hand-me-downs from heaven: a basket of baby clothes and blankets

When I was pregnant with my first child, I quietly announced my pregnancy to my family, friends and co-workers. I also told my Kindergarten students and their parents. They were so sweet; baby gifts started trickling into the classroom with my students.

The mother of one of my students gave me swaddle blankets, telling me that her daughter still had a favorite one that she slept with. It will get even softer as you wash it, she said. This simple gift was so thoughtful, and I recognized how loved and lucky this baby already was.

My husband and I went shopping at Carter’s. We had decided that the baby’s nursery theme would be whales, and were thrilled that the first thing we saw on our right when we walked into the store were baby boy whale outfits. I chose one with a shirt that had a whale on it which said, “Mommy Thinks I’m a Great Catch.”

I was 24 weeks pregnant when he was stillborn.

I didn’t bring any of his clothes to the hospital. I had been admitted in a hurry after what was supposed to have been a routine prenatal appointment – I showed up in my work clothes.

Following the chaos of an overwhelming magnesium sulfate drip, my pitocin-induced labor and my son Brayden’s stillbirth, my nurse handed him to me, all one pound, three ounces of him. My husband and I didn’t dare unwrap the blanket he was wrapped in. He seemed so fragile. We didn’t want to hurt him any more, if that makes sense. In the moment it did. We just cried and kissed his sweet little head.

After spending six days in the hospital, I came home to a basket that I had previously put all of those beautiful gifts and things in: his new toys, blankets, adorable outfits, my pregnancy journal, even baby soap and lotion.

A memory accompanied each item, either bought or received in hope and faith in a little boy who would use or wear it.

I felt attached to his belongings. They had represented a happy, palpable near-future. When that future was taken away, aside from his heart-shaped urn, they were all I had left.

Yet I didn’t look at them for long that day. I donated all of my maternity clothes immediately and managed to find a big opaque plastic bin to place all of the baby items in. I kept the bin in our bedroom and draped a blanket over it, hand-knit by my aunt.

Nearly a year after our loss, I was in my third trimester of pregnancy with my rainbow daughter. I asked my best friend if she could help me go through my Brayden bin. There might be some clothes or baby things that my rainbow could use. I didn’t want to do it alone, as I felt that I was already just barely surviving this pregnancy.

She held up each item as I decided whether I wanted to keep it or donate it. I kept all of the clothes, even the decidedly ‘boy’ clothes.

My daughter got to wear a few of Brayden’s outfits, and when she did, a deep space in my heart began to fill. As she grew out of them, I saved them all, including the boy clothing that she hadn’t worn, “just in case.”

Through a period of trying to conceive including a lot of ups, downs and a uterus surgery, then finding out we were pregnant, then finding out my third baby’s gender at 18 weeks, I held onto Brayden’s clothes.

And then I washed and folded them, pinning hope on taking this little boy home with me from the hospital, living, to wear them.

I like to think that Brayden is okay with sharing his outfits with his siblings. They are timelessly sweet and still so soft.

The biggest ones are 12 months in size, which my 10-month-old rainbow son is just starting to fit into. The seasons are a bit off – Brayden was due in September and my second rainbow Holden was born in March. But I can easily make them work by pairing short-sleeved shirts with pants instead of the shorts they came with, and by making similar adjustments.

When my son wears Brayden’s clothes, I enjoy the quiet feeling of connection to his older brother, even if it is just for a moment before his three-year-old sister barges into the room singing, bringing me back into the present.

When he fully grows out of everything that we had for Brayden, I’m sure I will feel some emotions.

I may feel farther and farther away from that precious boy who never got to wear ANY of his clothes. I may feel bittersweet sitting with the question of whether or not there will be any more babies in my life to wear them again. But overall, I hope to feel grateful that Brayden is a part of our family and that we have these tangible reminders of that special, all too brief time in my life: my pregnancy with him.

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