So this is actually happening.
Five and a half years after we first learned we were pregnant with Hudson. Three-plus years after Hudson died just as we were planning a sibling for her. A year and a half after our plans for a sibling for Jackson (and Hudson) were put on hold by a cancer diagnosis and ensuing treatment.
Finally. Finally. Our home is about to have two living siblings in it.
Even as I say that today, at 38 weeks pregnant, when our daughter could arrive at any time, I am still not entirely sure I have properly arranged all the necessary facts and emotions in my head to help me grasp that after all this time, after all these interrupted plans, our family will have more than one living child. I have begun writing this post again and again in my head for two months now, and even now, mere days away from the event, I still find myself befuddled both by the actual fact of it and by the ever-flowing confusing emotions that accompany it.
Two. Two living children in our house. All the planning I’ve been doing over the last few weeks, getting ready for the reality of two. A reality I should have encountered more than two years ago. Only just now am I exploring how best to help an older sibling adjust to the birth of a new baby. Only just now am I figuring out sleeping arrangements and child safety seats for two children instead of one. Only just now am I grappling with how to engage a two-year-old while also meeting the intense needs of a newborn.
All of this time later, all of this planning for two.
And yet there are three.
It’s nearly impossible to believe that Hudson has been gone for more than three years. Even harder still to believe that we are about to welcome yet another child without her here. The most potent confirmation yet that no matter how many children we have, our family will never feel complete. It will never be complete.
I find myself, in these waning days before yet another life (and lifetime—we have experienced so many in these few short years) begins, feeling much like I did before Jackson was born. I am waiting, waiting, anxious yet again just to know what this will feel like. Two years and some change ago, I just wanted Jackson to get here so that I could stop imagining what it would be like to parent a living child and a dead child at the same time. Now, I just want Ada to get here so I can stop imagining what it will be like to parent two living children and a dead child at the same time. And what it will be like to parent a daughter again after having lost my first so suddenly and so horribly.
One thing I know with absolute and unshakable certainty, certainty for which I am so very grateful: the heart’s capacity for love is, indeed, infinitely expansive. Before Jackson was born, I was not sure how I would be able to love him like I loved his sister who died before he was born. And although I recognized at the time that many second-time parents experience this, for me, the feeling was so loaded with other emotions, the most powerful one being guilt. How could I love him, living, breathing, alive, without slighting her? How could I love her, gone but still nearly larger than life, without slighting him? I would never have the opportunity for “special time” with each of them, at least not in the ways that many parents of two try to make room for. How would I ever make Jackson understand what Hudson meant and means to me? How would I ever go on living and loving more children without feeling like I was leaving Hudson behind?
Quite honestly, I’m not sure I have yet answered the last two questions. Although Jackson knows Hudson’s face (and often mistakes it for his own in photos) and calls her his sister, he’s not yet old enough to know or understand anything else about her, who she is, where she is, why she isn’t here with us, how very much she is still part of our family. So I don’t yet know how we will do at that. And no matter how much I tell myself differently, it is very hard not to feel like Hudson is being left behind. Not necessarily that we are doing the leaving, but that she is being left behind just the same. I read a blog post recently from another bereaved mother whose daughter died when she was nineteen days old. The post was mainly about helping others understand how hurtful unthinking comments and careless behavior can be to a parent who has lost a child. But one thing that stuck with me was this: she said that four years on, she gets up with the exact same sadness that she felt the day her daughter died—she has just gotten better at hiding it (her point being that people always asked how she was in the beginning, but then stopped asking after some time). The exact same sadness. I don’t feel that way. Or at least not what I understand her to mean, which I could be wrong about. If I woke every day with the exact same sadness that I felt the day that Hudson died, or that next day, or the many horrifically dark days after that… Well. I. Would. Not. Be. Alive. The only hope I had during those days was that it would not always feel exactly like that, and if that had turned out to be an unfounded hope, I would not be here. Truly. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel Hudson’s loss acutely each and every day—as a friend recently said, it must be like having an amputated limb, and while I have never had an amputated limb, I think the metaphor is spot on—of course I feel it. And I feel it in new and surprising ways all the time. Just when you think you have encountered all the possible ways that the grief could sneak up on you, you encounter another, and have to grapple with the ensuing bleeding. But just as I predicted very early on, the giant hole that Hudson’s death ripped into our lives, while still the same size absolutely, is smaller relatively, relative to the joy that we are still so grateful to be able to appreciate in each moment of our lives. As that joy grows, as our lives grow, everything else gets smaller—not absolutely, but by comparison. This is as it should be in any life, but in my case, it still can’t help but feel like Hudson is somehow being left behind in the midst of it all.
But. But. Back to that certainty. I have absolute certainty that my capacity to love all of my children, here, gone, living, dead, in front of me, in my memory, is infinitely expansive. Infinitely. Loving Jackson makes me love Hudson even more. Loving Hudson makes me love Jackson even more. Loving them both makes me love Ada even more, long before she even makes it into my arms. Loving her makes me love her two siblings even more. To me, this is the essence of family, why people create families in the first place, in the amazing numbers of ways they create families. We have so much love to share that all we want to do is share it more. I know that’s how Ed and I have felt from the very beginning.
Two. Three. Three. Two.
More. Ever and ever more.