A little less than two years ago, Ben was "student of the month" in his classroom at school and I wrote about it here. It was two months after the sudden stillbirth of his sister, and the "siblings" question stopped me in my tracks. The siblings question was tough to navigate. There was no answer that seemed correct.
Once I finally decided on my answer, which was "Lydia was stillborn in November 2014. We love and miss her very much," his lazy teacher totally fucked up in the writing of it and I wrote about my fury about that here.
I circle back to this now, because on Monday at daycare pickup, Justin was handed a "student of the month" sheet for Josephine. I got home from a long day of work at 9:15 pm, raced upstairs to Benjamin who refused to go sleep without my cuddles, and then came down to find it on the counter.
It only hit me later that I didn't think twice about the "siblings" question. It didn't give me pause at all. I thought much more about "favorite toys" (Do other one-year-olds have those? Besides the bathroom drawers?) and the "favorite things to do" than I did the siblings question. I scribbled, "Benjamin, almost-4, Lydia, would be 2." I picked out photos: Josie at the water park, her belly protruding, our family at Lydie's Tree last summer, our family in our yellow t-shirts with Lydie's footprints and the Lydie's Loop sign overhead, Ben giving Josie, who is wearing an "I love my sister" onesie, a kiss. I finished it in less than three minutes and turned it in the next morning.
The next morning, staring at our family photos in the school hallway, I realized how effortless it was to include Lydie in the photos. Only two years ago, I cursed this tradition. Two years ago, I cursed that I don't have photos of my children together. Two years ago, I felt the need to put a qualifier on Lydia's name:
Ben's sister, Lydie.*
* but she died
Now? Two years later?
There is no qualifier.
And these photos? The ones that all include Lydia in the abstract... that show how we carry her in our hearts? This is what my family looks like. And I am not going to apologize for that.
"I have a brother named Benjamin. He is almost 4-years-old."
"I have a sister named Lydia. She would be 2-years-old."
Sometimes it's really that simple.
Yesterday, I spoke on a panel at a conference about parenting as a professional. It's a conference that I've been involved in for many years now, but I've missed the past two years - one year ago because I was on maternity leave with Josephine and two years ago, because I couldn't handle being around people.
As I was preparing what I would say for this panel, I realized I couldn't separate my parenting from my bereaved parenting. If I was going to sit there and talk about what it's like to be a working mother, I also had to mention what it's like to be a working bereaved mother. If I was going to talk about Benjamin and Josephine, I also had to talk about Lydia. So, in typical Heather fashion, I decided that I would be forthright and honest and say from the get-go that unfortunately, my parenting looks different than most.
I framed it as: my second child was perfectly healthy but died suddenly just before she was born. I do that a lot, say "died just before she was born," rather than "stillborn." I said that she's an important part of our family and that I've gotten very involved with promoting stillbirth awareness because of her. "So," I said, "She still takes up a lot of my time... And I want her to. That's important to me."
I also said that while I enjoy my job or I wouldn't be doing it just to break even with daycare, my family is my first priority. And that I think every parent feels that way, but I've lost one of my children. My family - my children - they come first.
Later, leading roundtable discussions about parenting as a professional, a woman approached me.
She thanked me for being open about my loss, and then told me that her firstborn died two hours after he was born. At six months gestation. She went on to tell me that recently her mother-in-law told her six-year-old daughter Avery about him. In other words, her daughter did not know she had an older brother. When I asked the name of her oldest, she responded, "Avery."
"No, the son you lost. Your firstborn," I clarified.
Surprised, she told me Aiden.
Another woman approached me a few minutes later. "I lost my middle child too," she told me. "She was born when I was five-and-a-half months pregnant... she was stillborn. She would be 15." She started to cry, then pointed to the tears. "In 13 years, it will still hurt," she told me.
"I know," I responded.
And I do know.
But I think about how integrated into my life Lydia is. How I'm able to sit in a room with twenty other professionals and articulate to them how the loss of my daughter has affected my professional life. How we light a candle every single night for Lydie and say out loud how much we love her. How we call a beautiful sunset a "Lydie sky." How Benjamin regularly talks about his sister, saying things like, "I love you, Lydie, I wish you didn't die" to which I respond "me too, buddy, me too." How I planned a huge 5k event that honored my daughter where I introduced myself by beginning, "I am Lydie's mom. And I love every chance I get to say that because it doesn't happen enough." How I am starting an Ohio Chapter of the Star Legacy Foundation, committing myself to making a difference in this world for families and babies. How I have a network of other loss moms who have become my closest friends and who support me and make me laugh with our dark humor and listen to me vent and tell me I'm not crazy. How I will always, always respond to the question, "How many kids do you have?" with "three." How this blog has been such therapy for me. How I talk about her, probably too much sometimes. And while I know that in 13 years, I will miss my 15-year-old just as much as I miss my two-year-old today, I also feel strongly that grieving out loud is healthy, although not exactly societally acceptable. So I do believe I'll be able to meet a newer loss mom and say "me too" without the tears. Without all the tears, but with all the love.
And let me just take a moment to note that there were maybe 20 people in this room and two other women had lost babies. We're not talking miscarriages, folks, we are talking that two other women have held their dead children in their arms. I wish I was more surprised by that than I am.