While I was still recovering from childbirth, I attended a funeral with a tiny casket. When all was said and done, I was left with milk engorged breasts, but no baby to nurse. In the days that followed, I often sat crying on the sofa while eighteen-month-old Nathan played in the floor, Teletubbies babbling pointlessly in the background.
“People are irreplaceable," my pastor told me gently.
It was the best thing he could have ever said.
“People are irreplaceable; that’s why death is so hard.”
He was right.
I went on to have other babies – beautiful sweet babies. Julia was born 15 months later. Katherine came 18 months after that.
Our house became crowded with kids and toys and laughter as our schedule overflowed with play dates, park days and trips to the pediatrician. Years later, we were blessed again as seven-year-old Wenxin became our son through adoption. Julia, Katherine and Wenxin are amazing, and yet not one of them could actually replace Sarah, because the people we love are irreplaceable.
I don’t share this story very often anymore. It’s too sad, and I don’t want to give people the impression that we have a sad life. The truth is we have a lot of fun, and we’re hardly ever sad. Usually, we’re laughing too hard to be sad. Nevertheless, this is part of my story. God used Sarah's life and death to shape me into the person I am today.
After Sarah died, Mike and I attended a group for couples who’d lost infants to miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. The counselor there defined grief as “the realization of what you’ve lost.” That was new for me. I’d always equated grief with funerals and tears, the outward act of mourning, but this was a little different.
What I’ve found to be true is that grieving someone this way is a lifelong process. It doesn’t mean you are sad every moment of every day for the rest of your life. Honestly, I’m rarely sad about Sarah anymore. But every now and then, grief sneaks up on me, and I'm faced again with the realization of what I’ve lost.
I’ll give you an example.
When Nathan was entering second grade, I was driving home one day from a meeting at school with his new teacher. Some melancholy song came on the radio and out of the blue, it hit me. “Sarah should be entering kindergarten this year. She should be starting school.” Where in the world did that come from? I hadn’t even been thinking about Sarah. But, nonetheless, there it was. I began to sob as I realized the loss. “I should have two kids in school this year; instead I only have one."
My personal experience of grief and loss colors the way I think about Wenxin’s loss of two important people in his life: his two mothers who came before me.
I am Wenxin’s mom today, but I am not his first mom. He grew for nine months in his Chinese mother’s womb and probably spent the first month of his life with her. We may never know for sure why she couldn’t keep him. Was he perhaps her second or third child in a country that allows parents only one or two?
When he entered the orphanage system, he was sent to live with a foster mom. Now I know it was her job to care for him, but she’s still the only mom he remembers. She was a real mom to him. Since he lived with her for several years, she’s the one he cried for when he was taken back to the orphanage to await international adoption. Because she was old, more like a grandma, he wonders is she’s dead now. He still remembers her visiting him in the orphanage and bringing him a snack.
Just like Julia and Katherine could never serve as replacements for Sarah, I am not a replacement for Wenxin’s mothers who came before me. I don't feel threatened by Wenxin’s other moms. It doesn't make me feel diminished to admit I'm his third mom because I'm also his mom today, and I fully intend to be his last mom.
Wenxin is well-adjusted and happy in our family. Maybe he will never look back, but I won't be surprised if someday in the future, grief sneaks up and hits him with the realization of what he lost. He may grieve the loss of one or both of his other mothers. It won’t mean that I’m a bad mom or that he doesn’t love me. It will just be grief – a normal and healthy response to loss. I refuse to add baggage by making him feel guilty for loving or missing them. They play an important role in his story. So do I.
If that day comes, I’ll say to him what my pastor said to me, “People are irreplaceable. That's why this is hard." I'll support him if he wants to search for his birth family or reconnect with his foster mom. Any relationship he might re-establish with them does not negate his relationship with me. They can't replace me, just like I can't replace them.
*Sarah died from complications from Trisomy 18 - a chromosomal disorder that is usually fatal. Had she lived, she would celebrate her 11th birthday in July.
Thank you so much for dropping by Death by Great Wall and taking the time to read my story. I hope you'll come back. Over on my sidebar there are three easy ways you can connect with me. Join this site through Google Friend Connect. Just click "join this site" and follow the instructions. Or "like" Death by Great Wall on Facebook. Or sign up to get new posts delivered by email. Whatever way you choose, I look forward to connecting with you!
Shared at We Are Grafted In.