My toddler rainbow daughter was napping, and the way her top lip overlapped her bottom one, an effect created as she shifted slowly into sleep from sitting up watching her beloved Paw Patrol to partially sitting up to leaning over peacefully onto some pillows, gave me an overwhelming sense of deja vu. I’ve seen those lips before. I’ve seen them in real life and I’ve seen them in precious few pictures – they are exactly what my son’s lips looked like as I held him after he was born still.
We mention Brayden casually in our home with her. We have a beautiful portrait of him hanging in our bedroom, and we tell her that that’s her brother, Brayden. When she was even younger than she is now, she called him Bud-eye and would talk to him freely. He seemed to visit us (or maybe just her) most often after her bath time, floating somewhere above his heart-shaped urn as that’s where she would direct her gaze and laughs. That magic of her nonsensical conversations with him has passed, at least for now, but I’m so glad we caught it on video several times.
As she slept and I could really indulge in just staring like I did when she was a newborn, I thought, “She’ll never know.” Of course, as she gets older we will tell her a bit more about her big brother, that I was 24 weeks pregnant with him when he went to heaven, that our experience with him is the reason her middle name is Hope and is likely at least somewhat why we parent her the way we do. But her life is her own life, and as one of four siblings in my family I know the benefits to being treated uniquely as your own person. And at nearly 3 years old, she is definitely her own person!
But she won’t know the devastation I felt, the longing to be a mother I felt, the thought that I wasn’t yet a mother because my child had died. That part was inaccurate, I would later learn. I had already become a mother long before that moment.
She won’t know the impact she has had on my story, my journey, that started in a hospital room amid chaos, confusion, pain, and the time of his silent stillbirth being ‘called’ by a nurse. All I can picture in my mind from that exact moment is the nurse’s voice. There is no visual to accompany it that I can remember or recall. My eyes, I think, were closed. It was all a blur until I got to hold him.
Parenting a rainbow while being pregnant with another rainbow feels a bit like living in two worlds at the same time. When I was pregnant with her, with no living children yet, I had what now seems like the luxury to worry as much as I needed to. I could retreat to my bed and hide under my covers, I could distract myself with work or being around others, I could just cry.
Now, her ever-presence and ability to live in the moment force me to live in the moment with her. She challenges me with her mischievous smile to join her enormous imaginary world. She puts nearly every one of her stuffed animals to bed, tucking them in to so many interesting places and covering them sweetly with blankets, towels, her art smock. We find them everywhere.
She doesn’t have to know all that we went through but she will know of her big brother. And with this new little one, she will be just as great of a big sister to him as she is a little sister to Brayden. We’re getting closer.