07 November 2011

Past/Present: Grief & Gratitude

The closer we get to Austen's arrival, the more I find myself thinking about my pregnancy with Ewan and how it felt at the same point. I'm nearly 31 weeks pregnant now and remember having the same feeling last time: this baby will be here before we know it. While with both children we faced "before we know it" with excitement and joy, there were also some decidedly differently feelings that accompanied our pregnancy with Ewan.

watch over me
30 weeks + 5 days pregnant with Ewan. (I am 30 weeks + 5 days pregnant with Austen today.)

Prenatal diagnosis is a double-edged sword where the experience of my pregnancy with Ewan was concerned. Given the choice of being prepared or unhappily surprised, I would take prepared any day. Even that, however, came at a tremendous cost. In the days immediately following the diagnosis, all thought of preparing for my first child was overwhelmed with grief. I lost any idea of having baby showers or celebrating or buying gender-appropriate clothing -- not because I didn't think he deserved it, but because instead of eager anticipation, my thoughts and feelings were consumed with sadness for my son and what he would face, a feeling of being so completely different than everyone else I knew facing motherhood for the first time, and a deep sense that already, things were not as they should be.

The closer his arrival came, the more stress I experienced. James was unemployed and I was working full time, staring down a dwindling timeline toward being on unpaid maternity leave when he was born. We had no idea until days prior to his arrival how we were going to meet our expenses during my leave. One set of doctors reminded us how very severe Ewan's condition was, and another kept assuring us things would be fine -- that after a bit of trouble, we would have a baby at home. It seemed like every appointment we had, something else wasn't quite right. In my mind, it didn't matter how minute a detail it was -- if something was off, it practically sent me into a tailspin. Stress escalated.

On top of all this, I had people telling me not to stress out (which, ironically, had exactly the opposite result than the one intended). "Stress is bad for the baby!" I was frequently reminded. I was given all sorts of advice from just "letting go" and focusing on a positive outcome, to sinking my tired, stressed, and very pregnant body into a hot bath from time to time. But how was I to "let go"? Honestly, what did that even mean? And if I had some hope of all our worries going down the drain with the bathwater, I would have done it. Our financial concerns weren't going to figure themselves out. We still had a baby with a very broken heart whose arrival was getting closer and closer, and we both felt overwhelmed with the gravity of what we were facing. We still loved him fiercely and wanted him to live, but we couldn't just forget about what was immediately ahead of him and us. I looked at other expectant moms I knew who were facing similar prenatal diagnoses and wondered at (and were deeply envious of) the calm they had through the whole thing.

And then came the night before I went into labor. I couldn't sleep for worry -- I loved him so much and deep down, had a feeling that I was going to be asked to let him go. You better believe I didn't want to, and honestly, I didn't think I could. That was a night of fists and tears and screaming, of lying on the floor without caring whether or not I got up. I grieved for me and what I had lost, but mostly for Ewan. He wasn't even born yet, and already he was facing what I couldn't imagine: attached to a stressed-out mommy, and then being born and immediately separated, being hooked up to machines, being intubated, being poked and sliced. As my mom put it, having no very good reason to have a very high opinion of being born.

I compare my pregnancy now to then and consider how decidedly different they are. I left my full time job when I was about 13 weeks pregnant with Austen before driving across the country to join James in Florida. Everything with this pregnancy has been completely normal: every scan, every measurement, every prenatal appointment. Not the slightest thing is amiss. And though I am working, it is in my own home. My job is to have a healthy pregnancy, to keep my home in good working order, to make our family ready for our second child's arrival.

And so I look back on my pregnancy with Ewan not with guilt, but with more grief -- grief for him and what he experienced before he was even born. I gave him all I had, but was not able to give him what I have been able to give his little sister: a peaceful pregnancy. I wanted the best for him, and couldn't give him that. And so the more I progress in this pregnancy (and rejoice in its normalcy) I also still grieve that his poor little body, in addition to the tremendous challenges it was already facing, had to deal with the additional burden of the stress we experienced.

Honestly, I feel like I can't say "I'm sorry" enough to him. I don't know that I could have done any better or any differently given the circumstances. Acknowledging just how very much was out of our control is a good step perhaps, but doesn't make the act of grieving what he lost as a result any easier.

And so when we recognized All Saints and All Souls Day this past week, those words so often recited at funerals and in remembering the dead carried special weight and meaning: Grant them eternal rest, O Lord ...

Finally. Finally, he is able to rest. That is a relief, and brings some peace to the tears that come when I grieve for what he experienced both before and after his birth. And as I feel his little sister kick and roll in a body that is decidedly more relaxed than the one Ewan had as a home, I find myself deeply thankful for what I experience now and feeling just a little bittersweet for what was our not-so-distant past. I know as well as anyone we can't undo what has been done -- but I can see it and acknowledge the truth of what it is. The tears will come and on its heels, the gratitude and relief that finally ... finally, rest has come.

Tears in my eyes and a smile on my lips -- my past and my present all rolled into one. Grief and gratitude inextricably bound, one with the other. Memory of the past and hope and wonder of a not-too-distant future. She kicks again and I laugh, "thankful" seeming a pale and pathetic word for what this is. The truth is, I am fairly certain I could not be so thankful without all of it -- without the sum total of all we grieved then and grieve now -- in fact, without him.