We had a plan.
Bjork and I had put ourselves on the build-your-career-in-your-20s / start-having-babies-at-30 track, and it felt so right.
We have been married for 7, almost 8 years (gulp), and we have been happily childless for most of that time. I grew up thinking I was going to have three kids and be a stay-at-home-mom by the time I was 30, but in the last few years I started identifying less and less with my former self: The Girl Who Only Ever Wanted to be a Mother. No, this was a new me. I loved my job. I loved traveling. I loved our life without kids. I mean, when I got pregnant, I was so excited to have a baby, like, SO super excited, but I was pretty sure that the new role of Mom wasn’t going to become my whole world.
But that’s just the thing – you don’t know until you know.
Because, look: it’s December 31st, and here he is! He’s moving his arms and he’s trying to cry. His name is Afton. He’s here way too early. He’s alive. He has ten fingers and ten toes and he’s wearing the smallest diaper in the world. Literally. His nose is impossibly adorable and I claim it right away – “it’s mine, right?” His heart is pumping fast and his lungs are working so hard and he is the most beautiful, perfect, fragile living thing that we’ve ever seen. To see exactly half of each of our hearts in one-pound human form, wearing a tiny hat and laying in an isolette? Oh, man. It was so immediate. Just one look at that boy and I was done. Gone. Outta here. And just like that, happily childless can no longer be a thing in my life. I am a mom. I want to be a mom.
As our story would go, soon after meeting my son, I became a mom with no children – something that, for the record, has no good name. Bereaved mother? Mom in spirit? Mama to an angel? Hope mommy?
Bleh. It’s all wrong. This was not our Plan A.
So now what? Where do you go from here? What’s the new plan? According to our team of superawesome doctors, the new plan as it relates to another baby involves no guarantees and a very long wait before getting pregnant again.
Okay. We weren’t ready to get pregnant again right away, so okay. We can wait. Not a big deal.
Or not. As it turns out, these thoughts don’t hold up for long once you’ve actually been told that you need to wait.
For a very long time.
There’s something so backwards about the idea that having another baby will rub out the ache of loss. My rational brain knows that it’s all wrong. No baby could ever be Afton – that’s a love that’s only his, forever. But Afton flipped the switch on for me. The one that says, YES. I do want to have a baby.
So when you find yourself coming home from the hospital, switch flipped on, ready to be a mom, but no longer pregnant, with no baby in your arms, no other children at home, and no chance of that happening in your near future…
Who are you, exactly, in that moment?
There is no manual for this. No one to tell you who or what you are in the in between. You just have to sit there in the identity confusion, in that lonely and dark room, and it is weird and it sucks.
Sitting around and wishing away the days until we can try to have a baby again is so ridiculous, but here’s the thing: it actually sounds halfway-okay to me. That’s how sick my heart is. I am hardly embarrassed to admit that I would rather sit around and eat Sriracha chips and Magic Green Sauce as I check days off the calendar than live a full life right now.
But I am realizing that Brave isn’t always flashy – sometimes Brave looks like acknowledging that I still have a life, whether or not it is the life I wanted. Brave looks like actively creating meaning in my days, even when I’d like all those days to be done and gone and onto the next thing.
Brave looks like just showing up, sweats and chips and all, and just letting this be what it is.
So, yeah. Here are some thoughts on bravery and showing up and all the things I’m doing (or hoping to do) to keep my heart and soul engaged in the new season of Now What. This is my game plan.
This happened today!
We worked really hard all through November and December, scrambling to make a plan for how we would remodel our attic into the most adorable master bedroom and bathroom and, as a result, create a little extra space for our nugget when he arrived in April.
Of course, you already know the ending to this story – he did not make his arrival in April. He arrived in December, exactly five days before we were supposed to start. In what felt like the most unholy clash of worlds, Bjork had to call our remodelers from the hospital room phone less than 48 hours after Afton died and let them know what had happened so that they wouldn’t show up and start demoing our house.
“Let’s push it to March,” we decided.
And now March is here and I honestly can’t tell if it snuck up on me or has taken a lifetime to get here. A little of both, I think.
It’s not Plan A, and it feels not-quite-right to move forward without the little boy that we were making space for in the first place. Instead of a bassinet sketched into our drawings, there are now picture frames filled with Afton sketched onto the walls. (BECAUSE YES, WE HAVE THE MOST AMAZING AND THOUGHTFUL REMODELERS.) Bittersweet is the right word.
But we are ready for change. Change represents newness. And we are new.
The big picture plan is to finish the unfinished space into a super adorable, Pinterest-worthy ( umm we’ll see) master bedroom, bathroom, and closet.
The bedroom and bathroom both are taking huge inspirational cues from a tiny, adorable, Scandivanian-style hostel we stayed at on our Europe trip this fall. We’re going big on the whites, the light wood, and minimalist design. This whole thing will nearly double the livable space in our home and give us the long-awaited SECOND BATHROOM FOR REAL HALLELUJAH AMEN. I don’t want you to think of me as a full-blown diva, but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been waiting for this development since the day we moved in.
While the remodelers are here, we are taking full advantage of their presence and sort of rolling all the random house projects that had been majorly lingering on our to-do list for the last three years into this one major remodel. What was going to be a sweet nursery and an office will now become (miserably) two offices. Our bedroom will move upstairs. The living room and dining room might have newly refinished floors, new light fixtures, and re-arranged furniture. And suddenly, with all the small fixes and my red-hot desire to change my whole life right now, it’s possible that our whole entire house will look different by the time this thing is finished in May. Look out, world.
New peeps living in a new house.
(I’ll be sharing some of the remodel updates on Instagram stories so check there for the daily progress. Related: how great are Instagram stories. ♡ V V GREAT. I love them.)
Not even going to lie: this is semi-boring.
But I guess the new lengthy future in which we do not have human babies is a good a time as any to werk werk werk werk werk.
I mean, I say this loosely because my “work” has only been writing about Afton and all my feelings for, um, two and a half months. And as a quick sidebar, thank you for holding space for my words on your devices, screens, hearts, etc. – it has been so healing and I feel beyond lucky to have landed all of you all as friends. Did you know we printed off all your comments on the Sweet Afton post? ALL ONE THOUSAND SOMETHING OF THEM. It’s nearly 100 printed pages of paper because we included every last one. Also, by we I mean our team member Jenna who basically did all of that because she is of the highest order of straight-up saint. Really, though – you are a thread that connects our online life with reality. Thank you.
Bjork is a little more on-track with the work vibe and has found comfort in going back to work in a more traditional, responsible-person way. Is that not just so steady? So predictable? I know. It’s very Bjork of him.
I think both of us see this next season – the one where we want to be parents but can’t be quite yet – as a time in our lives to really pour time and energy and heart and soul into work.
The night before Afton was born, we both worked until about 8pm before going out for a late night Mexican food binge. As we were walking out the door, I literally said to him: “Isn’t it kind of fun to enjoy our last few months of working late? Our lives will be so different when we have a baby.”
I won’t sugarcoat anything for anyone: thinking about working late is not sweet anymore. It was sweet as I was preparing to transition OUT of work for the rest of 2017, but now, here I am, trying to figure out how to transition back INTO work for the indefinite future because my role as mom has come to a temporary end. It’s not an awesome feeling.
There are only two reasons that I can convince myself to get back into work:
- Work hard now, be more flexible later. You know, like, later, in your future life when you have babies. A+ in honesty, D- in living in the moment.
- There can be heart and soul and healing in work. Right now, my heart and soul work is writing about Afton. And in true yuppie entrepreneur fashion, I think that if we follow this heart and soul piece, we can make meaningful work out of just about anything as we look ahead to the wide open spaces.
I’ve been struggling with this idea lately -> what does it mean to celebrate a life that was so short?
Short Answer: I don’t know.
Long answer: I feel this intense longing for Afton every moment of every day but, in some ways, I have this sense that I don’t know how to miss him. When I say “I miss him,” what do I really mean? I miss the idea of him? I miss the three hours I got to hold him? I miss being pregnant? I miss imagining what he would have been like? Yes to all. It’s a type of grief that is an actual, physical part of you – I carry that pain with me at all times, right there in my chest, as if it were literally a part of my body – but it’s elusive, vague, mysterious. I am reaching out into the dark for something to hold onto in my grief but realizing that that something I am looking for is just out of reach.
I am way super new to The Club, but here’s what feels true to me:
When your baby dies, you grieve not just because you will miss them with your whole body and mind and soul for the entire rest of time – you grieve because it wasn’t enough. You knew that little soul as well as they could be known. You carried them. Even now in their absence, your love for them transcends time and space. But there should have been more. Missing them doesn’t just mean remembering them as they were, with their adorable lips and legs and fingers and toes – it means staring that black hole of lost potential straight in the face and feeling the wrongness of it. There should have been first words. Birthday parties. Skinned knees. Awkward first love. Graduation. A career and a future. There should have been more.
And since there is not more, you find a new way. You build that legacy in reverse. We can’t say who Afton would have been, what he would have been interested in, or what his personality would have been like. But we can say how we would like him to be remembered, honored, and loved. And that is how we continue to parent our baby who isn’t here.
That is how we miss him.
The first time around the calendar will be hard. This year – and every year from here on out – will bring the big, hard days: his due date (April 26th), his birthday (December 31st), and his death anniversary (January 1st). On these days, I hope we celebrate Afton with tangible acts of love and remembrance. Candles. Balloons. Cake. Gifts and donations. Planting trees. Listening to music. Looking at pictures.
And then there will also be the more tender, achy days that I imagine will be harder because they aren’t explicitly about him but they so glaringly announce his absence: Mother’s Day. Thanksgiving. Christmas. I will feel really good if we can celebrate Afton on those days by just continuing to show up for life. Maybe that will mean showing up at a family celebration, or maybe that will mean showing up on the couch with a chocolate cake and a bottle of red wine. Either way, man. Showing up is showing up, and showing up is Brave.
One last noteworthy thing in the category of Afton celebrations is that I’m getting a tattoo. Yes, hi, Minnesota good girl over here getting inked like it’s NBD. June. Stay tuned.
Calling on all my friends who are bravely marching ahead of me on a loss journey: what else can I add to my celebrations list? do you have suggestions for ways to remember our sweet boy?
You guys, this post took me many many hours over many days to write and it all felt really clunky. I don’t know, writing has been harder for me in the last week or two, which feels strangely accurate and reflective of my state of mind: Full Blown Grief Brain. Thinking, talking, writing… all of it is good and healing, it just takes a lot of work.
Thank you for reading, even and especially when it’s not perfect, and thank you for holding space for these words and their heart and soul in your very real and very busy lives.
You continue to make this journey less lonely. I appreciate you beyond the beyond. XO