.” It seems to vary from person to person. In our case, since Liam died in mid-September, our family and friends gave us until the end of the year. It was only fair, with the holiday season and all. When January arrived, baby making was on everyone’s minds. When my husband and I continued to grieve, there was much confusion. It was okay to always be sad, they said, but we had to move on too. We needed to stop going to the cemetery every day. We also needed to stop isolating ourselves. Another baby would make everything better. Or so they thought.
I was fortunate to get pregnant that second month into the new year. I was happy, but sad at the same time. In fact, I had just hit a serious rock bottom. The shock was gone, but the pain was intense. It hit me hard: We were parents but our son was not with us physically. We never had a chance to bring him home from the hospital. It was unfair and cruel. I was angry and very bitter. I wondered how I would be able to take care of a new child in this condition. I was seeing a therapist and was diagnosed with Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had left my job and barely left the house. I questioned my own sanity.
After Liam’s passing, I made a promise to speak out about neonatal loss in his memory. I wrote a lot. I also changed significantly. While the grief is still there, and always will be, it has taken on a new form. I have since had a girl and another boy. While my two year old son is too young to understand, my daughter talks about Liam frequently. Since day one, we were open about the fact that they had a big brother and that he passed away because his heart didn’t work well. Julia speaks about how much she wishes that she had met him. She wants to know how this could have happened. I wish I had better answers for her. We also have no idea why he was taken from us. We miss him every single day.
Inevitably, our personal relationships have changed drastically. Many have become strained. It does happen. As I am now almost seven years into the process, I can see both sides. Our loved ones were devastated as well. They were devastated both for Liam and for us. It is hard to watch people you love go through such a devastating loss. At first, I felt as if everyone was rushing us through it but now I know better. It is a lot on everybody. They just wanted us to be happy again.
For grieving parents, there is no greater gift than to remember our child. Say his name once in awhile. When we post a tribute on social media, instead of just scrolling by, give an acknowledgement. Contrary to popular belief, speaking publicly about our children on an anniversary or birthday is not for attention purposes. It is all we have. Whether you think it is strange or not, this is our reality. When others remember too, it brings us a sense of comfort.
Although painful, I am thankful for the sadness. With each passing day, week, and year, I know I am losing some of the memories that were so vivid in the beginning. Since we had only nine days with Liam, we don’t have a lot. We do have pictures and video, for which I am grateful for. Liam’s life may have been brief, but he was my first. He has given me the strength to be a better mother. I one day yearn to be the special person that he was. I couldn’t be more thankful for the gift of being his mom. Liam will continue to be a part of our family. Always.