This summer, if you had lived, you would be turning ten. Yesterday was technically your birthday, although if you had been able to survive, you likely would have been born in August. Maybe even on your due date – you would have been birthday buddies with your Grammie.
Sometimes I wonder what you would have been like. Not always, because after ten years, I accept that you are the spirit you must be, and that Earth was not truly your place. In my mind, you never lost the wisdom of the ages that I imagine unborn babies to have.
But sometimes I do speculate about what things you would have brought to the life of this family as a living child. I spend a lot of time with kids who are the age you would be – and there is even one who has your name. (Somehow, this year, that particular child has decided I am the best teacher ever.) He is one of my little benchmark-reminders – along with those dear babies turning ten who belong to the mama-friends I shared pregnancy with. The ones you would have surely played with. Would you have been verbose and sardonic like your brother? Would you have been spunky and outgoing like your sister? I am confident that you would be imaginative and sweet, but you would also be all your own person. You would be saying all your own zany things and struggling with your own travails. I will always mourn for the growing that couldn’t be yours.
I have also been thinking a lot about other parents’ babies who, like you, won’t grow up. A tiny blastocyst that could not develop into the life its loving, fiercely hopeful family was holding ready for it. A sweet peach who would have turned one year old this week, but was never able to live out of the hospital, and was given gently to immortality in December. A baby boy who was stillborn on the day of my living son’s birth, who is still missed by his family every day.
I am sorry I couldn’t write to you on your birthday yesterday, when it had officially been one decade since I held you in my arms for those few hours. I wanted to, but I felt paralyzed. Both of your days were chilly and gloomy – which is not your weather. Not good days for berry-picking either (although for perhaps the first time since your first birthday, the black raspberries are happening now instead of two weeks from now). I was melancholy, and somehow numb – I couldn’t seem to connect.
I guess the idea of ten years was intimidating. Like I should be doing something big to honour your double-digits. But I have never been able to “celebrate” your birthday, and it has always been hard for me to share as well (except through writing). The best I could do was make some black raspberry cobbler from last year’s frozen berries.
And… ten years also just feels like a long time. Even though you’re a part of us always, and we think of you very often, the rending, beautiful pain of you is less frequent. And grief, when it does come, feels… a little less justifiable, as if I should be finished with it by now. I know that’s not true – sorrow will always be part of our family constellation, as is only right in a babylost family – but I can’t help the feeling.
Jen from glow in the woods puts it perfectly: “Sometimes I really deeply miss those dark, all-encompassing, no-holds-barred days of early grief; in some ways, those are the times she felt closest to me. […] Now, everything related to Anja is quiet, still.” It’s not that I want to go back – I guess it’s just that as my family gets further from our baby days, that distance from you is a new kind of loss.
So, for your birthday, I did something I haven’t done before – something that I had never worked up the courage to do. Many years ago, I wrote a little book for you and your siblings, with the desire to fill in the gaps that all those “I’m A Big Brother/Sister!” books leave, for families that will always be missing a piece. The words of the short manuscript came easily. When I wrote them, I had already had many conversations with E – and some with other children – about babies who don’t survive. I wanted to validate the brother/sister status of children whose sibling couldn’t be with them.
I began illustrating to go along with the words I’d written, and found it to be a healing process in some ways. At least, it has been a way to commemorate and connect to you… but it is also hard. Harder in some ways, the more time passes. I have been working through those illustrations sporadically for these many years, and am even at this point not finished. Maybe I never will be. I am not a proper artist, so I have been plagued with those insecurities throughout. And I struggle to find time that feels reflective and peaceful enough for work that’s about you. Also, showing anyone those pictures feels a bit like laying my thumping heart right out on the table to be examined. Still, I thought my living children would like the pictures – and they do. As I lingered over this work, they have outgrown what this book would be, but they are loving and supportive.
Over the last two days, I finally did some research, wrote a cover letter to a children’s publisher, and sent them the words I wrote about you. (The illustrations are not even part of the submission, because they prefer to receive the manuscript only.) Taking that action felt appropriate for your birthday… even though I also feel embarrassed about it, like an imposter. And I know that actually getting published is very unlikely. I did it because I have you to honour, and lacking a proper rite of passage to mark your first decade of being our son… making something for you is what I’m compelled to do. And thinking of all the other grieving parents and siblings out there, I guess it’s worth a try, sending those particular words into the world.
Here are a few of the pictures. They are about the love families have for their spirit-babies.
Today is a gorgeous, warm, sunny day, and spending this time with you, I feel our connection again. That love is always, always here for you, Sebastian. Your heart and my heart are always together. And we will go pick some fresh berries tomorrow.
P.S. Thanks for reading, Lovelies. As promised ages ago, I have finally back-posted something from that blog-less time… It’s about E’s 10th birthday. It seemed apropos.