eighteen months

Though this post is about my son Joseph, whose eighteen month stillbirthday just passed. It also mentions my rainbow baby.

You would have been.

You would have been one and a half. You would have run, bow-legged, head tilted forward, down to the water. You would have stopped short, toes at the edge of foam, afraid, or suspicious. You would have watched the birds. Watched the horizon. You would have looked back at me to see if it was okay, if all was well.

You would have been one and a half.
But you aren’t.
You weren’t.

I feel your absence so acutely here, at this beach. This is your mother’s place. Your mother’s family gathers here, and you are not with us.

I was thirty weeks pregnant when we brought you here. I put everyone’s hand on my belly to feel you kick. The first baby in your mother’s family. The first grandchild, the first nephew, the first great-nephew. D's wife was pregnant, too, and I felt closer than I ever had before with these cousins. Poised together on the edge of this thing called motherhood.

Motherhood came without you. At least I thought it was motherhood. Now that your sister is here, the contrast between motherhood and the long grief-filled months of before is stark. I see so clearly what we lost.

We took pictures in the dunes, five weeks before you died. A purple sweater. Bright sun. Holding you close. So proud of my big belly.

I push out beyond the waves, lips salty, legs kicking behind me like a frog. I can’t remember the last time I swam in the ocean. Your mother says we came very early in your pregnancy, in the summer. We told your grandparents about you, in person. She says I probably swam, and I like this memory she gives me—that I took you swimming.

We have come back to the beach twice since you died. Both times, another baby, someone who isn’t you—first D’s baby, now M.—is the center of attention. Maybe this is why I am so sad.

Maybe this is why I squirm and chafe under the constraints of mothering your sister; why I want to hand her to someone else and go down to the ocean, my arms empty. She is not you.

I’m not sure how to mother you anymore.

I look for you in the water, along the horizon. My eyes trace the path of passing birds. I scan the beach looking for you among the children, among the toddlers your age. The age you would have been.

You would have been a year and a half.

Do you think about what your baby(ies) would have been like at different ages? How do you feel when you see other children the same age as what your baby(ies) would have been?

What does it mean to you to mother or father the child(ren) you lost? If you've had subsequent children, how has the way you mother or father the child(ren) you lost changed since the birth of your rainbow baby(ies)?