If you asked me how Ben and I would spend our daughter’s first birthday a year and three days ago, I would have detailed a day much different than the one we will actually have today. I would not have believed anyone if they told me this is how it would be. But here we are, in a quiet house, making breakfast for just the two of us and discussing ways to celebrate and honor Elliot on her birthday.
We have already received so many messages of love and support today. Thank you all for thinking of us and letting us know you are here with us. We are lucky to be surrounded by so much love. I know Elliot feels it too.
I wrote a birthday post for Elliot over at Still Mothers. I normally share my posts for Still Mothers in a separate section of Walking With Elliot. But today, for Elliot’s birthday, I think my post should be up on the main page. Elliot’s aunt Jessie also wrote a beautiful and loving tribute, Tess and Elliot: One Year Later, over at Boston Moms Blog.
One year ago, I had my first real out-of-body experience. It happened the moment I found out my baby’s heart had stopped beating. The beautiful sound that mimicked galloping horses – the one I never feared would go away because I was naive – disappeared. My baby, who was so full of energy just days earlier, laid lifeless in my womb.
I wasn’t standing in front of a mirror that morning, but I can still see the blank stare on my face when the doctor told us Elliot had passed away. I felt as though I had stepped outside of my physical body and watched the tragedy unfold from the opposite corner of the room. I haven’t been able to shake that eerie feeling. I don’t think I ever will. It’s ingrained in my bones.
Before Elliot passed away, I often dreamed about all of the firsts. Her first cry. Her first laugh. Her first bath. Her first word. Her first step. Her first day of school. Her first date. Her first job. Her first apartment. Her first baby. I had her whole life laid out in front of me, and then it was all taken away in an instant. I experienced a lot of firsts following Elliot’s stillbirth, but they were very different than the ones I imagined and longed for.
It seems a lot of people don’t realize just how much parents lose when a baby or child dies. I may not have known Elliot outside the womb, but all the hopes and dreams that I had for her also died that fateful day. The pain from such a traumatic loss doesn’t go away. That, too, is ingrained in my bones.
I’ve learned a lot in one year, way more than I ever expected or wanted. Yet, I have a long way to go and so much more to learn. I still have the rest of my life ahead of me, however long that may be. I will continue to reflect on my experience and how far I’ve come since day one in the after.
I’ve learned what it means to mourn and grieve as a parent. I’ve lost loved ones before and I was sad when they died, of course. I’m still sad they are no longer here. But it’s different when your child dies. I have many fond memories of my other deceased loved ones – years of birthday parties, holiday celebrations, family BBQs, summer vacations, and so many ordinary days. I’ll never have an ordinary day with Elliot.
There isn’t anything in this world that I wouldn’t give or do for just one of those days with Elliot. The one where we get up early in the morning, have breakfast, and go for a walk around the neighborhood. The one where I get lunch ready as Ben plays with Elliot in her room. The one where all the laughter and happy screams from across the house make me giggle to myself in the kitchen. The one where the three of us nap together after story time and snuggles in our bed. The one where we have a low-key but fun afternoon at home, running around the yard with the dogs and refueling with snacks. The one where we hop in the car and drive to meet family for an early dinner so everyone can get home in time for the kiddos’ bedtimes. Except, I wouldn’t rush Elliot off to bed when we returned home. I’d rock her to sleep in my arms and hold on to her forever.
What I wouldn’t give for just one of those days.
I’ve learned what it means to love and to be loved. I don’t think I quite understood what those things meant to me, or how I wanted them to look, as much as I do now. I now know how honest and complete love feels. Life is too short to settle for anything less.
I’ve learned that the love between my husband and me runs much deeper than I realized, even in our previous 11 years together. This kind of loss can either strengthen or break a couple’s bond. I feared the latter would happen, but instead the death and birth of our daughter brought us closer together. For that, I am so grateful.
I’ve learned that if people care, they will find a way to let you know. Even the smallest of gestures go a long way and really aren’t small at all. They are big and beautiful, and they mean the world to me. As for the others, their lack of action and concern speaks volumes to their feelings. Quite frankly, I don’t care to know those people anymore.
I’ve learned how unfair life truly is. When death comes knocking, it doesn’t discern between the good and the bad. You can try your hardest to be a good person and make the right decisions, but that won’t save you from tragedy and heartache. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in life and I am far from perfect, but I know I did not deserve to lose my baby. None of us deserve this. I tried to make all the right decisions for Elliot. I tried to keep her safe and healthy. I did my best and gave her my all. In the end, it wasn’t enough. If it was, Elliot would be here.
Still, I get up every day and do my best. Through the tears, sadness, anger, and confusion, I do the best I can. I’ve learned how to manage the roller-coaster of emotions that are attached to perinatal loss. I’ve learned how to be happy and sad at the same time. It’s no longer one or the other. I suppose it never really was, but I didn’t understand the full complexity of these emotions until recently.
I’ve learned how to live feeling incomplete. I will never feel whole again, and I’ve accepted that. A piece of my heart will always be missing. Elliot will hold on to that piece of my heart for safe keeping until we are together again. I always thought I would be the one to mend to her broken heart. Yet, she is the one who cares for mine. Just as I carry her heart in mine, she lifts me up and carries my heart in hers.
As much as I wish each and every day was one of those ordinary days at home, it will always be something different. I’ve learned how to embrace the different.
Today, for Elliot’s 1st birthday, Ben and I will start the day off as we always do. We will wish her a good morning as we open her nursery curtains. We will talk about how much we miss her and long to hold her in our arms just one more time. We will gush about how beautiful she is. We will struggle to put smiles on our faces as we recall the special moments spent with Elliot in the hospital exactly one year ago today. We’ll search for the perfect tree to plant in her memory. We will have cupcakes and open a few gifts for her. We will blow out a candle for Elliot, and I will wish for just one ordinary day with her. I can’t help but think that when we blow out her candle, she will make the same wish. Before bed, we will read stories in her room and then wind her musical snow globe and listen to the sweet melody that was meant for her ears. We will get into our bed and wish her a goodnight, just as we do every night.
In some ways, I feel as though today is my 1st birthday too. The old me died with Elliot and the new me was born with her. I can’t celebrate my rebirth, but I will always celebrate Elliot. I will celebrate the love and hope she brought into this world. I will celebrate the beautiful gift that she was and continues to be every day.
To Elliot, my love, happy 1st birthday. Some day we will get to live our ordinary day, every day. Until then, I will continue to dream. We love you.
Feature image credit (ladybug birthday): MaryJo Carlson (Samuel’s Grandma)