Throughout my pregnancy, lots of people have asked me if Ben understands I am pregnant. I've laughed and told them how I think he thinks the word "belly" is synonymous with the word "baby." Either that or he thinks everyone has a baby in their tummy. We'd ask him where the baby was, and he'd lift up my shirt and point, but sometimes he'd also lift up his own shirt and point to his own belly, or on occasion, Justin's shirt and Justin's belly. So I didn't really think he got it.
But recently, with the second nursery set up, I started asking him where his baby would sleep. And he'd point to Lydie's crib, and then he'd show me what it looked like, curling up right beside the crib in his sleeping position - on his stomach, arms tucked in, butt in the air. I laughed and told him that's right, but Lydie would sleep on her back.
We have a swing set up in our front room and his Oma Jo showed him how to kiss his baby dolls (which were mine when I was a kid) and set them gently in the swing.
We'd talk about his little sister on a regular basis, trying to get him used to the idea that he'd have to share his parents soon. I tried to make him climb the stairs on his own, even when he'd rather be carried, knowing that with my c-section, I wouldn't be able to do that. I tried to make him grow up a little faster. Now I just want him to slow down.
At the hospital on Thursday, when I was holding Lydie, I told Justin that at least Ben was young enough that we wouldn't have to explain things to him. At least he wouldn't experience this pain.
I was wrong.
It's amazing what a 19-month-old understands.
His grief is palpable.
I'm trying to figure out what his triggers are, how he has this level of understanding, when we wanted so badly to protect him from it. But here is a long list: his Aunt Laura and Dad picked him up from daycare on Wednesday. I ALWAYS pick him up from daycare, with the exception of the one time I traveled for work. He came in the house calling "Mama! Mama!" and ran right into my arms. We had to report to the hospital at 8 pm, which meant we left right as Ben was settling into bed. He didn't know why we were leaving and we weren't there when he woke up. His Pop-Pop and Aunt Laura took him to daycare that day, and his Pop-Pop picked him up at the end of the day, and his mom and dad still weren't there. When we came home, so relieved to see him, he was understandably clingy. But he has been clingy at a new level since then, chasing after Justin crying and calling "Dada! Dada!" the second Justin walks out of the room. He has tried to kiss my belly as he usually does and I have told him that his baby sister is not there anymore. He has not tried again. I was wearing a fleece zip-up yesterday morning and he frantically unzipped and told me "off, off, off." I realized he was afraid it was a coat and I was leaving him. I took it off. He tried to open the door of the nursery, and I told him not now. We keep telling him that his baby sister loves him and we are sorry he doesn't get to meet her. He is clearly worried about me, seeing the Ace bandage wrapped across my chest, asking "Mama?" in a concerned voice. Justin keeps telling him that Mama is hurting right now and his kisses will help make her better. We cry a lot and try to tell him that we're not crying because of him, that we love him but we are sad because we miss his sister. He is more still than I have ever seen him, usually my rambunctious little boy. He is not eating.
Yesterday, he took the longest nap ever. Almost 4 hours in the afternoon. At first, I was grateful he was giving us the quiet time. And then I started worrying: what if he doesn't wake up? You think the worst thing in the world has already happened to you, it can't get much worse. So what if it does get worse? What if I lose him too? I don't think I could go on.
The hospital provided us with a children's book We were Going to Have a Baby but We Had an Angel Instead. He sat very still between us as we read it to him last night. How much did he understand?
He lacks the words to ask questions, to articulate his feelings. You can tell he gets frustrated that we don't always know what he's trying to say. He can't ask "What do you mean, Mom?" or "Why would that happen, Dad?"
My usual good sleeper has been waking up at night. Last night, his eyes were still closed and he was screaming, inconsolable. All the usual tricks didn't work. I think he may have been having nightmares. As I couldn't get him to stop, I just held him and sobbed myself. I told him, "That's how I feel too, buddy." He woke up several times in the night like that. Just now, for nap time, which is usually pretty easy, Justin had to broker a deal with him: Ben, you lay down in your crib and I'll stay here until you fall asleep. He popped his head up several times to check on his dad. He's usually such a good sleeper.
One of the loss booklets we were given at the hospital lists age-appropriate responses to grief. For 1 - 2 year olds, they list:
- may cling (check)
- doesn't want parent to leave (check)
- may sleep more (check)
- may wake frequently (check)
We're struggling with being good parents to him without having the emotional energy for it. We're struggling with how much to let him see us cry. We're struggling with how to keep a routine for him when our world has fallen apart. We're struggling with how to talk to him about his sister.