Happy first birthday, my daughter.
In so many ways, I can't believe it's been a whole year since we last held you, kissed you, studied your face.
In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. I no longer recognize the woman I was before those shared moments with you. I no longer remember what my life was like before that day.
A few days ago, your brother opened the chest in our bedroom that holds all your belongings. I froze for a second, debating how to react. I didn't want to give him the impression that your things were off-limits, or that he shouldn't be curious about you. But I also didn't want him to man-handle all of our most prized possessions, all of our things that connect us to you.
I held my breath as he pulled out a photo album, sat down on the carpet, and began to flip through it.
"Mom, Dad, Oma," he began, pointing us all out in the first photo. You laid in my arms, but he didn't mention you yet.
He turned the page.
"Dat baby has a boo-boo," he said as he looked at you.
And I crumpled.
"Why dat baby have boo-boo, Mom?" he asked.
How do I explain to your 2 1/2 year old brother what I don't understand myself?
I told him, that's Lydie, that's your sister. She died, and we love and miss her very much.
"My Bowie right there!" he continued, pointing to your sister in her bouncy seat. "She no get hurt!"
I pulled him on to my lap as the tears rolled down my face.
And like I always do, I wished things were different. I wished I could have kissed all your boo-boos and made them better. I wished I could protected you the way mothers are meant to protect their children. I wished I could have fixed this for you, for all of us.
But as much as I've wanted to turn back time, I know there's no fixing this.
There's just learning how to carry it, and how to carry you.
Later, that day, we had company. We've had a lot of visitors lately, a lot of friends and family that want to oooh and ahhh over your little sister. These moments are hard for me. I find myself going out of my way to include you in the conversation, to make them remember. And I wonder, if I have to work this hard to make people acknowledge you in one year, what is it going to be like in ten?
Our guest said to your brother, "You're a big brother now! You have a little sister!"
Of course, I hastily responded, "Well, he already was a big brother!"
But I was so proud and grateful when your brother chimed in, "I have two sisters!" Go Ben. Thank goodness for Ben.
I worry that I'm going to be reminding others that we're a family of five for the rest of my life.
I realize that I can't expect people to see you the way I see you. Other people don't see the space that is so very visible to me.
Your space is so very visible to me, Lydie. The spot you were meant to be.
I've called your sister by your name multiple times now, and had it on the tip of my tongue many other times. Initially, it made me feel guilty. I am adamant that Josie is not a "replacement child" because you, my dear, are not replaceable. And then I call her by your name.
But, I realized something. That's what parents do. They call their kids by the wrong names. They mix them up. And the pets too. Oma Jo called me Jake on a regular basis when I was a kid. Lydia and Josephine, Josephine and Lydia. You are sisters. You will get mixed up, you will get called by each other's names. There's beauty behind that. We are a family with three children.
You're now my middle child. The middle child just like me. I worked to make myself visible when I was growing up, and I'll work to make you visible too.
For the past year, I've read so much about "baby loss." I "lost" my baby, just like hundreds of people do every day.
But you'd be one today, Lydie, and now I've lost my toddler too.
I wish I was baking a cake for your first birthday. I would be putting the final touches on your birthday decorations and hanging a banner made of all your monthly photos. Our family would all be gathered together for the first time since your brother's first birthday, instead of the way they did at your memorial.
There may be no party today, but we're still honoring you, Lydie. Long ago, I told you I wanted to try to let go of the anger and resentment and instead live in a way that would make you proud. It's hard. It's really hard, but I'm trying.
Today, we're presenting the Cuddle Cot to St. Ann's Hospital in your honor. We're returning to the place we last held you. We'll be surrounded by all the other people who got to meet you. Your dad and I will get to talk about you and celebrate you. And in your honor, we're giving people a gift that we didn't have, more time with their precious babies. Sixty-two of our family members and friends, and even some complete strangers, donated money to make that happen. You're making ripples through this world, even though you're not here.
I've struggled a lot this past year, Lydie. It's been the hardest year of my life, and sometimes, knowing that I'll be carrying this grief for the rest of my life takes my breath away.
I'm still learning how to carry the grief, and how to carry you.
After all, it's only been a year.
I hope you're with us always, the way I imagine in my optimistic moments. I hope you are with us when we light your candle every single night, crowded around the dinner table together. "I love you, I miss you Lydie!" your brother shouts. Pretty soon, Josephine will learn to say it too. I hope you can feel it when we look at the stars and say goodnight to you. And I hope you're with us all those moments in between.
I hope you've found all these beautiful babies the way I've found their beautiful mothers, and I hope they've become your closest friends the way that they've become mine.
I hope you've never doubted my love for you. I hope the times I'm able to laugh, you know that I love you just as much as those times I can only cry. I hope you know I hold you in my laughter just as much as I hold you in my tears.
I hope you're at peace, wherever you are. And I hope the time goes by so very quickly until I can kiss you again. I'm going to cover you with kisses.
I'm one year further from you, but I'm one year closer too.
We'll try to celebrate you today, Lydie, and I'll try to make your birthday as happy as it can be without you here. After all, it was one year ago that I held you and kissed you and told you over and over again how much I love you.
And that love exists in the present tense.
You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.
On your birthday and every day.
I love you, my Lydie Girl.