Parenting After Loss: The Asterisk

By |2018-07-12T19:04:19+00:00July 12th, 2018|Parenting After Loss|0 Comments

Parenting after loss lends itself to many analogies – a roller coaster, a seesaw, waves. I’ve made these analogies countless times myself.

The days, weeks, months, and years of parenting after loss are piling up. Also the days, weeks, and months since my first child, Oberon, was alive keep increasing. My life (and demeanor) seem to an outside observer more and more typical. Mom, Dad, a boy, and a girl. It looks like a complete family… but it isn’t. We aren’t.

I find myself constantly wanting to explain, to say the caveats, to add the asterisk. I can’t just say, “we are happy.” We are happy and sad. We are as happy as we can expect to be. We are happy*.

*It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

It is beautiful and wonderful. My rainbow babes make me smile and laugh, they give mundane chores purpose and make me excited for the future again. But this wasn’t the plan. Our family was never supposed to have a baby who died. All our children were supposed to grow up into rowdy toddlers, angsty teenagers, and adventurous adults. No matter how much love is in my life, it will never feel completely right.

*Someone is missing.

Every big gathering or family photo brings our missing child sharply into focus. He should be here. He should be pouting, trying to grab the camera, or screaming for a toy. Instead, he is represented by a charm, a tattoo, a letter, a photo, a stuffed animal. While the representation feels better than omission, it still stings that instead of a squishy toddler, all we have is an object.

*I’m sad.

Some days I’m still achingly sad. I can’t function. I don’t connect to the meaning in my life, even if I know it will return someday. I may be able to smile and make small talk with strangers, but I am the owner of a broken heart. I know sad, and I still feel it.

*My baby died.

I can’t count how many times this runs through my head. Interactions with acquaintances have me wondering, do they know my baby died? Pregnant women or women with small children tell me stories or ask me questions, but do they know? And if they know, do they remember? Does it make my answers or advice more important or less?

*Nothing is guaranteed.

I love my spouse. I love all our children – living and not. I am terrified of something else tragic happening to our family. It’s scary and awful to think about the acute trauma, but now I am also intimately aware of the lingering impact. I panic over picture-taking and memory-making, because what if something happens?

These are a few of the asterisks I add to everything – either in my head or out loud. What asterisks do you have?

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Thoma
Elizabeth Thoma lives in the Bay Area, California, with her husband, Chris, and two cats, JJ and Pepper. She found out she was expecting their first child Mother’s Day weekend, 2014. With mild symptoms and no significant early warning signs, they adjusted to pregnancy and eagerly planned for their growing family. At the second trimester anatomy scan, they found out they were having a son and that he had an abdominal wall defect, an omphalocele. Ever the planners, Elizabeth and Chris prepared themselves and their families for what the omphalocele meant in a best-case scenario, and some of the possibilities that couldn’t be diagnosed in utero. Their son, Oberon, was born six weeks early and had his omphalocele surgery within his first twelve hours of life. The surgery went well, but Obie was having trouble breathing. At first, the doctors thought it was related to his large tongue, one of the many indicators that he had Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome. When Obie was one week old, the doctors told Chris and Elizabeth that somewhere along the line, Obie’s brain stopped developing. While they could control his seizures somewhat with heavy medication, Obie’s brain would never develop and he would not be able to walk, talk, or even communicate. At this point, they decided to switch Obie to comfort care and try to take him home from the NICU. They successfully broke out of the NICU and Obie rode home in an ambulance. Bringing their son home brought much comfort to their family. Obie passed away at home in his daddy’s arms at 33 days old. Elizabeth found out she was pregnant with their second child a week after Mother’s Day, 2015. Her second son, Everett, was born January 7, 2016. Elizabeth and Chris blog at about their family at Our Little Beastie.

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