Saturday, March 23, 2013

a birthday of a different sort

Three years ago today, we lost Ethan.

Three years ago today, that pretty nurse practitioner pressed the doppler deeper and deeper into my belly, willing it with all her might to pick up on a heartbeat that just wasn't there.

Three years ago today, I wept on an exam table and Andrew laid flat on the floor to keep himself conscious.

Three years ago today, the doctor gave us two options - we could say goodbye to our baby in a maternity ward or at an abortion clinic.

Three years ago today, I called my parents to tell them that we lost the baby and to ask them to bring contact solution to the hospital. They brought two big bottles...because it was the only thing they could do.

Three years ago today, a nurse led us to a room far away from the other mothers and babies and put a butterfly on the door to alert the staff that the soul in this mama's belly had already taken flight.

Three years ago today, I held my son for the first time and the last time. I have imagined holding him since. I have held him in my mind, in my heart. But when it comes to my son, my arms are useless.

As I think back on that day three years ago, I see a girl with a broken heart, a girl who is me...but isn't. I feel sad for that girl. I even cry for her. But I don't cry for me. Because I'm not sad. And writing those words - I'm not sad - that's what breaks my heart.

How do you mother a child who is dead?

There are no carrots to puree, no skinned knees to kiss, no monsters to chase from under the bed. There are no pictures to take, no cowlicks to smooth, no sneakers to tie, no report cards to sign...

The first year, I mothered Ethan by being sad. I was sad all the time. I felt that grief down to my fingernails. I felt it shrouding my spirit. I felt it in every corner of my home. I grieved hard and long. I tried to be normal, to celebrate holidays and other people's babies. But inside, I was mothering my son.

I also mothered Ethan by talking about him. I talked about him a lot - with Andrew, with family, with friends. When strangers asked if I had kids, I always told his story. When I was pregnant and people asked if this was my first, I told them no. We planted a tree. We had a ceremony. I wore two necklaces engraved with his name.

I was a good mom. A really good mom to my baby in heaven.

And then that grief, that misery, that loneliness...lifted. It faded. It just sort of stood up from my couch and walked out the door, slowly and silently so that I didn't even hear it go. And the next time I tried to call on my sadness, it wasn't there.

Joy was.

That's where I'm at now. I'm happy. I'm grateful. I'm living and celebrating and hoping and I don't feel sad. I feel blessed to work where I do. I love my husband. I delight in my daughter. I'm a good mother to her...

But not to Ethan.

Maybe that's not fair. Maybe I'm being hard on myself. But that's really how I feel. I don't know how to mother a dead child without being sad. I don't know how to love him with a mended heart. I am ashamed sometimes of my grief, of my lack of grief. I am ashamed of the fact that when people ask if Harriet is our only, most of the time I say that she is. There are days when I am caught up in mothering my spunky little girl and I don't even think of Ethan.

Is this what the other side looks like? Is this what I wished for all those days and months when that ache felt too much to bear? When I told myself that someday it wouldn't hurt so bad, did I ever really think that it wouldn't hurt at all? I feel stuck in the goodness of my life because it leads to guilt - how could life possibly be so good with one family member missing?

And then there are moments...unexpected moments...when I ache for him.

Every Christmas, my inlaws donate fruit trees to a community that desperately needs them. They do it in Ethan's name and every year, when we open the certificate, I am surprised by my grief. I am surprised by how much the tears sting. I am surprised by how much I wish he was here with us, ripping through wrapping paper and sneaking Christmas cookies from the table. But more than that, I'm surprised by how much it means to me that they remember him...that they write his name...that they miss him too.

Ethan had Down syndrome, and when I see children who have that in common with my boy...oh, I want him back. I want him back so badly that just thinking of it now is making me cry so loudly that I have to put my hand over my mouth to keep from waking Harriet.

And soccer...I don't know what it is but there's something about seeing sweaty little boys chase each other around a soccer field that makes me think of Ethan and miss him so much.

So three years later, as I write these words, I am realizing that despite my genuine happiness and the deep gratitude I have for the direction my life has taken, my grief is still here. The tears are fresh in my eyes, multiplying with each word I type. It's so cliche, but this stage of grief really is a dance - a dance between loss and gain, heartbreak and gladness, a dance between what's not here...and what is.

So today, I picture myself holding a chunky three-year-old boy in my arms and dancing crazy around the kitchen table, admiring all the trucks and trains on his birthday cake. I wanted today to look like that.

But today looks a lot different. Today...my boy is dancing with Someone else.

67 comments:

  1. I love your writing - just beautiful!

    I did not know about Ethan until today. I promise you that he thinks you're a WONDERFUL mother. If we all can feel your love for him (& we can), I assure you that HE does even more so. He knows that he is eternally loved by you!

    Your inlaws are so kind. Writing and saying his little name is so very important. Good for them for also keeping his memory alive with you!

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    1. Thanks so much. It's really nice to hear about all of the people who are learning about him now who haven't heard his story yet. I love the thought of people getting to know him a little bit.

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  2. I am in tears. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. What a beautiful post about your boy. He does know you love him. In my opinion, you are being a good mother to him by living your life, by being happy and by being a good mother to your little girl. He wouldn't want you to suffer in despair forever. While he may be dancing with someone else, he is just waiting for the day, many years from now, when he gets to dance on this day with you.

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    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement. Sometimes it feels too easy to say that he wants me to be happy, but you're right. And what you said about me being able to dance with him sometimes has brought tears to my eyes...both times I read your comment.

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  4. Amazing, Emily... Beautiful. Your mom must be very proud of you.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by my blog, Kristy!

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  5. What a touching, beautiful, emotional post. My eyes are filled with tears....tears of sadness for you that you feel guilt and you shouldn't, tears for the sorrow you and Andrew had to endure and still do, but mostly tears of joy for all the love this little man has for him. I assure you that Ethan knows he is loved and I can just picture that chunky 3 year old boy having an amazing dance with God today! Thank you for sharing your blog....your honesty and emotion is so powerful to read!

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    1. Thanks so much for that great visual - Ethan dancing with God. I bet God is a pretty good dancer...I bet they both are.

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  6. So many emotions... You are loved and being covered in prayer. You are a great mom to all your babies -- those guilty feelings are the devil's way of creeping in and trying to steal your joy. Joy is present in times of sorrow and happiness. I am sure you will never stop longing for Ethan, even though you find some comfort in knowing one day you will be with him again. It's easy as outsiders to think of "encouraging" or "helpful" things to say. I think it's human nature -- trying to think of ways to "fix" each other's hurts and thinking we need to fill the silence or answer the uncertainty. But if there is one thing I've learned over the years, sometimes the best way to love each other is to be OK with the silence, be OK with each other's grief, be OK with knowing we can't "fix" much this side of heaven. What we can do is love each other and ask, "How can I be there for you?" And not just ask but be responsive to the other person's needs. Anyhow, I want to be the kind of friend that is there for you in whatever way that best meets your needs at the time. So, how can I be there for you, friend? You have such a beautiful soul, Em. Your writing is so powerful. Know this: Ethan will NEVER be forgotten. Hugs, Emie

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    1. To answer your question, just keep doing what you're doing. I ALWAYS know that you are here for me. You are such a faithful friend, especially when it comes to this kind of stuff. You never shy away. I can't even tell you how much I appreciate you.

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  7. Wow! I can't imagine the depth and scope of your emotions today as you remember and mourn the son you're missing but as you hold the daughter you have. So much to remember, to be thankful for, to mourn, to rejoice in… just so much! I went back and reread your original post about Ethan. My favorite part is at the end where you write that you have assurance that Heaven and Jesus and perfection is all that he will ever know! What an incredible thought to cling to on days like today where you just wish you could hold your son! Thinking of you today!

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    1. You are right...just so much. That's exactly how I feel. Thanks for reading the post about Ethan. I so appreciate it.

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  8. Oh Em. What a heartbreaking but beautiful story. I am so sorry for your loss, but thankful for God's hope and joy in the midst of it. I think you are a wonderful mother to both of your children and you honor Ethan's memory well with your words. Praying that God eases your grief today. Blessings, friend.

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    1. Thanks so much Erika. You're very right - God's hope and joy is at the center. I've definitely been feeling that lately.

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  9. Wonderful post Em, thank you for sharing Ethan's story and your experience as a mother mourning her son.

    xxxooo

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    1. Thanks so much Kacey. I am so glad to be able to share it.

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  10. Wow Em, this post had me in tears this morning as I read it on my phone. Powerful, powerful emotions you're dealing with. I think you're being a great Mom to Ethan. Like the ladies above said, you are honoring him by being happy and living your life and by taking care of the child whose skinned knees you CAN kiss. Beautiful post.

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    1. What you said about taking care of the child whose skinned knees I CAN kiss really touched my heart. Thank you.

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  11. Wow there are no words for this post. It was so beautifully written, yet I'm so sorry for the loss and the emotions that went along with it. Thanks for sharing your story and I agree with the other ladies that you have been the best mom to Ethan.

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    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement, Stephanie.

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  12. I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes. You are such a loving person, a loving mom, and it is so visible in your blog posts and in the comments you leave others. You are honoring Ethan by being happy, by being at peace in your life, and by being a good mother to his baby sister. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Happy Birthday Ethan!!

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    1. I really appreciate your kindness, Amber...as always.

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  13. Hugs, mama. Reading and thinking of you on his birth-day.
    xoxo
    T.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughts and the virtual hugs. (-:

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  14. Beautiful post. Thanks for your honesty. As Roo's birth approaches, I'm thinking more and more about how to balance the joy of this new baby and the grief of still missing Isaac. It's good to read other's experiences. You're a great mama... both to Ethan and Harriet.

    Happy Angelversary, Ethan!

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    1. I hadn't heard that term - angelversary. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. Wow, this has me full of things I want to say to you from my head and heart but I just can't seem to get them out right. I didn't know of Ethan until today and just know that my prayers are with you. From what I know of you here I know you are an incredible Mother to all of your children, those here and in Heaven. Thank you for sharing this with us. I pray that God gives you comfort and peace today and every day.

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    1. Your prayers were answered, Amie. I definitely felt that comfort and peace.

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  16. Wow. Beautiful, moving post, Em. Gave me the chills!

    You are a wonderful mom to Ethan. You really are. You honour him by living your life every day and appreciating what you have. Wherever he is right now, I can guarantee that he's watching over you and smiling. He wouldn't want you to be stuck in that dark place for the rest of your life. He wouldn't want to be a dominating force in your life three years after he passed on. You have moments of reverence for him still, and that is all he would expect. He wants you to be happy. I know it. Please don't be hard on yourself. Hugs...

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    1. Thanks so much for this wisdom and kindness. Some days I really need it.

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  17. Oh Em... tears. I don't even have the words but this post is just beautiful. Heartbreaking but beautiful. I am so sorry you lost your sweet boy. You are an amazing mother to both of your children. The love for both of them shows in this post.. every word, the love is pouring out.

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    1. What a sweet comment, Fiona. I greatly appreciate it.

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  18. What a difficult day for you. Thinking and praying for you. You have been a wonderful mother to both Ethan and Harriet, so don't be too hard on yourself. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Thanks so much for this validation, Christine.

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  19. I'm glad I read this before I put my eye make-up on! It rings so close to home for me, as I'm approaching both the birth of one child and, just weeks later, the anniversary of the death of another. I have to believe that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive, and it's okay to let the joy dominate. I love that you and your family remember Ethan and share his story.

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    1. You're so right...they aren't mutually exclusive. And I also like what you said about letting joy dominate. Thinking of you as you dance this dance as well.

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  20. I'm so sorry I didn't comment on this when it originally came out. This post--and the sharing of your son--touched me so deeply that at the time I just couldn't find the words. Now, reading it again, I still can't. But I needed to say something so I am. Thank you for sharing this with such honesty. It's so important that we in this community read about all the different stops on the journey of loss and mourning. It's important that we see how the journey can be different for everyone. And that we know that all journeys are important and valid. Thank you for helping to teach us.

    Abiding with you.

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    1. Thanks so much for the wisdom and kindness you shared in this comment. It's so appreciated.

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  21. I'm sorry that I didn't see this the day it was posted to offer support, even just to let you know that one more person is thinking of your family and praying for you. I'm so glad that sorrow has been joined with joy. God is so good.

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    1. You're right. He's really, really good.

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  22. This post and specifically your description of what happened at the hospital brought me to tears, thank you for sharing. I'm here via the Friday roundup from Stirrup Queens. I have only recently begun finding the joy in life after my loss last year and while I know there will always be some sorrow I now know that there will be happiness too.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm headed over to your blog right now. So sorry to hear about your loss.

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  23. Em, this post was both beautiful and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing Ethan's story. I didn't know all of it until this post and I feel honored to share the memory of him. I don't think you can doubt your abilities as his mother. How does anyone know how to parent a child who is no longer on this earth? Just as there are different ways to parent children who are still here with us, there are many ways to keep being a parent to children who are not. Your vision of that little boy, your dreams and wishes for him, are beautiful and show such love. You're an incredible mother.

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    1. You're right - how can anyone know how to parent under these circumstances? Thanks so much for the encouragement.

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  24. Em, I am so sorry it took me so long to read this post. My heart hurt for you in every beautiful word. I'm so sorry for what you went through and so grateful that you shared your story. Big hugs.

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    1. I'm trying to get all caught up on my blog reading too. Plus, I don't post very often, so I give my readers lots of time to read my stuff. (-: Thanks so much for the thoughts and hugs.

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  25. What a touching post, thanks for sharing. Glad you stopped by, and look forward to catching up more on your story!

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    1. Thanks for visiting my blog. Good to have you here!

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  26. Words cannot express how my heart aches for you and your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I think of you often and when I do, I pray.

    God is using you, Em. Thank you for boldly sharing your story!

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    1. Thank you so much for the sweet words of solidarity, Karolyn. I really appreciate it. And thanks too for the faithful prayers. It means so much.

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  27. I was so sad reading this. I am sorry for your loss. I wish you were able to be holding your 3 year old baby boy. Life is so not fair. Thinking of you. :/

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    1. Thanks so much for your kindness, Stephanie. I wish the same thing.

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  28. I am far, far, far behind on my commenting but I wanted to come and tell you that I read this post the day you posted it. It touched my heart and I've not really stopped thinking about it since. I love what your in-laws do to honor and remember Ethan each Christmas. What a beautiful thing that should never have to be done.

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    1. That's a really good way to describe it - a beautiful thing that should never have to be done.

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  29. I'm so sorry for your loss. Hugs my friend.

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  30. A beautiful and touching post to remember Ethan. Sending you and your husband so much love and so many prayers your way. So many women can relate to your post, you have such courage and love to share your story.

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    1. Thanks so much for those prayers. And for the love too. (-:

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  31. Em,

    It's probably been about eight years since Nehemiah -- hard to believe. I peak in on your blog when I get the chance, and I am either laughing loudly or crying every time. David and I lost our Esther two years ago this summer. Thank you for talking about Ethan and sharing his memory. I like to think that he and Esther are together.

    Nina

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    1. Eight years?!? That's crazy. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your baby Esther. I had no idea.

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  32. Catching up on your story and wishing your Ethan a Happy (belated) Heavenly 3rd Birthday! I am so sorry for your loss and that you can't hold your son in your arms as you mark this milestone. I know he will always be in your heart, but it still sucks that he isn't here and these anniversaries are so hard, so bittersweet. Hang in there and keeping writing and sharing your story. I know how therapeutic that has been for me.

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    1. Thanks for the sweet words, Kathy.

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  33. Clicking over from a link on your recent post ... this is heartbreakingly beautiful, Em. I admit that I've forgotten the exact dates, but I relate to that sentiment: "I wanted today to look like that." And in fact, I just pureed some carrots (a late-night hobby ;)) - and this line made me so sad: "There are no carrots to puree"; because although there are many for our second, for who would have been our first, there are not. Your words are so painfully evocative.

    Love to you all, your now-going-on-four-years-old boy included.

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  34. You honor your beautiful boy so well. So beautiful.

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