I saw the little banner as I walked into the room after getting dressed and ready. One of my best girlfriends had just finished hanging it beside the 3-photo collage we have of Miles on our living room wall. “Big Brother”, it read. I felt it in my gut and immediately had to start wiping my tears away. As I did, I felt the baby move inside my growing pregnant belly, almost announcing himself/herself as the main event of the day. “How can I do this?”, I thought. “How can I hold joy and excitement for this new baby while grieving and missing Miles so much?”.
As the guests started to arrive at the High-Tea-themed “sprinkle” (not a full baby shower, but for all intents and purposes, a full baby shower), I felt some anxiety start to melt away. I saw several of my girlfriends stop to admire the photos of Miles, a couple of them wiping their own tears away as they did so. I visited with my different groups of friends, and we spent the afternoon nibbling on delicious food, chatting, and laughing. Stories about Miles came up naturally as we talked about babies and kids, and I didn’t shy away from sharing them. Questions about Baby #2 and the upcoming birth were woven into conversations as well, and I acknowledged the mixture of excitement and nervousness that I’m feeling as we get closer to his or her arrival.
The truth is, as a bereaved parent with a new baby on the way, nothing is straightforward. Every emotion has a hint of a second (or third, or fourth) emotion. When I feel excited about meeting the new baby, I also experience guilt (is the memory of Miles going to be usurped by this new, in-the-flesh love?) and deep sorrow (Miles should be here as big brother to welcome this new addition to our family). It’s hard not to feel as though we’re starting our family from scratch again. The idea that this new baby is actually a continuation of the family we had with Miles is a hard one to wrap our heads around without him being physically here. He’s everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.
As my pregnant belly has become increasingly obvious, I get asked constantly, “Oh congratulations! Is this your first?”. After recovering from the initial sting, I’ve had to give myself permission to answer in whatever way feels best at that moment. Are there days where I answer “yes” and feel a twinge of guilt that I’m not acknowledging Miles’ life? Yes. Are there days where I feel prepared to share that this is actually our second child and that our first child died? Yes. Are there some awkward reactions and conversations that follow when I choose to answer with the latter? Oh hell yes. But I’m slowly learning to accept that both answers are ok and that both answers actually honour his life. Answering “yes” is a way to protect myself and Miles when I’m feeling too raw, too emotionally tapped out, or too indifferent about my relationship with the questioner to share the beauty and pain of his story. Answering “no, our first actually passed away” is a way for me to open the floor to a conversation that, no matter how awkward, allows me to share more about my son.
Holding multiple emotions simultaneously all day, every day, is exhausting. And I know that when Babe #2 arrives, the emotions aren’t going to get any simpler. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling an odd sense of acceptance about the complexity of it all. It’s messy, yes, and sometimes downright shitty. But as daunting as it is to stare down the tunnel of a lifetime of missing Miles, we’re about to welcome his brother or sister into this world. This baby deserves everything we gave Miles. It won’t be the same experience, but it also shouldn’t be. Miles transformed us completely, and molded us into the parents we are going to be for this baby. The love we had for Miles laid the groundwork for the love we will have for this new little human. So despite all of the complexity of our grief as we prepare to welcome our new babe, it all boils down to this love- and that’s pretty simple.