By Lara Gillham, Jackson’s Mom
Parenting a New Child after Losing a Child
Having a baby after losing a baby is hard. I’m not sure what I expected. I certainly didn’t think it would be the easiest thing in the world. But just as you can’t prepare for losing a child, you can’t prepare for having a child after loss. The feelings are raw and unique to each person. While there are absolutely many joyous moments, there are also terrifying and exhausting ones.
As I began writing this blog, I was looking down at my little girl who was just 9 days old, and so many thoughts were racing through my head. Sometimes when I look at her I feel pure happiness, other times it’s sadness, and sometimes it’s a mixture of both. When I look at her tiny little face I’m so happy that we have another baby, that she’s healthy, and that I get to be a parent again. But I’m also sad that this is not our son, that we feel like we are starting all over again, and our family will never quite feel whole. I’m happy that she looks like her brother who we lost 16 months ago, but it also saddens me to see his face in hers and know he is never going to meet his sister or be a big brother to her.
I often find myself consumed by the daily life of caring for our newborn daughter, but when I get a chance to think about my son, sometimes it hurts. It hurts that they look so similar, it hurts to think that if our son never died we probably wouldn’t have our daughter, and it hurts that our daughter isn’t our son. But still, I’m thankful that I have this little girl, my little girl.
Obviously this baby brings on the typical feelings of having a newborn – worry, overprotection, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and a learning curve like no other. But with this baby also comes added fears and concerns. We were afraid to put her down for the first few days because we feared she would choke on her spit up and die. We took turns staying awake holding her for the first 4 days of her life. I don’t think we put her down once. We eventually transitioned her to her bassinet, but every tiny noise she made (and of course newborns are constantly making some kind of noise) woke us up, often causing us to jump up and immediately grab her out of her bassinet and sit her upright, despite the fact that she was totally fine. We bought an extremely expensive pulse oxygen device, and we attach it to her foot every night before bed.
As the weeks and months have passed, our intense overprotectiveness of our daughter has decreased some, though it is still very present and will probably never go away completely. I think my nightly wakings to check on her have decreased from about 10 to just a few. I no longer jerk her upright immediately upon hearing her spit up, but rather slowly and gently lift her to pat her back. While it still hurts my heart to hear her cry because I’m afraid something might be hurting her, I can now let her fuss for a few minutes before grabbing her, and I can console her softly instead of freaking out that she is going to choke to death if I let her cry too long.
My husband and I grew closer after our son died. We held onto each other, and our bond became incredibly strong. We now find ourselves disagreeing about some things regarding our daughter, both of us with the best of intentions for her wellbeing. And in all honesty, we just don’t have the time for each other right now, so that ability to lean on each other that made us stronger together after losing our son is not so realistic right now. However, we try to take the baby on a walk every day, and we use that time to talk to each other so we can keep that bond going strong. I see his eyes light up when he looks at our daughter, and it melts my heart to know that he has another baby to love and that he can be a daddy again.
Every parent of a newborn is exhausted and learning as they go. But when you have lost a baby the exhaustion and feelings of uncertainty are amplified. Every cough, rash, odd noise, and movement are overanalyzed for fear that it’s a sign of something worse to come. I’ve found there is a really difficult balance between being carefree and overprotective when you are a parent after loss. You want your child to be able to enjoy life unencumbered, but you also know how fragile life can be. I’ve accepted that I don’t have the privilege of ignoring concerns anymore. We can’t just put faith in the notion that nothing bad could happen to our child, because it already has. I’ve learned to follow my gut instinct and err on the side of caution. It also doesn’t hurt to remind myself that I need to enjoy being in the present with my daughter instead of worrying about the future. For me, these things ease my mind so I can get back to loving my daughter without constant worry.
My list of questions for each pediatrician appointment was long with my son but I feel as if it is never-ending with my daughter. I feel like I have to make sure I ask every question or I’ll regret it because it could be something serious that ends up taking her life. I know it is likely overboard, but that’s okay. That’s how I cope and how I can feel reassured that I’m doing everything possible to protect my baby. Everyone copes differently, and what may help me may not help you. But following your intuition and doing what feels right for you and your family will be what gives you peace of mind and allows you to be present in the moment with your loving children.
When I lost Jackson, I also lost my parenthood. My identity was completely wrapped up in being a mom, and I no longer knew who to be. I couldn’t go back to the me before having a baby, but my life no longer revolved around caring for that baby either. Having my daughter did not take away the pain of losing Jackson, but it did allow me to reclaim my identity as a mom and allow for the abundance of love I have to go somewhere.