Life with an infant is hard. Not to state the obvious. I think, like labor, that there is some evolutionary process that makes parents forget how intense these first few months are. The constant cycle of nursing, sleeping, changing diapers, cleaning up spit-up, doing laundry, pumping milk for bottles that Daddy can give Jackson, washing and sterilizing pump parts and bottles and nipples, waking two or three times a night with a hungry baby, trying to find time to shower and eat and, if we’re lucky, get something together for dinner. It’s a very labor-intensive process, for sure.
I went for my six-week OB checkup last week and the doctor started to take me through an inventory of questions they use to try to identify postpartum depression in recently delivered moms. I had to stop her after the first question, which was “How often are you able to laugh and see the light side of things?” or something like that, and the choices were “As much as I used to,” “Not as much as I used to,” or “Not at all.” I told her that it’s nearly impossible for me to answer a question like that because my baseline is just so far off from a normal postpartum mom. What does it even mean to say I can laugh or see the light side of things as much as I used to? I don’t really have any idea. She scrapped the inventory.
Life with Jackson as an infant is just so very different than life with Hudson was. It is significantly harder, not because he’s a more difficult baby (he’s not at all), but because of all the heavy weight that comes with the baggage of grief. It is hard work mothering an infant. It is even harder when you’re mothering a dead child, too.
For one thing, living these days with him makes me miss her so much more, in so many ways. As I wrote a week or so after he was born, every little thing he does reminds me of what she was like and what our lives were like with her as a tiny baby. Each time I plop him onto the changing table to get dressed or into the crib for a nap or into the bouncy seat so I can shower or into the Ergo to calm him down or onto my lap to sing “The Wheels on the Bus,” I remember. And on top of that is the sheer fact of her absence, the persistent hole in our lives where she should be, where we can barely even imagine her anymore because we have no idea what our lives would be like with two children. A constant thrumming rumbles under every moment of every day: “Hudson… Hudson… Hudson.”
And I struggle every day with trying to live in each moment, to be here with my sweet boy as I still cling so desperately to his sister’s memory. I try hard to remember how lucky I am to be alive, to have Ed and Jackson here with me, to have my memories of Hudson. I feel awful anytime I feel frustrated or get the urge to complain, because I know both what it means to lose a child and how very, very fortunate I am to have one. And I don’t want to miss out on a single second of Jackson.
And finally, these days are such an emotional struggle because they remind me of all the hard work we did caring for Hudson—all the labor of these early days, all the hours spent making all her food from organic ingredients, all the nights I got up at 2AM to pump during the last few months of that first year, even though Hudson was sleeping through the night, because I was determined that she get nothing but breastmilk for a year, all the hours I worked at night after she went to bed so that I could leave work at 5PM in order to pick her up from school and spend the evenings with her. Of course, I don’t begrudge my girl one bit for any of this, nor do I begrudge Jackson the work we’re doing for him now. Every second of every day with my children is worth the incredible reward we reap from working so hard. I guess what I am experiencing now is probably most closely akin to anger. Anger that we did all that hard work for 17 months and 12 days, that we did everything we were supposed to and more, but we don’t get to watch our girl grow up. We never get to see the fruits of all that early work, all those things we did to lay a strong foundation for raising a healthy, curious, engaged, loving child. All of it was just ripped out from under us when Hudson died. I feel betrayed by the universe, I guess. I remember running into a neighbor a few weeks ago when out for a walk with Jackson. She said something like, “Well, you have many years of joy ahead of you,” and I remember thinking, “Well, if we’re lucky.” Because I know that we can do everything right but there are still things that we just can’t control.
But through it all, I am so grateful for my children. Jackson is such a gift—he often seems to know exactly what to do when I am having a difficult moment. Almost every time I begin to cry in front of him, he is ready with a smile in return, and I end up smiling through my tears and thanking him. Maybe it’s just coincidence. Or maybe I just look funny to him when I cry. But he looks most like his sister when he smiles, and I like to imagine that she is giving him a little nudge at just the right time.