I am not the first loss mother to be consumed and confused by the place of a rainbow baby in her family. This beautiful gift that I have paid the highest of prices for. I think the crux is the confusion is this: you learn things in grief – precious, beautiful things. We sometimes call them the gifts of grief. But every angel mother I know would gladly give each and every one of those gifts back to hold their baby again. There is nothing you can gain in loss that tips the balance in favour of saying good-bye. And then another child comes into your life. Suddenly, there is something borne of loss that is so precious that it gives you pause to reconsider.
No one is going to knock on my door and offer my Xavier back in exchange for Elijah. I am never going to have to make that choice. And yet there is still guilt surrounding the presence of Elijah at the expense of Xavier’s absence. My love for Elijah will always be tinged with a longing for Xavier. His milestones, more so than Isaac’s, paired with wondering if Xavier’s would have looked the same, been met at the same time. And as I am granted longer and longer with Elijah, my feelings for him intensify and evolve in a way that they never had time to with Xavier.
In the weeks following Elijah’s birth I would look at him and could not fathom how I survived the loss of Xavier. Each feeling was intensified in those weeks – the joy, the love, the fear and the grief. Even now, I think I could not survive if we lost Elijah. And that thought feels traitorous – could I survive the loss of one child over another? Am I, in some way, choosing one son? Loving him more?
Of course, it would be possible to fall pregnant four months after Xavier was born had he lived. Just terribly, terribly unlikely. I was breast-feeding and two children had always been our plan. Whilst now I look at photos and think of Xavier as missing, in a way that’s disingenuous – in reality it was never the way our family would look.
And yet, how often do our families end up the way we planned? Those that had sworn to no children may end up with a family of six. How many third children are born in the hopes they might be a different gender to the first two? Accidents occur frequently. Do the mothers in those families agonise over the children they had not initially planned on and wonder at their place in the family? Or do they not even pause to think it over – just accept the beautiful gifts bestowed on them and the fluid shapes of family over time?
When I think about the shape of my family – my boys – this is what I picture: Two boys, one much littler than the other, their faces turned towards the sunshine. Rays of light gently settling around them, and both of them with an understanding that this light belongs to their middle brother.