My son Oliver will be one year old in about a week. The time has whooshed by in such a swift (and frankly, unfair) way so fast I can hardly believe it. I am ready to celebrate his life, and as I begin preparations for his party, I am overcome by a petrie dish of emotions…
You see Oliver is my rainbow baby–his birthday is almost the same date as my ectopic pregnancy three years ago and my last miscarriage just a year before his birth. I lost three babies before Oliver was conceived. Their loss, and his survival, has taught me so much about myself.
In early 2014 I was rushed to the hospital, in and out of consciousness with terrible abdominal pain. Within an hour our nurse informed us I had an ectopic pregnancy. My fallopian tube had ruptured, causing rapid internal bleeding. I remember looking into my husband’s eyes as she told us the baby had a heartbeat, and in that moment, I felt the joy and possibility of creating a life with my soulmate at the very instant it was stripped away. Without even speaking, we knew we wanted a baby together.
After I came home from the hospital I mourned the loss. I healed from my wounds. I recovered from the fright of nearly losing my own life. And we started having a lot of sex. In no time at all I was pregnant again.
I was so proud. I walked around like I was carrying a little jewel inside me. I was practically bursting with happiness, so much so that I couldn’t keep it in! I seemingly started telling anyone who even looked in my direction.
Then one morning I started bleeding. I tried not to worry–the doctors told me it was normal. But on Halloween I cried in the dark, trick or treating with my oldest son, bleeding into my witch costume. I just knew. And in just a few days, our baby was gone.
So, again, I healed, rested and recovered. When I felt ready, we tried again, and within a month I was pregnant again. With a bit of trepidation I let the hope and the joy back in. I downloaded an app on my phone to track my baby week by week. I let my mother touch my stomach. But then, once again, after a glorious day hiking with my husband that familiar trickle ran down my leg. Within 12 hours my body was doubled with cramps, forcefully trying to rid itself of my beautiful pregnancy.
I was lost. I sank into devastation. I felt betrayed. When I had my first son everything was so seamless. Besides being a complete surprise (I got pregnant on the pill) the pregnancy was easy. It trucked along without a single complication. It didn’t even occur to me to be worried. So why were these babies that I tried so hard for, that were such a deliberate decision, so elusive?
Once again I rested, I recovered, but I also gave up. No more trying we decided. It was too heartbreaking. We would just love each other hard. We would go on more vacations. We would have a great big life even if it didn’t include a baby. We grieved. We buried our baby in our backyard. And we worked to move on.
Then on the very day when my husband scheduled his vasectomy I thought that I was feeling a little funny. I had an extra pregnancy test squirreled away under the sink in the bathroom. A leftover from what felt like a different life. What the hell? I thought.
And I peed on the stick. And there was Oliver.
This boy. My baby. Our miracle. He arrived just in time.
I only recently heard the term “rainbow baby.” It refers to a child born after miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss. It is a term that holds space for parents to tell their stories of loss and hope.
This last year Oliver has changed my life. Of course all babies change your life! They seriously rock your world! But, there are things that this rainbow baby has taught me that I need to share. This boy who came into this world against all odds has something to share already to make this world a better place!
I simply can’t take Oliver for granted. Each day when he wakes up (and sometimes even in the middle of the night) I think to myself how lucky I am that I have him. I get to see his smile and not just imagine it. I get to feel his snuggles instead of clutching my arms around my own body, visualizing. I get to nibble those tiny fingers and smell that baby hair.
And the realness of it all makes me look around the rest of my life and realize how rich I am in love. I can look around me and feel so lucky every day to have a life so filled with life and love. And feeling gratitude can make you feel really fucking powerful!
Oliver has helped me live in my power. Having him has helped me trust myself to make big, scary life decisions because I know that I’m worth living a BIG FABULOUS life!
Move the Big Rocks
There are days when I can get trapped in the minutia. The house is a mess. I have too many emails to respond to. I forgot to pay a bill. I literally forget that I am supposed to have a BIG FABULOUS life because I feel pulled and distracted by a lot of little things.
But when I look at my sons I realize just how amazing they are. And miracles deserve more than a constant nagging about the small stuff! So, I try not to “sweat it” with them. Instead I try to concentrate on the BIG ROCKS. The big picture.
Maybe I have to remind my oldest constantly to put a coat on before he leaves the house on a cold day. But, he is growing up to be a good person. He is loving and kind and empathetic and creative. He pushes limits in a way that makes me think he will be a champion for good in the world. That he will challenge the status quo in life and force the world to change. And because of his big heart I believe that change will be for the better.
The lessons I want to focus on with my sons are the big ones. The ones about love, compassion, caring, daring and gratitude. Because…at some point…my son will leave the house without a coat, he will be cold, and he won’t do it again, all without my yelling at him!
The Delusion of Control
From before he was even conceived, Oliver was teaching me about control. I simply couldn’t save the babies that I lost. And even when I had decided that I was done trying, there he was snuggled up in my womb. I had special plans for his birth, but he messed those up too! He came on his own terms as a reminder once again that sometimes you have to submit.
Control is really an illusion, especially when it comes to other people. The only thing that we really CAN control is our actions and reactions. So, when Oliver decides in the middle of the night that he is starving or that he just needs some cuddles I submit. I let go. And I choose love and gratitude.
In those dark, quiet moments in the middle of the night, when I am so tired I can barely think straight, I remember that his needs are not under my control. And I settle in, because in those moments, I am the only one who can really show up for him the way that he needs. And I cherish those moments. The smell of him. Those little starfish hands holding my breast. The little humm he makes as he nurses. Letting go and just loving him feels like the most natural thing that I can do in the world.
There Are All Kinds of Mothers
Conception, pregnancy and childbirth are amazing, sacred, womanly experiences. They made me feel incredibly powerful, beautiful and robust. But do you know what feels even more amazing, sacred and womanly?
I am the holder of hurt feelings. The kisser of boo boos. The champion of life lessons. I have the privilege of teaching my two boys about life. I have the privilege of learning FROM my boys about life. And that is powerful.
Holding a baby in my body doesn’t hold a candle to the gift of parenting. And that’s what I grieve when I think of my lost babies. I will never clap when I see them toddle their first steps. I will never hear them sing a song. I will never see the joy on their faces when we hike in the woods. I will never hold them, comfort them, scold them.
Mothers come in all forms. There are mothers who birth their children and raise them. There are mothers who trust others to raise the children that they birth because they know that it is best. There are mothers who never give birth, who adopt and foster. And there are mothers who never get to meet their children, who’s lives are ultimately changed forever by loss. And each of those experiences is big and precious and valid.
Body Image is a Practice and a Journey
When first started to try and conceive after the ectopic I thought I felt pretty good about my body. I had worked really hard to look at my body with love and kindness. To cherish all the amazing things that my body could DO!
But then my body DIDN’T.
My body failed me. It betrayed me. I felt like less of a woman. I was on edge, checking my panties all the time for signs of failure.
As part of my healing process after my miscarriages I had to learn that my relationship with my body is a constant practice. My body is family. I don’t just love it when it does what I want. I love it even in sickness and darkness. Having a rainbow baby helped me realize that I must choose every day to love myself. Some days, like my times of loss, that will be incredibly hard. And others, like when I was pregnant with Oliver, it felt like a daily celebration.
I’m certain that I will teach my sons many things. But I’m also certain that they will teach me just as much. As a verse in the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow” goes,
I hear babies cry and I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more than we’ll know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world