Today (June 1), Ben is the age that Julia was when she died...2 days shy of 5 months old.
On June 2, he will have surpassed her age.
I'm not sure how to think about this.
My boy is such a sweetheart...now. But it's been a rough road. I expected, after everything we went through with Julia, an easy baby. A baby that did exactly what the books and blogs and experts said a "normal" baby would do.
He has reminded me, instead, that Julia's road, though admittedly harder than most babies', was not as far removed from "normal" as I believed it was. The one thing I wanted most with Ben was a good breastfeeding relationship, because Julia and I couldn't have that...and neither could Ben and I. I've cried and whined and felt like a terrible mother because of it. I have felt like I'm failing him when I buy hypoallergenic formula because I'm not giving him "the best" (aka breastmilk).
Due to severe silent reflux that required trials of two different medications, a dairy intolerance that took quite awhile to pin down and caused intense eczema all over his body (causing him to scratch and bleed), milk that just came too fast for him, and a mouth that just wasn't formed to breastfeed easily, breastfeeding was not for us. We went to more specialists to figure out his eating aversion than I took Julia to. I was desperate to salvage our feeding relationship...and I couldn't.
Kind of like I couldn't save Julia.
I almost had a nervous breakdown. And I don't use that term hyperbolically.
I wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be to have an infant who wasn't doing what I deemed normal: who didn't sleep, who didn't eat enough, who wasn't smiling enough. Wasn't hitting the milestones I thought he should be hitting.
In hindsight, I can see it: Ben is a normal baby whose poor belly hurt All. The. Time. and made him so miserable. Now that we've got all of the factors under control, he is delightful and such an interested, interactive little fellow (though he still doesn't like to sleep). Things aren't perfect, but I'm emerging from the hormonal haze and feel more stable, most of the time.
Since he was born, I have wondered: when Ben is 5 months old, when he exceeds Julia's age, will I worry about him as much? Will I be more confident, more peaceful? Will I know with more serenity that he will not die? That he in all likelihood does not have a feeding disorder, a developmental disorder, a neurological disorder, cancer? Because I have diagnosed him with all of those.
Now that he is just about there, I do think that maybe there is something magical about that age for us. Five months. Julia never got to be that age. It's been a long time since Natalie was a baby, and I can't always remember what "typical" babies are supposed to do.
He is laughing. Laughing! And rolling over! He is so strong. She never got to do those things. When I think of my boy, and all that we have been through together already, I feel like I know him so well. I see his personality shine through more and more each day. But Julia...we never got that with her. Her heart defect prevented us from really seeing who she was, and we were just starting to hear the beginnings of a giggle from her. I mourn that all over again...not just that we lost her, but that we never really got to know her, not like we wanted to.
I have been so caught up in all of Ben's issues over the last five months that I would tell people, and myself, that I didn't have the time to think about her, to miss her. But the truth is, instead, that through my hurting heart for Ben and my anxiety about all he was experiencing, I was grieving her in a new way. I grieved her suffering and death and my own powerlessness amidst it, and I (sometimes wrongly) put those feelings into how I felt about Ben and what he was experiencing. It didn't matter that literally everyone I spoke to told me that Ben looked wonderful and was beautifully healthy...I could only see a very sick baby, almost like I had a mild case of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy.
Julia, you affected us. You mattered. We miss you. I wish your brother could know you.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
I have been trying to put some thoughts together about how I’m feeling in light of Ben’s birth regarding Julia’s death. The truth is, I haven’t had too many thoughts about anything…I seem to be on autopilot sleep-deprived mommy brain while adjusting to two children, for the second time.
It is different this time. Julia was an “easy” baby who slept a lot and was content doing almost anything; in the first week of his life, Ben cried more than Julia ever did. But my heart ached for Julia every moment of her life. The heart surgery was supposed to give her life; sustaining her life for 5 months prior to it was a monumental task. My anxiety level was so high; how could I possibly fulfill the heavy task of keeping her alive until the surgeon performed his miracle? But her story was, instead, that we were able to know her for five months before she gained true life while in the hospital under utterly competent care.
Ben is definitely not an “easy” baby, but we are still grateful. To us, he is so advanced: he cries when he needs something, or just because he wants to; his bowels work the way they are supposed to; he eats greedily; he is so very strong! It is much easier to wake multiple times per night to feed a baby when he calls to you, rather than setting an alarm to feed Julia, who thrashed and choked and simply wanted to sleep for 12 hours at night, despite it putting her health in peril.
|Nat and Ben|
Sometimes I walk Ben around the house and point out Julia’s pictures to him. I tear up, wishing he could have known his second sister. And yet, there are times when her life seems like a dream…did we really have her? Did we really experience all of the emotions and difficulties that I remember? But I always think of Ben as my third child…I have never been tempted to call him our second.
The women’s ministry pastor at our church pointed out something beautiful to me: that Ben will always have a special connection to Julia, because I carried him while grieving her. Perhaps in some way he will always have a special sensitivity to others because of the tears and emotions I had for her during his formation and development.
|Natalie and Julia|
Ben’s life does not seem like a resolution to the “problem” of our grief, as I wrote about previously, but he does seem to fill an absence that I felt in our family. When I was pregnant with him, it felt so odd to be a family of five, but to only have one child present. Now, with the clamor and mess that accompanies having two children in our home, I honestly don’t have the time or emotional space to process Julia’s absence in the way that I was able to in 2014.
|Nat and Ben|
Ido struggle with memories of her that are triggered when he has a minor health issue or difficulty with feeding properly. This has caused me to turn to the Lord in deeper ways, crying out to him for peace. I’m learning to stay in the moment and be grateful for what it is right in front of me, rather than extrapolating and worrying about what the future might hold. This has not been easy, but I do feel like it is a crucial lesson that the Lord is teaching me.
I recently came across some words that Taylor wrote to me on my birthday last year, written two months before Julia’s death, and I marvel at how true those words were:
“This is my prayer for you this year: that you hold on. That you are granted deep peace in a tumultuous time. That you are shown mercy in big ways and in little ways, and that God continues to pull back to curtains for you to see even more of his little mercies. That Natalie and Julia and I would be a blessing to you as you are a blessing to us. That the Lord would lead you to quiet waters and restore your soul. And that we would look back on this time in our lives and realize that it was a crucible that strengthened our marriage, our faith, and our love for each other.”
All of those prayers have been answered, but not in a way that I ever would have foreseen or asked for. Julia will always be an important part of our family, and I’m so grateful for the many people who have walked with us and remembered her through this time.