Recently I was reading a post from one of my favorite bloggers about her sweet new baby boy and about letting go of grief tied to her experiences with her older son with cerebral palsy during his infancy. And I felt a familiar pain in my chest – not in my actual physical heart, but somewhere in the heart of who I am as a mother – an ache weighing me down, making me want to stop reading. It was a longing. It was a jealousy. It was my own grief over knowing I will never have a typically developing baby.
I’ve come a long way since the early days of my babies’ diagnoses. I don’t feel the grief all the time like I used to. People were right when they said it would get easier.
I embrace our special little family. Calvin with his missing piece, and Henry with his extra piece – they are my heart. And I think, I think, I am done grieving the fact that these genetic anomalies happened to them at all. That doesn’t seem to be a feeling that creeps up on me anymore. I have learned that a perfect baby doesn’t necessarily have exactly 46 full chromosomes. I see and know and feel that Calvin and Henry are just as they should be just as they are.
But there are other griefs that I still carry. Buried deep, mostly healed, but still bubbling up to the surface once in a while.
I will never have a typically developing baby. James and I have made our decision on whether to have more children, and we believe that our family is complete. So this grief is not about wanting another baby. I don’t. I’m done with that part of motherhood and with gratitude I say, no thank you. But sometimes it still hurts that Calvin and Henry’s newborn days were filled with such stress over feeding and health issues. Sometimes it still hurts that both of my children’s infant years are tinted in my memory with shades of worry and grief. It still hurts so much that I never got to experience that bond of successful breastfeeding. I thought breastfeeding was so natural that it would be a given. I learned that it’s a privilege, and one that was not meant for us. I wish we could have been fully joyful. Fully hopeful. I wish I’d been agonizing over their Wonder Weeks instead of agonizing over whether they’d ever walk or talk at all.
I wish it hadn’t happened to me twice.
I don’t want a third baby, but I do regret that I’ll never have that experience of mothering a blessedly healthy infant.
And part of me knows that what I imagine when I picture motherhood and infancy without the complications we had is illusory. I know from my friends that parenting neurotypical kids isn’t as perfect as it may appear to be. And it’s not productive to ponder whether someone else actually had it easier, or whether life is fair. So instead, when those feelings of grief bubble up, when I feel that familiar ache in my heart, I work on letting go. I breathe and thank God for Calvin and Henry. I thank God for all the specialness in my life because of them. And with gratitude I try to accept – over and over again, as many times as I have to – that some things were just not meant for me.
This quote is falsely attributed to the Buddha, but it is actually derived from Buddha’s Little Instruction Book by Jack Kornfield. The original quote from Kornfield goes, “In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?” I couldn’t find the origin of this version, but I like this fake Buddha quote particularly for the last line: how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. I hold on to that reminder because regret is too heavy a burden to carry. With God’s grace I want to let go of the things that are not meant for me or my children so I can open my hands and heart to embrace the things we are blessed with instead.