I want to dedicate a whole post to the kind of happiness I feel when I look at baby Caroline. I want to try to articulate how I feel the kind of unadulterated, unblemished, pure joy that I honestly thought had been completely lost to me when Eliza died. I want to try to explain how the grief in my heart somehow does not overshadow or diminish the delight of looking at this baby's face, of hearing the little noises she makes, of feeling her relax in my arms.
But that is not this post.
This post is about the baby girl we lost 17 months ago today, and how much I miss her, and what it means to miss a child you never got to know.
The hole that she left in our lives is one of unfulfilled expectations and dashed hopes. She wasn't exactly ripped from our arms--she left too soon for that. But she was promised to us, she was real and loved, and by all rights she should have come home with us. The loss was a shock and a trauma and Caroline's birth put those feelings in sharp relief. Having things work out perfectly this time was ideal, of course, and also a fierce reminder of how shockingly horrifying things were last time. Having Caroline home and in my arms is the best thing ever. And it's an unavoidable reminder of the worst thing ever.
When I say that I miss Eliza (and I find myself saying it to David almost every day), I can't name the specific qualities that I miss about her, and that in itself just kills me. I can't ask anyone else if they remember the way she did this or that. I can stare at her sister for hours and memorize every feature, every expression, every movement she makes. But Eliza will always be a mystery, a dream baby, what might have been.
You know when someone wants you to experience something and they say, "You don't know what you're missing!"?
That's exactly the problem. On top of the tangible, specific loss of a seventeen months of life as a mom of a living child, there's this other loss. The child. Not a what but a whom. It's not just that we thought we'd bring home a baby and we didn't. It's that we're still missing her, Eliza, specifically.
I miss the way our family should have been.
To be honest, the level of joy I've felt this past week has been both a surprise and a relief--I was really worried that in the postpartum hormone haze that my happiness could get lost to grief. That hasn't happened. There's something healing, I guess, and wonderfully distracting about the way a newborn demands your time and attention, gives you a specific purpose, and rewards you by just being so. freaking. awesome. I missed that with Eliza, and I grieved that loss. I wanted to be actively parenting a baby and not having that opportunity left such a huge gap. It made me jealous and bitter and sad that so many other people got to do it and I didn't.
Now that I have the opportunity, I'm so amazingly grateful. I freaking love this baby, and I love having the chance to do these little things that come with the territory of a newborn. But parenting Caroline isn't the same as taking care of Eliza. It's not just the little things--the laundry, the nursing, the diaper changes, the photos, the sponge baths--that we missed out on, although I mourned those, too. It's our first little girl, and the person she would have been.
I wish I'd been able to do for Eliza what we're doing for Caroline.
But I wish even more that I knew exactly whom I was missing.