The other morning, I woke very early and realized I hadn’t heard even a peep from Jackson all night (even though we’ve been mostly successful with the sleep training, he still wakes once or twice, fusses for a minute or so and goes back to sleep). I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep myself unless I knew he was OK, so I tiptoed into his room. As soon as I got close to the crib, he flinched a bit, but for some reason, I still felt compelled to put my hand on him to see if he was breathing. Of course, as soon as I did, he stirred to waking. I tried to tiptoe back out, crossing my fingers he’d go back to sleep, but to no avail. So I fed him and then he kindly slept for another 3 hours. The next day, I finally borrowed both a breathing monitor and a video monitor in hopes that these things will bring me some much-needed peace of mind when Jackson is sleeping.
A few months ago, Ed and I were out for a walk with Jackson when a woman stopped us to gush over him. As we parted, she said, “Well, you have many years of joy ahead of you.” And I thought, “Only if we are lucky.”
The other day, Jessica and I were talking about how difficult it will be when Jackson grows older than Hudson ever got the chance to. How hard it will be for him to be a daily living reminder of all the things she never got to do. And in the back of my head, I was thinking, “If we get that far.”
At lunch with a friend on Friday, I was talking about how I think I still want to have two more children, so that we will have three living children altogether. I mentioned that hopefully the next pregnancy will not be as stressful and anxiety-filled as this one had been because I’ll be chasing Jackson around and will be too busy to worry quite as much. Yet even as I said the words, I chided myself for so brazenly assuming that Jackson will still be here in another year or two.
The obvious common thread in all of these vignettes is that having lost one child already, I have also lost the unquestioning expectation that my children will outlive me. I have lost the complete and total faith I had when Hudson was alive that she would remain that way long past when I had any ability to know otherwise. I still look forward to all the little milestones yet to come with Jackson, but I have a lot of difficulty actually imagining them. I have learned in the hardest way possible that where our children are concerned, there are simply no guarantees.
This is not the same kind of knowledge that Emily Rapp has. For her, there really is a guarantee, a terrible one. Barring a medical miracle, she knows (and has known for a long time) with near absolute certainty that her little boy will die. Every day that goes by, he slips farther away from her.
Joan Didion just published a new memoir called Blue Nights about the death of her daughter at age 39 from complications from the flu. The thrumming mantra of Didion’s book is this: “When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.” But she did not learn this terrible truth until she was seventy years old, after her only child had died. She writes of the “ways in which neither we nor [our children] can bear to contemplate the death or the illness or even the aging of the other.” I was 34 when I lost my child. I no longer have the luxury (and only after Hudson’s death do I understand what a luxury it is) not to contemplate the death or the illness of my children.
The impact of Hudson’s death on the way I will parent my living children is immeasurable. Because I don’t have the luxury not to contemplate the death or illness of my children, because I have already faced both in the hardest of ways, I will strive every day to parent with no regrets. This is not like parenting knowing your child will die, but it is also not like parenting knowing he will not die. This is not giving pudding and any other kind of treat every day like Emily Rapp does for her precious son because a “healthy diet” doesn’t matter, but it is also not finding myself, like Joan Didion, years down the road unable to enjoy the mementos of my life with my children because they only remind me of how much I failed to appreciate those moments when I had them. Parenting without regret means documenting every moment I can, because only now do I truly understand how much a photo or a video can help recall a specific moment in time with my child, a magical moment that I want to remember just like it was forever. Parenting without regret means trying to say “Yes” more than I say “No.” Parenting without regret means erring more often on the side of adventure than of caution, contrary to my now and forever impaired instincts. Parenting without regret means telling my children I love them every opportunity I get, even if a day comes where I may not like them very much (and they may not like me much, either). As Emily Rapp says, “Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.”
I’ve written before that I have very few regrets about our lives with Hudson, and the few that I have are small ones. Now more than ever, I want to make sure that I parent my living children with as few regrets as possible because I know that there are no guarantees.