“Mommy, I wish it was just the three of us,” my five-year-old son Owen said suddenly. I sighed and mentally prepared myself for what was coming. My little boy adored his father, so I assumed that he meant Daddy, himself, and his big sister, Julia. Instead, he uttered these names: Julia, Owen, and Liam. My heart sank. Although still young, my youngest child was beginning to understand. Physically, it was just Owen and Julia. But they also had a big brother whom they never met. Liam was our firstborn son and died at only nine days old.
My husband Brian and I found out we were expecting our first child on January 1, 2008. Everything was going along perfectly – until that day. I was just over 20 weeks and due to have my anatomy scan. “I found a problem with the baby’s heart,” the doctor said. Our joy turned to devastation with those words. It’s 2017 and I have learned to smile again. I have two amazing “rainbow babies.” Still, I do not forget where I came from. On October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared the entire month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Prior to our tragedy, we had never heard of it. We had never imagined this would be our fate. Liam had been gone for a few weeks when Brian and I headed down those steps to the church basement in October of 2009. It was dark, quiet, and somber.
Everyone was getting ready to light their candles in honor of all our babies. Until then, Brian and I lived in complete isolation. The bereavement support group and cemetery became the only places where we felt solace. I remember being a “newbie” amongst all those who had experienced loss. “The pain does soften,” they would say. At the time, I absolutely refused to believe them. I do now. I have been writing about neonatal loss for several years. It still feels raw and painful, but it’s different somehow. Many of us liken it to a scar – something that will never go away.
Nine years ago, I was a very angry and bitter person. I lashed out at friends and family. I refused to attend events. My own despair was so great, I could barely think at all. I couldn’t see anything beyond my pain. I didn’t want to. I had no idea on how to move forward. The decision to try for a second child was made mostly by my husband. After Julia’s birth, I felt guilt. I felt as if moving on was a betrayal to Liam. I also felt comfort and joy, which was both scary and beautiful at the same time. I had similar feelings after the birth of Owen.
Slowly, I realized that I was allowed to have both emotions. My sadness for my first baby would always be there. So would the happiness for my living children. They could co-exist. Today, I still light my candle. I do so, not only for my Liam, but for other angels that we have lost along the way. On October 15th, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness day, I joined countless others who have experienced this unbearable pain. The candle lighting forms a “wave of light” across the world. In this way, all of our babies will be remembered. I often wonder what I would say to someone suffering a recent loss. I am not sure any words would suffice. I feel their anguish. Our baby’s lives, no matter how brief, leave footprints on our hearts forever. They are loved. They will never ever be forgotten.