All over the world, new parents are gazing with untold love, adoration and awe at their newborn children. Of these, a small percentage are filled with just a little more wonder, just a touch more disbelief, slightly more gratitude that their sweet little baby has arrived and done so safely. They are the ones who do not sleep, but watch over each breath. The ones who marvel at the sound of little cries, not quite believing they are real. The ones that have to pinch themselves that so much joy has finally come into their lives. When a midwife assures them that babies are less fragile than they look, they are the ones that regard that advice with suspicion. Experience has taught them differently.
In the moments after we were told Xavier would not live, N and I clung to each other – a pain that only we would fully understand drawing us to each others arms. Between tears, I whimpered “no more children. Isaac is enough. I can’t ever do this again”. Through tears, N agreed.
However in the days following, as my arms ached to hold a baby and the milk that should have been Xaviers leaked uselessly from my body, I knew I wanted, NEEDED, to have another baby. These feelings of intense longing – a sense of “if I can’t have my angel child I need his brother or sister” – are common in the bereaved. N needed more convincing but eventually he too felt there was another living child in our family. In the months following Xavier’s death I did everything I could to prepare for pregnancy. I lost baby weight at a speed normally reserved for celebrity mothers. I worked on my heart and my head space. I got fit. I had acupuncture. I wrote. I cried. I talked. I learned how to laugh again. I reached out to others who had lost and embraced those that reached out to me.
Four months after we lost Xavier we decided it was time and we were incredibly blessed to fall pregnant immediately. I remember looking at that second pink line appearing on the pregnancy test and crying my thanks to Xavier. At no point did I take for granted what had come to us so soon.
My pregnancy was wonderful but anxious.
It was also incredibly precious and something I kept relatively private. My Facebook page remained bereft of pregnancy news. Aside from wanting to keep this precious secret, as a bereaved parent I had a new appreciation regarding the hurt a throw away line on a Facebook status can inflict on those who are struggling. I held off telling many friends for several weeks after the traditional twelve. I was overjoyed but also so incredibly anxious – a part of me felt that telling other people was tantamount to a promise I couldn’t keep. And whilst many might have attributed a special dimension to the pregnancy I couldn’t help but think it was less real, less valid than other peoples. When your eyes are opened to the horrific numbers of babies that are born still, you take nothing for granted. When you have been the one in a thousand statistic, you don’t assume you will dodge any bullets. When you know stories about multiple losses, you have no comfort in the promise that lighting doesn’t strike twice. Gradually, as I came to accept the fact that life holds no promises, my “why me?” turned into “why not me?” At times I almost felt guilt about this fear of stillbirth – that I was appropriating someone else’s story and turning into my own when I had no right to do so. Yet, every mummy I know who has lost to SIDS and has become subsequently pregnant has struggled with similar emotions. Anxiety remains, but now when I check if Elijah is breathing, my relief is immediate.
During my pregnancy, Isaac kept asking, hope in his little voice, “this baby is going to stay isn’t it?” To this moment, I can only answer “Darling, I think so – I really hope so.” But the conviction in my voice is growing stronger by the day.
I always thought baby showers were the exclusive domain of the first time mother. A chance for her to feel loved and embarrassed in equal measure. A rite of passage akin to a hens night. Having a shower for a second, third or fourth child seemed gauche and somewhat presumptuous. It might not surprise you to read my thoughts have changed.
When Xavier was a week old my best friend arranged a small lunch with girlfriends in lieu of a shower and I am so glad she did. If not for that lunch, several friends would never have met Xavier. My eldest son, Isaac’s, shower was of the traditional kind, with the exception that I planned it myself. My sister, mother or friends would have arranged it but my nature didn’t allow that to happen. So I have never had to cringe at games featuring nappies full of chocolate or had to fake a smile as people guessed the girth of my belly. Indeed, the traditional baby shower has never really appealed to me.
I didn’t know about mother blessings until I read about them in Francesca Cox’s beautiful eBook – Celebrating Pregnancy Again. Many of the ideas have been borrowed from the Navajo tradition of blessingways. Out of respect for that tradition, I refer to a mother or baby blessing. The idea is to nourish the expectant mother with blessings and meaningful ritual. As soon as I learned about this tradition, it made so much more sense to me that the conventional shower. A dear friend was expecting her second daughter at around the time I became aware of mother blessings and I offered to host one for her. She too would probably have foregone another baby shower, but was happy with a “baby sprinkle” and a more unconventional approach. At her blessing, we strung words of hope and tied them onto a candle. We made a birthing necklace, where each guest strung a bead they had chosen onto a piece of leather. Guests wrote words of welcome onto prayer flags to be hung in the new baby’s room. I wrote words like “hope” and “joy” on rocks and asked guests to take what they needed as they left. I would have liked to also have done henna tattoos but as the blessing was held at a cafe, that proved too difficult. All in all, it was a beautiful morning.
I knew that this was the kind of celebration I wanted to welcome Elijah into the world. My sister and mother organised the blessing, with significant input from me – I let go a little, but my nature remains. Around 30 of my friends and family gathered at a beautiful local cafe. I was surprised and so very touched when a dear friend from Sydney arrived at the blessing. She too knows the pain of losing a child and the anxiety and hope of a subsequent pregnancy. To have her there was amazing.
My friends strung a necklace with gorgeous beads – each with a story and meaning attached. That necklace accompanied me into labour. Mum and Paulina had created crystal pendants which guests hung onto a branch with white and silver ribbon. Mum had found a beautiful branch for this purpose. Words of hope and welcome were written onto hearts to be later framed. Further prayers and words were written onto pieces of paper and placed into bunting. Each guest received a tea light candle holder that Paulina and I had made. On reflection, I wish that we had lit those candles at the blessing itself but I am happy to know that Xavier’s light travelled home with each of the guests. It was exactly the kind of baby shower I needed. It allowed me to include Xavier and welcome Elijah in a special and respectful way.
Ask guests to bring a bead in the invitation – for those that cannot attend they may want to send a bead. Many of my guests wrote what the bead represented within their cards, which I really treasured. It can take a while to string all the beads, so it’s a good idea to get this activity started early on in the blessing – we simply passed the necklace around so that people didn’t have to get up and could continue chatting. We used very thin leather. If the leather starts to get difficult to thread beads onto, place some glue on the very tip, let dry and then cut on an slight angle.
My mum scoured local scrub land for the perfect branch (there were a few branch auditions before we found the perfect one!). She stripped back some of the bark. We bought crystals from a local beading store (Bead Trimming and Craft Co) and made up hanging pendants. We use Swarovski lead crystals so that they would catch the light effectively. Guests then chose the pendant they liked and hung it on the branch with some silver and/or white ribbon.
For my friend’s shower, I bought a couple of packs of pre-cut craft tissue paper. I then sewed the tops over so that a ribbon could thread through the top. I supplied pens for people to write and draw on the flags. You could do something similar with fabric, or supply jewelled stickers etc. for more ornate flags.
For my shower, I made bunting that opened up at the back so that pieces of paper could be held in the flags themselves. I liked the idea of the bunting holding hidden messages of hope and welcome.
Guests did this throughout the blessing, with many choosing to do it as they left.
I bought a bag of pebbles from a local dollar store and wrote on the stones with permanent marker. I hair-sprayed over the top of the writing to ensure it adhered.
We found tea light candle holders for $1. We hot glue gunned on strips of hessian and ribbon around the holders.
For each activity we placed instructions and the meaning of the activity within white ornate frames. The ones we used are from Officeworks and are inexpensive.
Xavier never slept in his room. Never played in it. Never watched the sunrise creep in through the window. Never begged another story or asked to keep the light on. He slept in our room for the entire length of his short life. But the room remained his. His things in the drawers. His teddy bear waiting expectantly in the cot. The room was a reflection of our hopes and dreams for our son.
I had chosen an airplane theme and decals of paper plans adorned the walls. A paper plane mobile I had made him gently moved in the breeze. Tiny cut out airplanes were attached to his cot. A plush helicopter nestled with cushions on the feeding chair. And in the centre of the main wall, the wooden word “Fly”.
“Fly” – those words mocked me for months until in a bout of teary rage I ripped the “F” from the wall. I let “ly” remain – it seemed apt.
When I was 20 weeks pregnant with Elijah, I started to think about how to re-decorate the nursery. How could this room become another baby’s whilst still honouring Xavier’s memory? How could I take things down and put others in their place without feeling I was erasing and replacing Xavier?
I decided that the room could still reflect Xavier – but Xavier as our family experiences him now – his spirit, his presence. Of course, the room holds things that are uniquely Elijah – new toys and clothes. Furniture moved around. A newly upholstered chair and a pretty new rug. But there are many things that reflect Xavier’s love in the room.
I chose a sunny yellow and grey theme. I printed the lyrics to “I won’t give up on us” (our song from Xavier) on a series of canvasses that hang above Elijah’s cot, where “Fly” once was. I made bunting with an opening at the back of each flag that allowed friends and family to write wishes and words of hope – a variation of the prayer flags I make for Xavier. More words of welcome were written on hearts and framed. The gifts of words, prayers, and hopes meaning more to me now than teddy bears and nappy cakes.
At my Mother Blessing, loved ones hung a crystal each on a branch. That branch hangs in Elijah’s room, refracting Xavier’s sunlight and throwing rainbows around the room. I can imagine Elijah trying to catch them as he gets older.
The mobile was made using the instructions here to make the round ruffle balls – Beautiful Nest . I then strung the balls onto an embroidery hoop that I had covered by wrapping ribbon around it.
I created the lyric canvases by first creating a document (in Pages, but it would work in Word also) with the text and background colour for each canvas. I then saved this as a PDF, which allowed me to export each page as a separate jpeg image. I used the Kmart photo service to create the canvasses themselves – $19 per faux canvas.
The rug is from the Etsy store – Camille Designs
I made the bunting, cushion and reupholstered the chair with fabric from Spotlight.