Tomorrow at 9:11pm, I will officially be 34 years old. When I was a teenager, 34 seemed so ancient. It probably seemed ancient when I was in my mid-twenties, too. Thirty-four is still pretty young (I think!), but some days, I feel old. I aged a lot in the year following Elliot’s stillbirth. I was 32 and time had changed so much for me that year. I felt as though a lifetime had passed by me. A lifetime did pass by, actually – Elliot’s.

I survived the first year in the after. When I say survived, I truly mean survived. I spent that year drowning in grief. I felt lost in a sea of sadness, confusion, and anger, but I was determined not to let it swallow me whole. I wanted my motherhood and my love for Elliot to define me, not her death. I worked so hard to keep my head above water, one day at a time. I knew I could not live the rest of my life feeling that way, so I searched. I searched for a new kind of happiness because my joy and positive outlook on life was gone. I searched for ways to parent Elliot and honor my motherhood. We didn’t stop being mother and daughter just because she wasn’t in my arms. I searched for a new identity. Parts of the old me were still there, but I was a different person. Love, loss, and grief changed me. Motherhood changed me.

Once Elliot’s first birthday arrived, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had survived the most difficult year of my life. And just as quickly as the first year ended, the second year began. I had read the second year following pregnancy and infant loss is often harder than the first. I had worked so hard to get to a place in my grief where it felt manageable. I couldn’t imagine going backwards. Unfortunately, grief is not something that can be controlled. Yes, it becomes more manageable with time (sometimes), but it never goes away. Some days, it’s more intense and weighs very heavily on me. I take two steps forward and one step back. And on other days, it’s softer and lingers in the background. But it’s always there, and I never forget about it. It’s really hard for me to compare my grief between year one and two. Grief is complicated, messy, and ever-changing. In some ways the first year was much harder. The grief was so much more intense. But sometimes year two felt more challenging as I settled into my grief and the new me. Feeling like we are moving further and further away from Elliot’s physical life and birth is very difficult. Sometimes it feels as though the world is moving on from our tragedy, but we are still here learning to live with it.

My 33rd birthday began with fertility treatment, an early miscarriage, and Elliot’s first birthday. Just typing those words brings back the roller coaster of emotions that came with each of those events. I felt so overwhelmed and sad about life all over again after our second loss. The loss itself wasn’t nearly as devastating as losing Elliot, but it still hurt, and I wasn’t sure how much longer we could go through the ups and downs of trying to conceive, let alone another loss. By that point, we had already been trying for baby #2 for nine months with one cycle of fertility treatment. Our fertility specialist gave us the option to take a break after the loss and try another round of treatment the following month. Ben and I were both so emotionally exhausted. Still, we felt like we had to move forward and continue to fight for the family we so desperately wanted.

We started cycle #2, and to be completely honest, I was not hopeful at the beginning. It didn’t seem like we had the best chance for success. After a very emotional appointment, I told Ben that if I had known things would happen the way they did, I would have asked to wait another month; I didn’t want to waste a round of treatment. Ben, being the loving and supportive husband that he always is, told me to stay positive. He told me we shouldn’t assume the worst. He said we needed to remain hopeful.

I am thankful there was no turning back at that point. If that’s not an understatement, I don’t know what is. Two weeks after our second round of treatment, two pink lines appeared on my home pregnancy test. Even after having just experienced an early loss, I was hopeful. Something told me this was finally our time. It just felt different. Our baby was here. Brynn was here. It still bothers me today, though, that in a moment of weakness, I wished that cycle away.

If you followed along during my pregnancy with Brynn, you know it was a stressful 37 weeks. I was anxious, scared, and experienced bouts of PTSD. I spent hours at the doctor’s office every week and injected myself with Lovenox 195 times. I cried through the stress and relief of my ultrasounds. I also allowed myself to be happy and gave myself permission to enjoy my pregnancy. I bonded with Brynn in a way I didn’t think I’d be able to after losing Elliot. I fell in love with her the moment I learned she existed. I promised myself I’d celebrate her life every single day. God forbid, if something were to happen again, I did not want to have any regrets.

Finally, after what seemed like a very long wait, I held Brynn in my arms and fell in love with her all over again. When she was placed in my arms, every single emotion I had ever felt for her and Elliot came crashing down on me. I was completely swept away by the love I share with my girls and Ben. Then we got to bring Brynn home, and life as we knew it changed once again. Time changed again, too. Brynn has brought so much joy and love to our lives. Way more than I ever imagined possible. The days go by way too quickly with her.

We still miss Elliot and wish she was here with us. I often find myself crying for the moments Brynn will never share with her big sister. We’re all missing out.

Even though 33 started off difficult, I will always remember it as one of the most important years of my life – the year that brought us one of our greatest blessings. It was the year I became a mother of two. The year I was finally able to start parenting in the way I had always dreamed of. The year I watched Ben grow into an even more amazing father. The year I learned yet again how supportive and loving our family and friends are.

As the clock turns to 9:11pm, I will think of my sweet Elliot, as it is another reminder of her. She, too, was born at 9:11pm. I will also bid a fond farewell to 33 as I welcome 34 with cautious optimism. I look forward to this next year and all it has to offer with Ben by my side, Brynn in my arms, and Elliot in my heart.

From our newborn photo shoot, January 2017

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