After losing Xavier, I knew that I would need to figure out how to mother him still. But it seemed an impossible task. I had lost confidence in myself as a mother and the things I prided myself on. I wrote this poem, trying to articulate and search for my new kind of motherhood.
I know how to be a mother
to a child of flesh and bone.
But how to be a mother
when his world is not my own?
I know how to change a nappy,
I know how to give a feed,
but how can I be your mother
when I don’t know your every need?
I know how to give comfort,
I know how to dry tears,
but how can I make it better
when I never learned your fears?
I know how to play peek-a-boo
and I can do it for quite a while.
But how can I make you laugh
when I never saw your smile?
I know how to plan a birthday
what presents please a son
But how can I give you a party
When your birth day was your only one?
How can I be your mummy?
What’s the best thing I can do?
For I am still your mummy
And I love and cherish you
I will light a candle to remember
I will leave butterflies at your grave
I will talk about you often
Honour you and be brave
One day we might meet again,
I’d tickle your little tummy,
you’d laugh and squeal with delight
and I’d hear you call me “Mummy.”
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.
They are not first time parents but the baby they held first was without breath. And at painful times, without recognition. Midwives, doctors and friends might refer to them as first time parents, as new mums and dads. Not necessarily because they are ignoring the baby who came before – the baby that didn’t take a breath or only snatched the smallest amount of life. But because our language has no word for a parent that loses a child, let alone to describe a parent who has lost a child and then welcomed a living baby into the world. These mothers and fathers have had to parent in the hardest of situations. They have had to find ways to love and connect with a child that they cannot see. They have had to nurse aching, empty arms. They have had to find strength they never knew possible. They have had to fight for their motherhood, for their fatherhood. They have kept memories alive. Their hearts have been broken and yet swelled to accommodate the most amazing of loves.
And now these parents face a new and alien set of challenges. How to bathe this little one. How often to feed. How to soothe cries. How to tell if he’s too hot, is she’s too cold. But there are other things they already know. That the love for your child is all consuming. That you love them a little more dearly each day. That being a mother or father is such an awesome and beautiful responsibility. They know the full precious weight of their baby. They know every breath is a treasure. And they know that this little one has a big brother or sister, looking over them. Keeping them safe. They know that their family looks a little different from others, but their first child or children will always have a place within it. They have loved and loved and loved. And now they get to love a baby that demonstrably loves them back.
With much love to all the parents who have recently welcomed rainbow* babies into their families, but particularly those who are welcoming a child after losing their first.
*A rainbow baby is the term used by the loss community to describe a child conceived after loss. It refers to the hopeful rainbow that appears after a storm. The storm does not refer to the child that did not live. But rather the very dark place that inevitably follows after loss. Nor does a rainbow signify the end of grief. A rainbow baby brings hope and light into a shattered family, whilst they still miss and grieve for the child they hold in their hearts rather than their arms.