After Joseph died, and my little rainbows joined us in quick succession, I made a promise to the four of them, and to Joseph, that we would not allow our loss to impact on our happiness as a family. And for the most part, we don’t.
Thanks to Joseph we laugh a little louder, we believe a little harder, and we love a whole lot stronger. Everything we are, and everything we do, we carry him with us and look for the positives in all he taught us in his far too short life.
And yet at times like this when one of my little doves is unwell and we are scared and uncertain of what that may mean, it is then I realise, despite my insistence our loss will not define us, that parenting after loss is infinitely harder than I ever allow myself to acknowledge it to be.
Because regardless of how much we are reassured, or how thorough the testing, and regardless of all logical thought and fact based evidence, I still find myself fighting against my most irrational fear and the never ending panic of losing another of my children.
And I guess that right there is the crux of it, the unspoken fear which I push to the back of my mind, too afraid to say out loud, too painful to even consider. Because although, before Joseph, I was very much aware that parents lost their children, I never thought for one minute that those things happened to people like me.
And I think that is why parenting after loss is so incredibly hard, learning to navigate our grief, carry our sadness, and, ultimately, battle our worst fears. Because from the moment my little rainbows were placed in my arms, so tiny and new with their eyes wide open and staring into mine, I promised each of them I would keep them safe, I would protect them, and that I would never allow anything bad happen to them as it had their big brother.
What I didn’t know then, but understand now, is that anxiety after loss is perfectly natural. Many parents, whether they are grieving a miscarriage, stillbirth, or the loss of an older child, often become overly consumed with the fear of losing their surviving children.
And I guess it makes sense that we would feel this way, hyper aware that bad things do happen to good people, that hearts can be broken, dreams can be crushed, and that holding a baby in our arms doesn’t necessarily mean they will be ours to keep. And although parenting is a balancing act between encouraging our children to bravely seek out what the wide world has to offer with our desire to keep them safe from harm, those of us who have lost a child know how difficult that really is.
Because with every cough and every sneeze, we are going to worry. With every bumped head or broken bone, we are going to feel as though the wind has been knocked right out of us. With every moment they disappear from view, every car ride they take without us, every door they go through and leave us behind, we will always have those feelings of worry and panic, fighting against our natural instinct to want to wrap our arms around them and keep them safe forever.
I guess it’s a normal reaction for all parents, both those who have lost a child and those who have not, but the ability to control those fears and rationalise those thoughts is infinitely harder in a life after loss.
I read a quote last week sitting in the hospital, stroking Megan’s head and watching her chest rise and fall in just the same way I did when she was tiny, and it simply said, “All the worry in the world doesn’t prevent death; it prevents life.”
And I thought back to each of my pregnancies when I had made myself physically ill with worry, when I had lay awake for 8 months solid convincing myself that my babies would not make it home; when I refused to leave their incubators in neonatal and cried noisy tears as their machines whirred all around me, when I spent night after night watching them sleeping peacefully beside me, and I realised that if the worst was going to happen it would have happened irrespectively.
The first time they slept away from home, or stayed their first day at nursery; the first time they started school, took class trips, attended birthday parties without me; the first time Lewis played out in the garden alone, rode his bike to the end of the rode and back, the first time he stayed out after dark; the truth is, all of the worry in the world is not going to prevent something bad happening. And allowing those fears to eat away at me is simply going to impact on our happiness, on our enjoyment as a family, and on our determination to live every single day of our lives carrying Joseph and his memory forward.
And so whilst it may be inevitable that I will find myself on this path from time to time, with every bump in the road, I’ll just find a way to keep going. I’ll take it day by day, minute by minute, until one day soon, in no time at all, I will finally breathe again.
And that’s okay.