"Be grateful you already have children," they say. And I am. And so I wrote this.
Some days, I feel like I am grieving twice. Those days creep up on me, when least expected. Often it's not the anniversaries (which one might expect), or even the physical reminders. More often than not, it's some innocuous trigger. An unanticipated reminder of a past that's long gone, and a future that will never come to be.
A video popped up on my Timehop. A joyful, nine month old Rowan, standing up six whole years ago. Propped up, holding on to his nappy chest, delightedly squeaking with uninhibited pleasure, while flapping the contents of the chest with his pudgy fist. His continuous smile, never dropping for an instant: I had forgotten that high-pitched squeal. In the background, behind the camera, I am laughing contentedly. An uncomplicated laugh that I was capable of then; free from the double-edged, dual-sided, guilt-tinged happiness I can just about muster up now. (Complex, simultaneous emotions are something I think you can only truly relate to when you have experienced loss. How I envy the simplicity of my past, of feeling only one emotion at a time).
For the first time, I realised that my children's birthdays are less than ten days apart. I mean, I suppose I knew. But in the immediate blur of reality that descended upon me so suddenly last Christmas, it never really sank in, and it's never occurred to me since. Holly would have been the same age now, that Rowan was in that video. She would have been nine months old. Admittedly, she would probably have been behind Rowan, so perhaps the comparison isn't a fair one (given that she was born prematurely). But even so. Out of nowhere, the realisation hit me like a tonne of bricks.
Perhaps she would have been standing. Maybe she would have been squeaking. Certainly she would have been smiling... Of course, all of these comparisons make the impossible assumption that she wasn't ill... and that simply wasn't the case... And so I never got to see her smile, or laugh. I never got to hear her voice. Newborn Holly was so very much like newborn Rowan, that I really don't have to look very far for a comparison. I know what her face might have been like, had she lived. I see her in my son's baby photos, as he grew.
And so, often, I feel like I am grieving twice: once for the past - the babyhood my son has outgrown, that I loved so much; and then grieving once again for the future - the babyhood and childhood my daughter will never experience. For the fact I thought I would re-live those baby days. For the hand-me-downs I'd lovingly kept, expecting to use again, that will never again be used for purpose, and are now doubly laden with sadness that they have been outgrown, and will also never be grown into.
I am eternally grateful for my son - more so now than ever. I can't even begin to describe the gratitude I feel, or the love I have for him. I will never, ever take him for granted, and I hope I can be the best parent to him that it's possible to be. But knowing how much I love him only serves as a reminder of how much I've lost in her. Every beautiful memory, every baby photo I have of him, is tainted by the bittersweet realisation that I will never have the opportunity to recreate those moments with her. I don't have to wonder how much I would have loved her. I already know, because I have him. My son is my constant and wonderful reminder of how amazing she could have been too. Loving him reminds me how much I miss her. I know exactly what I've lost, because I know how much I love him.
There are no winners in this game of loss. No one loss is easier than another, no matter what our circumstances in life. Nobody wins because it isn't a game anyone would choose to play.
I grieve for his past, and I grieve for her future. His firsts, are my lasts - they will never come around again. And while grieving, I'm simultaneously trying. Trying to be grateful for every moment. Trying to be strong for him.