***I am dedicating today’s post to SHARE’s Walk of Remembrance and the Wave of Light, in support of infertility and pregnancy and infant loss, and shattering the stigma. Click here for a list of the amazing, courageous bloggers on the tour, leading up to Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on October 15.***
Mark scheduled Joel’s baptism for Sunday, October 2 without my knowledge. I mean, we’d discussed it, but only a little bit. But Mark grew up Lutheran, and one thing I’ve learned after all of these years knowing Mark is that Lutherans will get their panties in a bunch if an infant’s baptism isn’t scheduled like immediately after he is born. But because I didn’t grow up religious, and I’m aware that some denominations wait until like age 13 to baptize, my panties weren’t in a bunch at all, so Mark just scheduled it behind my back, because I guess he and his family were getting uncomfortable and didn’t like my “we’ll do it later” attitude, which makes sense considering later may never come, because any of us could drop dead tomorrow. (Or today.) And also, we were being divas and didn’t want to share a baptism date with a family with all living children, and our pastor informed us that this date met our criteria.
But anyway, Mark kind of screwed me over by being so trigger-happy with the baptism because one of my best friends, Michelle (who has been such a good friend to me and has basically saved my life through her amazing support over the past year) works at our church, so she unfortunately found out about Joel’s baptism through an inter (or intra?) office email instead of from me, which made for an awkward conversation at book club. And then, in true millennial fashion, because I fear phone conversations and rejection, and also because I was out of time, I asked Michelle to be one of Joel’s fairy godmothers (Mark’s sister, Kathryn is his other one) via text message. (We’re honored she accepted.)
I knew Joel’s baptism would be difficult for me. A baptism is one of the only milestones Joel and Matthew both achieved. Except Matthew was baptized in an operating room in the midst of a failed resuscitation attempt as his heart beat for the last time. He was surrounded by medical professionals, and, I assume, a chaplain, without his parents (us) to walk him into heaven.
It doesn’t get much more fucked up than this.
Also, we hadn’t been back to church since Matthew died for several reasons… First, I can’t stand being in big groups any longer (grief-induced social anxiety disorder, perhaps?). Second, there is a family who goes to our church who has a little boy Matthew’s age, and it’s honestly easier if I just try to avoid them for the rest of my life. And third, I don’t believe that Matthew dying was “God’s plan,” nor do I believe that “everything happens for a reason,” and although I know there are many who also don’t believe these things, I think there are probably more than a handful, especially in a church setting, who do, and quite frankly these sentiments tend to bring out my homicidal tendencies. But the thought of potentially seeing Matthew again someday, though I have no idea what this will look like (like would he be a baby, still?), provides some measure of comfort.
So whether or not this (the baptism being the first time I attended church and interacted with a group larger than six since Matthew’s death) was a good idea, I don’t know, but we went through with it (see above re: panties in a bunch).
We ended up inviting Mark’s in-town family members, his parents, sister and brother in law, and also my parents and my brother, so there were like ten family members total, plus several friends and acquaintances from church, which, though I was thankful for their support, felt like a huge crowd.
We hosted a small breakfast beforehand for our immediate families, and Mark made a couple of breakfast casseroles that didn’t taste all that great because he put too much sausage in them, so they ended up tasting like giant sausage patties. (It was basically a huge sausage-fest.) Also, unfortunately, in the days leading up to Joel’s baptism, I came down with mastitis (which is the sickest, physically, I’ve ever been in my life, maybe, and if I get this sick again I will quit breastfeeding IMMEDIATELY and FOREVER), so I had to wear an unsupportive cotton bra (and will have to into perpetuity), and I ended up wearing an outfit that was red and was too matchy-matchy with Joel’s, so we looked more like we were attending a Christmas function.
But anyway, upon arriving at the church, I could feel my blood pressure rise. Our pastor, whose name is really similar to Joel Christopher, walked us through how everything would go down, and I immediately started crying. All I could think was, “Matthew was baptized in an operating room.”
Then, as we waited for the service to start some “nice” people greeted us. The first was a woman who knows Mark’s parents, and, shortly after Matthew’s death sought out Mark to empathize with, “I know exactly what you’re going through – I had a miscarriage.” And though I consider miscarriage a devastating loss, I take issue with anyone claiming to know “exactly” what anyone else is going through. But I gritted my teeth and accepted her hug. The next guy I’d never seen in my life, but he came to offer his congratulations. “Thanks,” I answered, “It’s pretty exciting,” I made a half-assed attempt to fill the silence. “I know! I have three of them!” he exclaimed proudly as he gestured towards Joel, which definitely made me feel like shit, because all I could think was, “I have two of them. But you can only see one of them.”
A couple who lost their first child nearly 20 years ago also came to greet us – about one year prior they’d sat in our living room, offering us insight as to how they’d survived their own devastating loss. I cried as I embraced each of them.
The baptism itself went smoothly. Joel made a funny face, but he didn’t cry in response to the water being splashed on his head. (But he cried later, and we had to take him out of the sanctuary several times so we could change his diaper and feed him.) My tears flowed, but not as hard as they did during the walkthrough. All I could think about, again, was how Matthew was baptized in an operating room. I also couldn’t help but remember back to when we attended church more regularly, before so many of our dreams were shattered.
After the service we took some obligatory photos – some of these photos were important to me, but then it got way out of hand, and I found myself smiling through photos in which I really didn’t want to be included. It didn’t help that out of those in attendance, I knew only a few could see the excruciating pain behind my smiles. (Others, as they would tell me later, just wanted me to be happy and are still hoping things can become more comfortable. I informed said others that they might die hoping for this.)
After we finished photos, we left pretty abruptly. On the way out, I caught a glimpse of the family who I don’t really want to see again. It hurt so much. Sometimes I feel like this family stole my life, the one I’m supposed to be living, even though I know this is an irrational thought. Plus, as our paths continue to diverge (we have Joel now), things are more complicated, muddied, but it pained me to see them nonetheless.
Our church gave us a sweet gift for which we were/are very grateful because it honors both Matthew and Joel.
The day exhausted me and left me thinking about milestones… Though we experienced happy moments, for sure, it was also very sad. In fact, on this day, for me, I think the sad outweighed the happy. Parenting after loss is tough. Everything Joel experiences will be the exact opposite from what Matthew experiences, which is nothing, because he is dead. For every joyful moment with Joel, there is pain alongside for what Matthew will never do, for all we’ve lost with him, which is a lifetime of milestones and events and memories.
I’m left wondering if every holiday, birthday, event, and milestone will feel this way. In some ways, I think they will, at least to some degree. I’m beginning to think that this life after loss will always feel a bit the opposite of how life should feel (or maybe not how life should feel, but how life feels for “normal” families).
I find I can feel the most intense joy in the mundane things, like supervising tummy time or taking a walk through our neighborhood on a sunny, breezy fall day. But in celebratory situations, when most generally take the time to reflect on their “blessings” and relish in their joy, I’m more focused on my grief and my pain, feeling melancholy and alone.
***Thank you for reading, and for helping to #shatterthestigma surrounding infertility, and pregnancy and infant loss. Be sure to check out Chelsea’s piece from yesterday, and don’t miss Brooke’s post coming tomorrow! Lastly, please be sure to share your own Walk of Remembrance photos on social media, using the hashtag #ShareWalk2016, and join us in lighting a candle in remembrance of those we have lost at 7pm on October 15, using #WaveofLight #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness ***