When I was pregnant with Winter I spent a lot of time wondering how my life would change when he arrived. I imagined sleepless nights and groggy confusion and newborn survival, all wrapped up in a big thankful-for-his-existence bow. And actually, despite his death, that expectation was pretty accurate. But of course, it wasn’t at all the way I had fantasised. The sleepless nights were not tending to a cooing newborn, but me lay awake in a painfully quiet house, pining for my baby boy. The groggy confusion came not from scouring online baby forums for colic relief, but instead rested upon heavy grieving shoulders where I swung from peaceful gratitude to crying on the nursery floor, never really knowing or understanding how I would be feeling next. And the newborn survival, became instead surviving the death of my newborn. I had not planned for this, in my months of preparation for life with my baby not once had I discussed and decided just how I would continue my life without my baby. And I have come to discover that nothing can prepare you at all for that, just as nothing can really ever prepare you for life with a real live wriggling newborn. And yet here I am, trying to prepare.
It goes without saying that the preparation this time is bittersweet, but ultimately it is exciting and hopeful. A lot of the items I have for this baby were bought with the intention to be used 21 months ago. Gifted clothes left unfilled, a lovingly chosen crib left unused. They sat in Winters nursery patiently awaiting a baby that never arrived home. And now, they are offered a second chance. If life were a Disney film then this is the bit where all the objects would jump into action after a long slumber, egged on by a cheery sing song chorus, animated by sprightly co-ordinated dancing. This pregnancy has breathed life into faded hopeless items, it has polished and sprinkled them with colour. Where I once pained to peek at the babygrows that I had washed and folded for Winter, I can now hang them up with refreshed purpose. It may not be his body that fills their shape, but his sibling, his DNA, a part of him can. It’s the next best thing. Then there is the sense during preparing the nursery that I have done this all before. Last time our loving efforts went wasted, our talk of how we would raise our child and the dreams we had for their future all fell on deaf ears. We planted the seed, we watered it and showered it with sunshine but we were rewarded with drought. A fruitless harvest. It’s impossible to not plan for the same happening. Our imagination can be painfully morbid as it teases us with worst case scenarios. I painted the walls of this nursery excited and laughing with Dean, and then for a split second my mind wandered off the cliff edge and I decided that I would like this exact colour for our baby’s coffin if they died. I had to quickly remind myself that my past experience is not a guaranteed reality. It was just a flicker, a millisecond, one of those things that flashes through your mind and jolts you. A hastened recovery, back to smiling, ‘I can’t wait for baby to be in this room.’
My hospital bag is mostly packed. This time I haven’t bothered with the fluffies, no chapstick or eye mask for me. Just the essentials, nappies and wipes and maternity pads etc and a handful of well considered baby outfit in varying sizes. Last time I made the mistake of taking only small baby clothes, bravely assuming my baby would only ever be small. We laugh now at the memory of squeezing Winter into a romper that was most definitely too tiny, and seeing that very babygrow hanging in the nursery, stretched open between desperate poppers, still brings a smile to my face. But that was Winters memory, and now I am ready to successfully clothe a live new baby. I don’t know what to expect of this baby’s arrival. Some days I feel like it could happen at any moment in a way I don’t really want, a rushed induction or emergency caesarean, and the loss of control is suffocating. Other days I feel certain that I will naturally labour and birth this baby peacefully in a way similar to that of Winter before tragedy struck. And really I am reminded every day that as long as they are alive and well, the method to which they make it is as throwaway as a sweet wrapper.
And then there is this real life parenting shit. Yes, I am already a mother, I’ve no bones about my title. I have 2 children, a little boy called Winter who lives in my heart and a growing womb baby. But there is no doubt about it, there is a vast difference between mothering a child that has died and mothering a child that is living. I mother Winter by protecting his memory and keeping him alive in our thoughts, hanging his photograph on the wall and his handprint at our door, but I don’t know too much about weaning and latching on. Does anyone until they have to do it? Whether parenting an angel or parenting a walking talking human, neither is easy, each throws challenges in different ways, and I still can’t really know what to expect when I walk through our front door with a babe in arms. I’m not sure any pregnant woman has ever fully accepted that there is a real life baby in there until they pop out. I fully expect to have that ‘Holy cow what the hell’ moment when we realise it is actually a proper baby that we are now responsible for. Right now, we feel the wriggles and hiccups and stick the scan photos onto the fridge… but is it true, is there really a baby in there?! To steal a quote from my good friend and fellow pregnant loss mama Farrah – @somethingrosier – this morning as we text, ‘It’s like walking on the moon, you know its happened and it’s possible but you just can’t really believe it!’. I lay in bed with Dean at night and we say things like ‘soon there will be a little baby here with us…’ but neither of us really think its actually truly true. Because it is impossible to envision, perhaps even more so to first time parents or those who have had babies but never bought them home.
It goes without saying that I expect motherhood to be challenging. What kind of mother will I be? Will I know how to soothe a screaming baby? How will I know what my baby wants from me? I work in a school and we have recently begun to take children as young as two years old in our pre-nursery, and I have many friends who have had babies since Winter died, both in real life and online. In that sense I’m not in a naïve bubble anymore. Before we had Winter I had never even changed a nappy, these days I change them in my job. I know more about young children and baby’s development, the toys they play with and the TV shows they watch. And I hear and read about the struggles of teething and colic and sleep deprivation. I’m lucky to follow some open and honest mothers alongside the more picture perfect families on my Instagram, I enjoy both varieties on my feed and I’ve taken a lot from each and every one. I also see that having a baby after loss is both easier and harder than parenting can ever be. Easier perhaps because we know the true value of life on a deeper level that can only come with the death of another child, and provides us with greater patience… maybe? Harder because we are still riddled with grief and the anxiety that our child may die… and heap a whole load of pressure onto ourselves to never be cross or frustrated because we wanted this baby so much…? It is all speculation of course, and the reality will prove that motherhood is tricky no matter what your background. Do I expect I will be forever calm and thankful and accepting even when my baby has cried for hours non stop…? Probably not, I am human and I’ve no doubt I will struggle in all the ways that every woman has struggled on their new path of motherhood. A rainbow baby won’t literally be all rainbows, with glitter poo and unicorns dancing around them as they sleep through each and every night. We’ve all been the pregnant perfectionist who swears their child won’t have a tantrum in the supermarket like that… until it happens. I’ve seen this, I’ve taken note, I’ve already began to make peace with the fact that whilst preparing for this baby fills me with hope and excitement, I have no idea what to really expect and that’s ok. Winter taught me that we have very little control over life, it can change in an instant. As long as I can offer love and protection and take the time to live in the moment then everything else is out of my hands. All I can do is prepare to try my best.