Having our Anna has been a tremendous blessing and joy, but it has also surfaced a good deal of grief. We knew that having another baby -- healthy or otherwise -- would likely exacerbate our felt grief, but we didn't know what exactly that would look like. I've been surprised on more than one occasion at what has churned up grief and what has not.
When Anna was first born, I expected to be overcome with emotions -- both sorrow and joy mingling. And I certainly experienced them both, but it wasn't what I had anticipated. The adrenaline of the moment kind of overrode the emotional aspects, and my dips into grief were brief. That took me by surprise. Even more surprising was what pulled me under and lead to a torrent of tears. On our last day in the hospital, Dr. Videlefsky, Samuel's pediatric cardiologist, came to check out Anna's heart just as a final precaution. Beforehand I hadn't been anxious about it, and I certainly hadn't expected any bad news after holding Anna for nearly two days and seeing her be the picture of health. But when she was gone for the exam, it felt all too familiar. I just happened to be journaling about Anna's delivery while she was gone, and about 10 minutes in, I flashed back to the first time Samuel was wheeled away from us at Egleston. He was going in for his first heart cath, and I passed the time by journaling about his delivery. The similitude was too great, and I felt my nervousness growing. I remember how Bryan and I both started to be fearful the more time elapsed with Samuel in the cath lab; as I sat in our hospital room and the minutes ticked away without Anna, that same fear started to grow in my belly and heart. After about 45 minutes without our baby girl, I looked at Bryan and said, "I'm scared. She's been gone a long time. This is too familiar." His look told me he was feeling the same way, and he acknowledged his uneasiness and anxiety.
We went for a walk down the hall to peek at Anna in the nursery and to see if we could tell if anything was wrong by reading Dr. V's body language. But our trip only showed us our daughter screaming her head off and a nurse running tests. We couldn't tell if the nurse liked what she saw or not. We went back to our room and continued to wait. When Dr. V came in about 15 minutes later with a smile and genuine pleasure on his face, announcing, "She's absolutely perfect!", I cannot not tell you the relief I felt. The moment Dr. V walked out the door, I broke down into body-shaking sobs. I hadn't even known I was carrying a fear that her heart wouldn't be healthy, but the news that she was perfect was completely overwhelming to me. Knowing that we definitely weren't headed back down the road we walked with Samuel, knowing our Anna was healthy, knowing we were truly bringing her home, knowing that I wouldn't have to see her hooked up to machines or have her precious first weeks stolen away from me, knowing she was the healthy gift we prayed and prayed for, it all came flooding at me, and I simply bawled and bawled in Bryan's arms. I cried for joy and relief, and I also cried for what we lost in Samuel, for what we endured, for the boy we aren't holding and kissing and hugging every day. I had no idea that Dr. V's examination of Anna would even be a big deal to me, much less that it would stir up so much emotion, sorrow, and grief.
|Dr. Videlefsky with Anna|
There are obvious indicators around our house that a baby resides here: lit up monitors, a carseat that has a blanket in it (signaling it's actually used and not just sitting around empty and purposeless), disheveled burp cloths, a breast pump drying on the counter, a crooked stack of diapers on the pack-n-play, etc. But there are also subtle signs that life abounds here; Anna's hospital bracelets lie haphazardly on a dresser and a bookshelf, carrying no more significance than a healthy child's bracelet should. With Samuel, his bracelets were among the very few tangible things of his we had, and they were guarded, wept over, and carefully stored as treasures. Anna's new outfits, received as gifts, are scattered downstairs. With Samuel, flowers from people who grieved with us were scattered in those same places. Our stack of cards say "Congratulations" and not "Our Deepest Sympathies." My breasts ache with milk that Anna will drink and not in cruel mockery of the child we don't have. And not a single picture of Anna graces our house yet because we can look at her beautiful face any time we please, but with Samuel his pictures were (and still are) everywhere, giving us glimpses of our precious son in our loneliness for him and in our grief.
A few nights ago, I was rocking an unhappy Anna while Bryan sat on her floor, reading his seminary assignments. I was thinking about how Anna spends several hours every night crying angrily and how I am strangely unbothered by it. As I rocked, I noticed Bryan's t-shirt; he was wearing the shirt I had on when Samuel died in my arms. I pretty much hate that shirt now, but that night I found myself grateful for what it reminded me of: I get to rock and love my sometimes inconsolable baby girl, a gift beyond measure. What I wouldn't have given to do the same for my son, whom I could only helplessly and gently hand over to my loving God. That most heartbreaking morning was the only real time I got to hold him. Anna I get to hold and comfort every night. What a treasure. I cannot (and do not) take my moments with her for granted.
When we first came home from the hospital, I spent several days thinking, "so this is what it's like to have three kids at home. I always wondered." It wasn't until a few days later that it occurred to me that I will never know what it's like to have as many children at home as we are parents to, for now I am a mother of four. Though I finally know what it is to have three kids under my care, I now don't know what it's like to have four, and no matter how many children we have, we will never catch up to the number we "should" have. I will never know what it's like to have all my children at home. It was a sad thought to me; I can't begin to imagine what life would be like with Caleb, Joel, Samuel, AND Anna.
The night we came home from the hospital, we resumed reading The Chronicles of Narnia with our boys. It just so happened that the chapter we were on in The Silver Chair was the very last chapter we ever read to Samuel before he died. The symmetry of that is a little haunting -- picking up with Anna in our arms right where we left off with Samuel.
We took some family pictures in the backyard over the weekend, and after I downloaded them, I saw an obvious gap. Though I love the picture of five of us, there is a clear gap where Samuel should be. Between me and Caleb, there is a Samuel-sized hole. His sweet little almost-two-year-old face should be there. His obvious absence made my heart heavy.
I think of Samuel all the time as I love on our little girl. Anna is not a replacement for him. She will never be our third child. Her life reminds me of what we've lost in Samuel's death. But her life also brings me joy and healing in ways nothing else could. She soothes the ache in my soul. Her yawns and stretches and grunts and coos warm places in my very depths. The time we spend with our eyes locked, staring at each other and memorizing each other's faces, fills me with hope and contentment and peace and joy. Anna is a priceless gift and a healing balm to our aching hearts. We praise God for her life and health and the comfort she brings us, and at the same time, we miss our dear Samuel. Probably those two things will always be true. Joy and sorrow will always be somewhat mingled. We will grieve, and we will heal, and Anna will be a part of both.