by Melissa Berg
Loss and gain. They go together like sunrise and sunset, like Yin and Yang. You close a door, you open a window. You lose job, you gain new opportunities. You lose some friends, but you gain new ones. You gain weight, you lose weight (at least that’s what I hear … it doesn’t seem to be working that way for me.)
When you have kids, there is a lot to be lost. Your body, your free time, your peace of mind, the state of your house, a clean car. But what you gain as a mother to those kids makes it all undeniably worth it.
But what about when the parenting journey doesn’t go as planned? You’re faced with a medical emergency and lose control of the birth plan you and your partner had carefully prepared. Your baby comes too early and you lose the postpartum/newborn experience you’d imagined. Or your baby comes impossibly early, and you lose her. What happens when you leave the hospital with an empty car seat and an empty uterus? When you become a NICU parent you join a club you never imagined joining. When you join the loss community, you gain admittance to a club you never wanted to be a part of.
But that’s ALL you gain.
After five losses in two years, we were finally blessed with a healthy baby boy. What we gained from that season is an unfathomable blessing, but I remember wondering as we were in the thick of it – “if this doesn’t end up happening for us, will I be able to find the good in it all? Will I still be able to climb out of this darkness?” Some people never get their rainbow baby, and what then? Is there still anything to be gained, if the rainbow baby never comes, if there’s just the loss?
They say a baby’s DNA lives within its mother forever, so that even when you lose a baby, he or she stays with you. But what they don’t tell you is that when you lose a baby, a part of you stays with them. There is a part of me still sitting in that hospital room holding a tiny, lifeless Madeline. A part of me went along and never came back, when the nurse carried my son Timothy out of the room for the last time. Other parts of me — hopeful, optimistic, naive parts, went away along with those babies we lost early and never got to hold.
That’s a whole lot of loss. Impossibly big holes. Back then, I spent a lot of time staring at the low spot in our front yard from where we took down a tree and removed the stump. We filled in that spot so many times, but there’s still a noticeable dip. It seems the hole will never be completely filled in the absence of the life that used to grow there. Most days, that’s what the holes in my heart felt like. Whole to the naked eye, but never quite the same.
And it’s that whole “naked eye” part that’s the hardest, because the strangers you encounter throughout the day don’t know your history. They don’t know when they ask if the six year old in tow is “your only” that you desperately didn’t want him to be your only. They don’t know when they say “it goes so fast, soak it up” that the first two years of your daughter’s life were spent in the hospital and consumed with worry. But — this new me, this me who I never really wanted to meet — she does. And this, I’ve come to believe, is the very best thing to be gained from loss — the empathy, the shared knowledge, the sensitivity brought to strangers and social situations that wasn’t there before.
Whether you’ve lost a child, or you’ve lost the expectation of how birth and parenting would go, or you’ve lost the dream of parenthood, you’ve lost parts of yourself that you’ll never get back. It’s taken some years, but I no longer feel depleted by the parts of me that are gone. I will never be whole again, but instead of trying to fill in those holes, new parts of me have simply grown around them. Empathetic parts. Softer parts. They are parts that jump at the chance to lend an ear to someone going through a recent loss. They are parts that rejoice — absolutely rejoice — when a friend gets her rainbow baby. They are parts that understand things the old me didn’t, parts that navigate difficult relationships with more tenderness and grace than I used to, parts that have learned to let the little things go because they’ve been so blatantly put into perspective.
The parts that were broken are still broken. They’ll always be broken. I feel it in the sharp surge of grief when I look at pictures of my babies, even all these years later, that feels just as fresh as it did then. I feel it on their anniversaries when I break down crying in the dairy aisle of Costco. But the broken parts have become part of my heart’s landscape, and now I think of them like canyons. Formed by loss, sometimes full of shadow, but breathtaking in their beauty complexity when the light hits them.
Would I still be able to find this beauty if things had turned out differently for me? If I hadn’t ended up with a healthy rainbow baby sleeping upstairs? I hope so. Empathy is a beautiful thing, perhaps the most important thing, and loss is the greatest creator of empathy.
So, lean into the loss, lean into the disappointment, lean into the discomfort. Feel it all, but don’t stay stuck in the shadow. Make sure to let the light hit the new parts of you once in awhile, in honor of the experiences, of the babies, that formed them.
Melissa Berg lives in Cedarburg with her husband, four kids, two dogs and a cat that was an impulse purchase. When she’s not decorating cakes for her home baking business, she’s playing Wordle, doing a puzzle or writing on her blog, www.mom-edy.com