We went to a family reunion recently and had a perfectly lovely time. The weather was perfect, the activities were fun, and meeting or getting reacquainted with cousins first, second, and third-time removed was delightful. The last time we saw most of this side of the family was pre-kids, so it was particularly wonderful to introduce our daughter and son to relatives who had never met them.
However, it was also poignant. “Pre-kids” for us means “pre-infertility” and “pre-loss”. Before we knew the sting of a string of negative pregnancy tests, and before the anguish of death in the womb had touched our hearts. Our story has changed me so much that I barely remember the person I was back then. More naive, for sure. Less aware of how hard life’s journey can be for some.
It was poignant, too, repeatedly being asked that question, “How many children do you have?” Usually, I don’t hesitate to include our babies in Heaven in my answer, but with the spirit of celebration on the weekend, it felt awkward. “Two,” I answered, silently imagining the babies who could have filled the gap between my sunshine girl and my rainbow boy.
I go over their names in my heart. Naomi, who would have been nearly eight, or Kyria, a sweet seven-year-old, or Jordan, who would have been six-and-a-half. Or Hope or Christmas, my after-rainbow losses, who would have been toddlers. Yes, if you do the math you will know that I could never have had them all together. But I might have had a couple of them, and there would have been an extra seat or two at the children’s table in the restaurant.
Family matters a lot to me. A family reunion where we hear stories of the relatives who went before us reminds us that we are just one part of the puzzle, and many years from now, we will be the older generation telling stories to the parents and children. And in the midst of the feelings that my immediate family was missing some important members, I became aware that how I “steward my story” will be a big part of how the next generation deals with similar struggles. I don’t know if any of our past relatives had losses or, if they did, how they dealt with them. It wasn’t talked about back then. Even twenty years ago, losses were hushed and dealt with privately, if at all.
Even today, sometimes we don’t talk about it. Like me at our reunion. Do I bring up my children in Heaven? Especially years later, when my rainbow has supposedly made everything okay again. Will it make people worry about me? Will it make everyone sad? Or will it give hope to someone else, to know there is life and joy and laughter after loss, whether it comes through a rainbow baby or something else?
Wherever you are in your journey, remember that you are part of a bigger picture, both in your own family and in the family of parents who have gone through this awful thing called pregnancy and infant loss…and survived. Your strength can inspire and encourage others and can give hope in the darkness to someone just beginning their journey – or even to someone not yet born, when years from now you share at a family reunion about the children you have with you, and the ones you carry in your heart, and by doing so, you give permission for them to say aloud the names of their missing children, too.