Another fabulous blog post from Alisa Desmond on milestones and moving forward.
Last September, Rob and I received a text message late at night from our niece Erin who lives in Vermont with her husband Dave. She asked us to give her a call. Erin prefaced the message with, “Everything is okay, but please call me.” She wrote those words because she was nine months pregnant with her first child—a boy.
To my surprise, Erin seemed more interested in hearing about my life, so I droned on about work, the beach, and my writing. She was coy and finally, with tears pouring out of her, asked me if Rob and I would give her and Dave our blessing to name their child Jake. Erin and Dave insisted their child only be called Jake–touching for us for so many reasons. Our Jake’s formal name was Jacob, but he preferred to be called Jake. What do parents like us who have lost a child say to such a question but YES?
I was overcome with joy. I wrote in my journal that day: Today is the very best day since Jake has passed away. I feel happiness, peace, and contentment that I am letting go of some of my loss. My emotions are both sad and happy. I feel a sense of calm that our son is being honored. Erin and Dave have granted Rob and I a gift we could have never ever imagined. We are overwhelmed with gratitude that our child’s name will live on within our family.
I also shared with my therapist Cheryl later that day that I smiled freely for the very first time since losing Jake. Erin provided me the platform to share my excitement with happy tears while being able to reconnect with other mothers on our own pregnancies —reminding me that I am still a mother. I also let her know there will be moments where writing, reading, or speaking his name will trigger me, but for now I am happy. I told her that I am nervous about meeting this little one for the first time, but that I must make the journey to Vermont sooner rather than later. I left her office reminding myself not to dwell on anything beyond awaiting the photo of their baby.
Several days later, baby Jake arrived. I wrote that night, I am so happy, so relieved he is finally here and healthy. I already feel a bond to this child I do not yet know, and for the first time since my Jake died, I am in the moment and not feeling caught in the past. Rob and I are thrilled for Erin and Dave, and yet, it is bittersweet that their family is growing while ours has been reduced to two. I went to bed that night feeling slightly proud of myself for having future thoughts.
Six months earlier while on business travel, I was seated on a flight next to a baby no more than a year old, and it was difficult for me. I did not want to have a crying meltdown in public, so I asked the flight attendant to move my seat. She was not pleased and asked why. I felt so violated but I spoke the truth. “I lost my son last year, and sitting next to a baby is too painful for me.” She apologized and I was deeply moved by that.
The flight turned out to be healing for me as I was seated next to a woman with an intense fear of flying. I held her hand for most of the flight, and when we landed, she gave me a giant hug.
Now six weeks after Jake’s birth, I was making the trip to Vermont. Honestly, I wanted it to be from one mother visiting another, yet I felt tremendous fear of having a meltdown on the flight or on the drive from the airport and especially when I thought about holding this baby. I feared I would make myself sad along with Erin and Dave. My friends Liza, Tim, and Kate offered to go with me, and I gladly accepted. My nerves were off the chart in the days leading up to this trip. I shared my anxiety with my friend Suzanne, who sent me a great quote from Anaïs Nin that I now write in the front cover of every new journal I start:
There came a time when the risk to stay tight in the bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
I look back now and realize that this trip was the jumping off moment for me to continue to go into the unknown. What I feared, I faced, and I finally felt connected to the world again. It felt so natural to hold this chid—a child not my own named Jake. All I could do was smile. I shared with Erin in a peaceful moment at her kitchen table that she has once again given me a reason to buy baby clothes and birthday cards. I let her know that she had started a process of futures I did not think would ever again be possible. I notated in my journal entry the next day, Yesterday was the first day since Jake died that I did not have one sad, nervous, or worrisome moment.
Since that time, Rob and I have been with this sweet child several times, and we all celebrated last Christmas together. We eagerly await photos and videos of all his milestones. By last month, I felt the courage to journey to Vermont alone to be with Erin, Dave, and baby Jake.
I went on this recent trip with a new lens. On my way to Vermont, I was thinking about last year and how nervous I was. I no longer have this fear. Last year I tried to buy Jake a baby gift several times, but I could never bring myself to even drive to the mall.This time, though, I smiled proudly because with me now in my suitcase were baby clothes I had purchased alone the prior week. These were small but meaningful milestones in my life.
My time in Vermont again took me outside of myself in a wonderful way. I felt comfortable in their home and simply wanted to be part of their week. I loved being with this family. The highlight of my visit was pure bliss when Jake took his first few steps. Erin caught it at first and I did not, but when all four of us were in Jake’s room, he took one step and then two more. What a gift for me to watch. I later captured it on video realizing these are memories I will want to watch again and again. When I gave Erin and Dave my gift, they both high-fived me realizing that I reached this milestone. I was thrilled that two more souls understood me and the difficult journey I’m on.
What I learned is that I have the capacity to care for a child that is not my own, which demonstrates to me how much my identity has changed and how far I have come. What brought me here is baby Jake, his parents, their compassion and understanding of my connection to them. I know where this child fits in my life, and when he is old enough, he will read these words and understand just how important he is to me.