As I prepare for the arrival of another bundle of joy, it occurs to me that I now am in need of a new pseudonym for one of the boys. For so long it has been Baby Boy and Baby Girl with no need to disguise the "real" identity of Eddie since he is, after all, deceased. But there is a little guy on the way who needs his own name. Or, perhaps, big brother needs a change in his. Not only is he no longer the baby-est boy, but he turned the ripe old age of five in December, taking him solidly out of the baby category (at least by his own estimation).
Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of this momentous occasion, a whopping five years in the making. It's been a really big deal. I mean, birthdays are a really big deal in our family anyway. Part of this stems from my husband's Mexican heritage, a culture who loves to celebrate and can stretch a birthday party into a month's long event if they so choose, complete with live music, bounce houses and feasts that feed a crowd of hundreds. I'm really only exaggerating a little. It's awesome and I love it. Added on to this cultural penchant for larger than life celebrations, however, is the fact that we only got to celebrate one birthday for Eddie. I was in the process of planning his second birthday extravaganza when he left us. Luckily, we had celebrated every week while he was in NICU. I will never forget that Eddie was born on a Tuesday, because every single Tuesday was a big, big deal for those first three months. After he was home, I calmed down just a little and it went to monthly celebrations. Not always the big thing with cake and presents, but an acknowledgement, an excited "You are seven months old today!" when he woke up that morning.
With Eddie, every day was something of a celebration. Even on the hard days, there was an underlying gratitude that he was there, present, drawing air even if only through the aid of machinery. I found a random journal entry, scrawled in the pages of a Mead notebook between old meal plans and to do lists. I was sitting at our kitchen table in a duplex in Bastrop, Eddie napping a few meters away in his crib in our bedroom. I was grateful and writing about it. Midway through the entry, I noted that I heard him stir, no cry or call of "Mama," just a simple rustling of body against sheet, the kind of noise that would be easily missed by many parents, those not hyper-sensitively attuned to every single sound (we, the parents of critically ill children, whom God blesses with our own bizarre brand of spider-sense). I wrote how that tiny little sound shouted joy to me, screaming, "He is alive!" For as long as he stirred, he lived and as long as he lived, I had hope.
In those days, I could not look ahead to a future where Eddie no longer slept in his crib, no longer awoke with a small stirring followed by the sing-song "MA-ma" which was music to my ears. The times when my mind would wander toward the possibility of different days I would feel a tearing in my heart, a pain so acute and sudden, that I would shy away, take a deep breath, and focus on the present moment. He was there now, I would tell myself, and that is enough. Life beyond Eddie seemed something I could never bear, never survive. I imagined that if and when the time came I would just heavily medicate and drift away to la-la land, living a sort of half-life until I got to follow him home.
God had other plans for my life and He gave us Baby Boy, already five months in my womb and completely dependent on me by the time his big brother died. From those first kicks and wiggles, I had someone else that I loved much more than myself, someone who wasn't going to let me escape into oblivion. Even as my first tears fell after the breath left Eddie's body, they fell onto my full, round belly and I knew I would go on. That somehow I was going to survive this; we were, my new Baby Boy and I. I didn't have any other choice.
What I didn't know was how much better we were going to do than merely survive. How we were going to thrive. The laughter and joy we were going to share; the indescribable hope. I love this picture, one of the first pictures of Baby Boy and me, taken the day after he was born.
There is so much in my expression. If you didn't know, you would only see the face of a happy, if a little tired, new mother, never guessing that this was also the face of a mother who had lost her child a mere four months before.
Do not make the mistake of thinking I replaced one child with another. That is impossible and mental. I grieved for Eddie; I still do. The tearing, ripping, unbearable pain of loss came in waves in those first years and still comes, crashing and impossible, but I have the strength and fortitude to sit with it, to allow God to draw me near to Him and comfort me. I breathe through them like a woman in labor until they abate. I can do this only through God's strength, not my own, but I choose to seek that strength because my children give me a reason to. A purpose, a direction, and I thank God for that.
"I'm a grown up now," announces Baby Boy with confidence. "Because I'm five." I look at him and smile because in so many ways he is, compared to the tiny little bundle born five years and one months ago. Yet I'm grateful that there is still so much of the baby there too, in no hurry for him or his sister to grow up. Not just yet. So perhaps I'll let him keep his moniker for now and we'll wait and see what we'll call the new one when he arrives. My big Baby Boy crawls into my lap, gives me a kiss, and tells me he loves me so much... can we play Mickey Mouse Clubhouse now? I laugh and tell him we can. So it is with a heart full of love, hope and gratitude for this present moment that I sign off, wishing you all a joyful day full of moment to moment blessings.