This morning began as most school day mornings do—the kids and I shuffle half-blind with sleep down to the kitchen, where cereal is chosen and milk is poured and requests for lunch are made. Then there are the 2-3 admonishments to “Finish your milk!” “Eat the yogurt!” “Don’t leave the banana peel on the table!”, followed by “No, you can’t wear shorts today.” “Did you brush your teeth?” “What do you mean you haven’t seen your toothbrush since Saturday?!” Somehow we manage to get everyone dressed, book bags packed, and out the door to catch the bus on time, and that is no small feat with three children under 10 and one toddler thrown in the mix.
Our morning routine encapsulates the organized chaos that is our family—which some would call “large”, a notion my late mother-in-law (one of 13 siblings and mother of 7) would no doubt scoff at. When we go out in public, I am to be in drill sergeant mode, keeping the troops contained lest they wander away from the pack into danger. If I had a nickel for every time someone has said, “You sure have your hands full!”, I could hire an extra set of hands. I know it’s normally said with good humor and it honestly doesn’t offend me, but every time I hear it, the thought runs through my head, “Better full hands than empty arms.”
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It’s a day when women like me light a candle and remember the babies that we never got to hold, and the ones we held for too short a while. It’s when we also remember what it felt like (and for some, what it still feels like) to be a childless mother. I know how heavy and burdensome empty arms feel. I know what it’s like to carry around pain so entrenched that the sight of a new mother pushing a stroller is enough to buckle your knees. But you can’t fall, you can’t let the very delicate façade you’ve so meticulously crafted crack wide open in public. So you give a little smile, and let your gaze linger a little longer than you should on that baby in the blanket burrito. There’ll be time later, in the privacy of a house that is as silent and empty as your arms, to fall apart. I’ve been there. And while I admit to breathing a sigh of relief when the kids are in bed and calmness settles down over our home, I would never trade my home’s soundtrack for the old quiet that used to reside here.
In our first five years of marriage, my husband and I lost nine babies. By the time we moved into a new house and started new jobs, I’d finally begun to accept I wouldn’t become a mother, at least not physically. But then came Larisa, and with her, the promise that our fortunes had changed. One more miscarriage when she was 10 months old humbled me, and I thought I should be happy with the one child I had. I was, truly I was, but my heart still yearned. Beckett came along the following year; 3 ½ years later, Finn (almost literally) burst into the world. All three were born after many prayers and petitions, and use of alternative herbal therapies. Just when we thought were done, Moira came into our lives. I won’t go into the details, but trust me when I say there is no earthly reason she should be here. Quite fittingly, she is our last.
I won’t lie; it’s overwhelming to have so many children. My hands are often overflowing, never mind full. I don’t have as much patience as I feel I should have, and I harbor more guilt over my inadequacies as a mom than I could possibly tell you. I see the judgment on some people’s faces when we walk around; I know the judgment from some in my own family who think I’ve wasted my potential by having all these kids. But there’s no doubt—I am blessed, not burdened.
So tonight, at 7 p.m., I will light my candle and I will remember Hannah, Sean, Owen, Grace, Paul, Valentine, Aisling, Liya, Joseph, and Warren. I will take down the little wooden box of mementoes left from my pregnancies with each of them, including the few precious ultrasound pictures that gave me my only glimpse of a few of them, and I will touch each and every item. Then I will put the box away until next year, tuck my miracles into their beds, and give thanks for all of my babies. Even my angelbabies.
Please join us in lighting a candle tonight at 7 p.m. in your time zone. Even if you have not personally suffered this loss, chances are you know someone who has. Light a candle for them and for all the babies this world misses. Visit http://www.october15th.com for more information on PAILRD and the PAIL Awareness Movement.