We didn't visit Lily's grave this Christmas. Let me tell you why.
There. I said it. If you think you can make me feel any more guilty than I already do, you're welcome to try.
What kind of mother doesn't visit her child's grave on Christmas? What kind of mother forgets something like that? A year ago, I would be shocked at my own behavior. A year ago, I left Lily a little Christmas tree, and a stocking, and we took pictures with her special ornament and I spent time there, kneeling in all my pregnant glory, and I missed her. I felt her absence. I realized how different Christmas would be had she lived. How we would be scrambling to get her a nap so she wouldn't be grumpy and how she'd be crying to take off her uncomfortable Christmas tights with the ruffles on the bum.
I remember stroking my belly and wondering if next Christmas, we would finally, finally, finally have a baby to fuss over that wasn't buried in the ground next to my grandmother. I remember being so sure the baby inside me would never come home with me, that I actually checked to see if there would be room to put another tiny casket next to Lily's. I remember thinking that if I had to hang one more sad little dead baby ornament on my tree instead of a cute and happy "Baby's First Christmas" one, I would break into a million tiny pieces. I prayed I would never again have to hang another ornament that made me cry and ache for the giggles that were so blatantly absent from those moments of decorating our tree. As I sat by Lily's grave last Christmas, I hoped with all my heart that next Christmas would be different.
And then it was.
Jones has changed everything in my entire life. I love him more than I ever imagined I could ever love another child. I truly thought for awhile that I'd have to learn to accept this new baby. That the baby growing inside me would be kept at arm's length until I slowly and carefully let them in and learned to love them without the constant, debilitating fear of losing them. But then Jones was born. And I was wrecked for life.
He is the most gorgeous, most adorable, most make-you-want-to-bite-your-own-arm-off-he's-so-stinking-cute baby in the entire world, and you cannot be around him for five seconds without actually feeling your heart melt inside your chest (He's that cute. Seriously.).
But in all his adorable-ness, he has brought with him a chaotic state of life that I never anticipated. Of course I knew our lives would be different, but how hard could one baby possibly be? I mean, I've had twins. Two babies at once! Certainly having one baby now, with two live-in Mother's Helpers as a bonus, would be a piece of cake. That, coupled with the fact that Jones was so wanted, so prayed for, so desperately appreciated, that I could not imagine myself ever feeling the least bit stressed out or resentful of his presence.
Surely I would awaken every morning to his precious cries, no matter how tired I was, and jump at the opportunity to snuggle my sweet blessing that I had waited so many years for. Surely his glass-shattering screams at 2:30 a.m. would sound like music to my ears, because for so many years I prayed to hear those cries, to have the chance to comfort my baby. Surely, if this baby lived, everything would be rainbows and unicorns and glitter for all eternity, because I will have gotten my wish, and people who have their wishes granted would never dream of being unhappy ever again. Ever.
What I failed to recognize is...that's a load of crap.
Jones slept seven hours one night when he was about a week old. Since that night, he hasn't slept a combined total of seven hours, and he will be nine months old next week. I had no idea a human body could function on the amount of sleep Jones and I have gotten over this past year. I have never, ever, not even once since Jones was ripped from my loins, slept all night. And when I say all night, I mean three hours in a row.
I have been breastfeeding for nine months, and have had mastitis seven times. If you don't know what mastitis is, it is hell in the form of a breast infection. I love breastfeeding. I really do. I do not love writhing in pain and feverish shivers for hours on end while my baby screams for something I know will cause me immense pain to give him. And I'm exhausted. Oh. My. Gosh. I am exhausted.
You know when you've been up all night long and you feel like all your emotions are hyper-sensitive and anything at all can make you cry or laugh or laugh til you cry or cry til you laugh? Well I've been up for 270 nights. So.
I saw this commercial for something the other day. I think it was for a phone, or a banana, I don't remember. But it showed this teenage boy arriving with his family for Christmas at Grandma's house. And all his whole entire family was there, and he was just on his phone, acting all teenagery. He's got his headphones in while uncles and cousins talk to him, and he's acting all mopey and he's texting or watching videos or whatever, and I sat there watching it going, "This is awful. Teenagers are the worst." And then, at the very end, the teenager plugs his phone into the big TV in the living room while his whole family is gathered around singing Christmas carols or something, and he proceeds to show them all a video he had been making. Of their family. Talking and laughing and hugging and playing at Christmas. And it turns out, Mopey McCellphone was actually the sweetest kid of all time. And in the commercial, the whole family cried. But me?
I freaking bawled my eyes out.
I mean, I have attended the funeral of my own baby, and I have never cried so hard in my entire life as I did watching that commercial. Which is when I realized...
I've officially lost my mind.
Jones has pushed me to the brink of clinical insanity. And all this guilt I'm carrying? Guilt over crying, guilt over feeling exhausted, guilt over wanting a break now and then, guilt over forgetting to move that damn Elf on the Shelf, guilt because I work, guilt because I didn't go to work, guilt because I didn't visit Lily's grave on Christmas day, guilt because I can't be everything to everybody every moment of every day...it's crap.
Do I miss Lily any less since I have Jones now? No. I wish that were true. The reality of parenting after loss is that I am constantly trying to strike a balance between parenting the babies I am raising and parenting the ones I've lost. The busyness of having three children constantly needing something from me every moment of every day is simply a short-term distraction from the pain of missing the daughter who will never need anything from me ever again.
No, I did not visit her grave on Christmas this year. But on Christmas Eve, I sat in the front seat of the car, while the kids jabbered in the backseat over how excited they were, and I stared out the window and cried. Not exhausted, emotional, losing my mind kind of tears, but soft, real, I miss my baby girl so much tears. And Josh held my hand, and he knew, and he felt it too. And we just missed her together for awhile, while we had the chance to do so.
And then someone in the backseat hit someone else in the backseat, and I was ripped back into my reality. The reality where I have three children to raise, a job, a husband, a home, a ministry, friends, and a million responsibilities that are constantly demanding my attention. And I love that life. And I'm so thankful for that life.
But it doesn't mean I'm not exhausted at times. And I have learned that it is perfectly okay for me to cry for the babies I've lost while at the very same time cry because my dream come true baby boy absolutely sucks at sleeping. Because that's my reality! I'm not apologizing for that, and I am trying so hard to overcome that trap of guilt that keeps getting set for me. I am no less grateful for my miracles because they drain every ounce of life from me at times. And I am no less heartbroken for the children I've lost because I don't have the time and space to dwell on their absence the way I used to. I miss them in the quiet moments, and this past year, I've had very, very few of those.
It is a balancing act I'm not sure I will ever perfect, parenting after loss. But it is one I will have lots of practice at. For I will never again be a mommy who has never lost. Everything I do as a parent is tinged with the loss I've experienced. And I know it makes me a better mom.
But it will never make me a perfect one.