Embracing the Joy and Grief of Change

The grief never lingers far behind the joy with parenting, even with normal parenting. As most of you know, my situation resides far from normal.
My family is weathering two exciting, but stressful transitions right now. Our days and nights are full of (mostly) joyful upheaval, thanks to newborn Scarlett and Max starts kindergarten in less than two weeks.
My joy at Scarlett’s presence in our lives is tempered by an unexpected resurgence in grief for Lucy. I feel silly that I thought the joy would completely override my grief, but I guess I’m an optimist sometimes.
I feel anger and sadness that I have navigated pregnancy and birth three times and am guiding a third child through infancy, yet only two children are visible. I am part of a club that I don’t feel part of. Despite birthing three children and even mothering one through a chronic illness turned terminal, I don’t feel like I have three. I feel cheated. I feel like a poser when I say I have three. I want to wear a shirt that says I have three, so that no one ever assumes I have only two.
I put in the work. I paid my dues, more than my share of them actually. I did the hardest work most parents never have to do. I held my daughter while she cried during endless IV sticks. I was the last to hold her alive and the first to know she was most likely gone. I planned her funeral, wrote her eulogy, obituary, and epitaph, and chose what she would be buried in and with.
All of that is invisible now. It shouldn’t matter what others think, but it does. I have three children. I am part of the club. I wish I could at least feel that way, even if it is not visible to others.
The other parts of my grief stem from much more typical sources. I miss the life I enjoyed with Max before Scarlett was born. I knew this would happen, but I still feel a bit guilty about it. During the past year, Chris, Max, and I built a beautiful life from the aftermath of a terrible loss. We grew as people and grew together as a family. I grew as a mother, yet felt like I moved forward with some of my personal goals.
This is where Lucy comes back in. She would be two and a half now, a playmate for Max. It would, of course, be more stressful mothering both of them in addition to Scarlett. But they could occupy each other, as well as drive me crazy bickering. (What I would give to hear the two of them bickering.) Max wouldn’t once again be stuck alone watching TV while his mother tends to a baby. We made the choice to have our first two children two and a half years apart. We put in all the work to have the family we wanted and the sibling relationship we wanted for our son, just to have to start over again. Plus, it’s just plain friggin’ hard to have a newborn sometimes. If Lucy was still here, I believe I would feel complete with Scarlett’s birth. I would feel done. I wanted three and I would have them. I don’t know if I will want to do this again. Even if I do, will I ever feel complete or done without Lucy?
The last five beautiful years with Max will come to a close with the start of kindergarten. It will be the end of an era, the end of his time at home with me. I vacillate between excitement and sadness at the prospect. I worry that it will be hard for him. He loves to be at home with me. We will be beholden to a school schedule. No more running around in his pajamas asking for snacks and videos. No more weekday trips together to the grocery store, the Aquarium, and the Thinkery. At least, not without a school vacation that will cause everyone else to be out and about, too.
All of this grief is there, because there is so much love. There are so many wonderful memories. Our children take our hearts when they are born and break them when they leave. I knew I was opening myself to more heartbreak with Scarlett’s birth, as well as more joy. I’ve already told her many times that she’s not going anywhere. She’s not allowed to die on us. One of the first things I said to her was, “Please don’t leave us, ok?” As if she or I can really control that.
So, now that I’ve examined the grief, let’s examine the joy. It deserves equal time.
Max is beginning the path that will lead to finding who he is. He will find his life and his passion. All knowledge, the whole world is there for him to take. There will be friends, teachers, and fun. Field trips, school pageants, recess, and vacations.
Having less time with him at home will hopefully lead to us appreciating our time together more. I will also have more one-on-one time with the baby, as I did with him.
We will get to watch Scarlett grow. This one will have a 2nd birthday. She will get the chance to crawl and walk and talk. I will get to put her hair in pigtails. We will introduce her to our families, have more than one of each holiday with her, and take her and Max back to Legoland as promised. I feel like this one will make it, although I am trying to appreciate her as if she might not.
I can’t wait for these first five years with Scarlett and the next five years with Max. Grief over endings will yield to joy in beginnings. Actually, what is more likely is that they will intertwine. One will ebb, so the other can surge. They will sharpen, refine, and intensify each other. They are part of each other.

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