Several events over the last couple of years, including the death of Patrick, have really rocked my view of the people of the world. Each time one of these events occurs, the thought that sticks out in my brain is, “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Side note: interestingly, this quote is attributed to many different writers. For a detailed trace of this quote, I encourage you to read the Quote Investigator’s post on the subject.) I think I’ve always been a fairly empathetic person, but I’ve noticed that since Patrick died I’m less quick to judge someone with differing views on the world. I’ve started to internalize that people have very real reasons why they believe the way they do, and most of those reasons we cannot possibly understand because there are pieces of their story that will always be private. While I’ve been very transparent about this particular journey and am quite open to talk about my struggle with mental illness, there are still a number of burdens I carry alone or with just a few of my closest people.

Another striking lesson I am learning is that even people who have experienced similar traumatic events have quite varied responses. I may not understand how they made the decisions they made along the way, because I wouldn’t have made the same decisions, but that doesn’t mean that their path is less valid than mine or that their decisions are wrong. As my friend Tara says, “I have my story, and you have yours. I can’t possibly know what you’re going through, because it’s not my story, and I don’t have all of the pieces.”

Much of this learning has come from the babyloss community. I see trends in the questions that are asked as people go along the journey:

  • Should I try to have another baby?
  • When is the right time to start trying to conceive again?
  • How long will it take me to get pregnant after a loss?
  • My loss was a boy, and now I’m pregnant with a girl. How do I bond with her when I was dreaming of raising a boy?
  • My loss was a girl, and now I’m pregnant with another girl. How do I bond with her without replacing the beloved baby girl I lost?
  • When people ask how many children I have, what do I say?
  • When should I share that I’m pregnant again after a loss?

There are many, many more. I see women asking these same questions, and the answers are so varied. Some women have the strength to have loss after loss and keep trying. Some women stop after one. Some women wait years before trying again. Some women start trying again right away. Some women want the same sex child as their loss, while others can’t dream of having their rainbow baby be the same sex. And along the way, each decision they make informs their next decision, which further changes their story and makes each story, each journey, so unique.

Before this idea really sank in for me, there were a few instances where I felt like I didn’t fit in the babyloss community, and I felt very isolated. I kept reading stories of women who experienced great jealousy and pain when seeing a pregnant woman or a newborn or a child about the age that their child would be. I read accounts of women who just couldn’t hold another baby until it was their own baby. For the most part, I didn’t experience this.

The night I was induced to deliver Patrick, the door to my room got left open accidentally by the nurse. The hospital was really very sensitive and experienced in dealing with loss. My room was at the end of the hall, and they put a subtle sign on the door (a teddy bear in a window) to let everyone who went into the room know that there was a loss. The door was usually closed at all times. But, this one time, it was accidentally left open, and I heard my nurse yell down the hall, “Get her down here now, or she’s going to deliver in triage!” There was laughing and excitement, then my door was shut. I actually chuckled when they were laughing. She must have delivered in the room next to me, because I heard the screams through the pushes, then quiet. I remember being happy for them and wondering if there was something wrong with me, because they had shut the door to protect me. I didn’t begrudge that mother, though. I didn’t begrudge her family. I think I knew even then that I didn’t know their story. She very well may have had a loss a year ago and labored at home as long as possible so she didn’t have to sit for hours in the hospital room, waiting and hoping the same thing didn’t happen again. Or, maybe she had struggled with infertility issues, and this baby was the result of years and years of trying. Or, maybe this was her fifth child. I really couldn’t possibly know, and so I only felt happiness for them, even if, in the moment, I didn’t know why or how I was able to do that.

My friend Jessie and I were pregnant around the same time, and she ended up on hospital bed rest. Keeping in touch with her was actually one of my greatest comforts. She too was fighting a hard battle, and when I saw the first photo of that baby boy, I cried sobs of relief and joy. I had a similar reaction when my friend Tara delivered her baby boy a few weeks ago, after having a full-term stillbirth almost two years ago.

There was a very short period around our due date that I struggled with seeing tiny, tiny babies. I vividly remember a trip to the grocery store where I totally broke down because there was a mama with an infant in a carrier waiting with me at the deli counter. I fled to the bathroom to cry, because I just couldn’t take my eyes off her bouncing, and I melted down.

It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve been able to pinpoint how I’m able to experience joy at these other births, even while we struggle to conceive and grieve the loss of Patrick. I don’t want their babies; I want mine.

Instead, I struggle when people call their pregnancy or healthy baby a miracle. Again, I’m not begrudging them their healthy pregnancy or healthy baby; I’m asking God why we didn’t get our miracle. Many people were certainly praying for a miracle for Patrick, but it wasn’t in the cards for us to get our miracle. Sometimes I am so very angry, because I think if anyone deserved a miracle, it was us. Haven’t I had enough trauma? Hasn’t Lloyd had enough loss? I ask, “WHY?” so much. I know the science of why, but in the bigger picture, I just don’t understand. And these struggles, these questions, they help define my story, our story.

In the loss community, the baby that comes after a loss is called a Rainbow Baby (“a rainbow baby is the understanding that the beauty of the rainbow doesn’t negate the ravage of the storm–baby loss. When a rainbow appears, it doesn’t mean the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of darkness and clouds”). A Rainbow Baby isn’t a replacement baby. It doesn’t make everything better. It doesn’t mean the family has moved on or is “over it.” A Rainbow Baby brings hope, but also fear and anxiety.

In about a week’s time early in October I saw and photographed two rainbows. They were beautiful and filled me with great hope. I was careful not to put too much hope into it, even writing with one of the photos I posted on Facebook that if I believed in signs, I’d believe it was a sign. But, since I don’t believe in signs, it’s just a beautiful rainbow. One of my friends commented, “Gorgeous…reminds us of all of God’s promises!” My heart sank as I realized that she was right. God never promised me a baby. While it was another struggle to cry my way through, it’s actually brought me to some acceptance.

Last Friday I went back and read the writing I did when we were exploring pregnancy the first time around. I was on medications that had to be changed, and one in particular had a very good chance of derailing me while tapering off, and the replacement medication was in the same family of drugs as a medication that caused a violent reaction. The really interesting thing to me, while reading these journals, was that we were asking some of the very same questions that we’re asking now. That particular journey was fairly private. There were people who knew we were exploring options, but when it came to making the med changes, only Lloyd and my doctors knew. Christmas two years ago was very challenging for me, but no one knew that. I wrote on Christmas day about how I longed to share the excitement of Christmas morning with my own children and that being in the unknown was such a hard place to be. But, that morning I snuck into my nephew’s room as he so anxiously waited to be allowed to go downstairs, and we snuggled and read Stuart Little to pass the time. I realized that I never would have had that opportunity if I’d been busily preparing for my kiddos to come running down the stairs. I treasured those 20 minutes.

This year, my struggle will be more visible. The absence of Patrick is too big of a hole to ignore or keep to myself. It’s also not only my hole. But, I will steal moments of reading and snuggling with my niece and nephews. I will hold and love on my new baby nephew. We will honor and remember Patrick and the joy and love that he brought to all of our lives, even though his life was so very short. His legacy is great, and one way I will honor him is by always remembering to “be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”