I didn’t think I could be brave enough to have another child after losing Jackson. The day he died I told myself “never again”; it was too risky to love that fiercely with the knowledge that it could all be taken away from you in a moment without warning, without fault, without explanation. Over time we realized that this had always been life’s contract, and that living without fierce love was not a life we wanted to live. We knew having another child would never be able to bring Jackson back, but it could bring back opportunities for that fierce love we were so desperately missing.
The words of Dr. Paul Kalanithi in “When Breath Becomes Air,” an incredibly honest and moving physician’s memoir on life and death from the perspective of both doctor and patient, resonated deeply with me as we contemplated the risks and benefits of trying again. He heartbreakingly describes battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer in his 30s and the painful decisions he is forced to make with his wife, Lucy, about whether to have a child. A friend asks him “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?” He responds, “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?”. Lucy and Paul learn, in the most painful way, that “life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”
We decided to go for it, but it wasn’t an easy road. After two early miscarriages, we learned that suffering one loss doesn’t preclude you from further loss. Each passing month took us farther away from the last time we held Jackson. And each passing month that I didn’t get (or stay) pregnant took us farther away from the first time we’d get to hold our new baby. It’s as if we were stuck in some warped universe where we were simultaneously falling away from both of our children at the same time.
It was tempting to feel victimized, like the universe was out to get us, but we know that the universe doesn’t keep score. We just kept rolling the dice. We’ve learned there is no such thing as “fairness” or “deserving” when it comes to loss. In fact, the expectation of fairness or the idea that we are “owed something” at times just made it all the more painful. But longing to be a parent, especially when we felt repeatedly blocked from being parents, did felt torturous.
And then it happened. That second pink line came and it stayed. It didn’t bring Jackson back, but it brought back some much needed hope. It also brought so much gratitude that I was able to pretty easily dismiss my 24/7 nausea, because we were getting another chance. Some expressed concern for this joy at such an early stage of pregnancy (especially given the prior miscarriages), and that’s when I realized I was fearless. Not devoid-of-fear, but rather freed-from-my- fear. Although there are traditional “in the clear” milestones with pregnancy, like hearing a heartbeat, making it through 1st trimester, and clearing genetic and ultrasound screening, I had the painful but freeing awareness that we are never fully in the clear. I knew mothers who had stillborn babies in their third trimester, and mothers who had lost their infants shortly after birth. And I knew my own story of losing a perfectly healthy and thriving toddler. The painful wisdom that comes with surviving this kind of loss is there is no clear – so enjoy what you get, for however long you get it. From the moment that second line turned pink, I pledged to love and appreciate this little life whether they stuck around for 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years – and hopefully, much much longer than that.
Of course, in addition to joy, hope and gratitude, we have experienced grief and sadness, too. It’s very painful to know that Jackson won’t get to meet his baby brother. And although we intend to teach his baby brother all about Jackson, that falls painfully short from watching their relationship flourish and grow. These are the secondary losses that come with pregnancy after child loss; where there used to be singularly giddy excitement, there is now grief-tempered joy. Where there used to be happy tears, there are now happy-sad tears. Ultrasound visits, pregnancy reveals, and setting up the nursery are just going to be different this time around. We have learned that although we can experience genuine positive feelings, these emotions sit alongside, rather than eliminate, our sadness and longing for Jackson. In fact, finding out three days ago we were having a boy brought tidal waves of emotion. But in spite of all of this complicated joy, I experience the very strong and genuine comfort in getting to mother a son again. Best job I ever had, and I can’t wait to have it again.
So here we are, 13 weeks into a new chapter of our parenthood. January can’t come soon enough! I don’t know how I’ll put our new baby to sleep, or how I’ll sleep while they are sleeping, but I trust we will figure this out, as we have learned to cope with so many unthinkable challenges already. Can’t wait to meet you, Jackson’s brother. ❤️