I put off packing the hospital bag as long as I could. I didn’t want to jinx it. I didn’t want to think about the last time I packed it.
Mostly I didn’t know what to put inside.
The usual necessities, of course. Pajamas. Hairbrush. Baby clothes.
But I was bringing so much more with me to this birth. Fear. Anxiety. Grief.
How could I carry all this with me?
Our twins died nearly 18 months ago in the same hospital where I was preparing to birth our new baby. I knew I needed to bring our daughters with me in some way. So I tucked these sweet dolls inside my bag. A rosary bracelet from a dear friend. The same shirt I wore when I held my girls last. Prayers to anchor me when I wanted to quit.
I had to carry more this time. I wasn’t sure how to do it – or if I would be strong enough.
But I knew I had to try.
I remember every early-morning ultrasound we took of our twins in those final weeks.
We’d throw the hospital bag in the backseat (again), pull out of the driveway before dawn (again), and creep through traffic in the cold winter dark (again). We never knew what the day would bring. Would the doctors decide we had to do the in-utero surgery that afternoon? Or would the scan show enough stability that we could go home and hope for tomorrow?
Every night we pulled the bag back out of the car. Every morning we put it back in.
Until the day we carried it into the hospital for surgery.
. . .
Next week will mark eighteen months since Maggie and Abby died.
As I write, their baby brother sleeps curled on my chest, milk-drunk dozing, warm as love.
The past year and a half have churned us through every emotion. Grief, shock, anger, sorrow. Jealousy, fear, anxiety, despair. Hope, peace, awe, and joy.
Sometimes my head spins to think of all we have lived through in such a short span of months. I have grown and changed in ways I never imagined. I see the whole world differently because of all that I now know.
Because of what I carry with me.
. . .
In the weeks since Benjamin arrived, I’ve been surprised by how easy my recovery has been. I’m not as exhausted as in other postpartum days. I have more patience with my other kids – and more happiness at being home with them – than I remember having in past maternity leaves.
Which made no sense to me. (How could more kids be easier?)
Until I remember how I’d been stretched.
My heart had to widen to make space for twins. And then it shattered when they were gone.
Once you’ve been pulled apart like this, you can’t shrink back to the size you were before.
So I can carry more now. Because my life has been opened. Because I’ve loosened my grip on hard views I once held. Because once my heart broke, more of the world’s needs could fall in.
Which meant that when I went to birth this new baby, I brought you with me – your intentions, your yearning hearts, your infertility, your losses, your own children buried and gone, your diagnoses, your struggles, your wandering, your doubt, your anger, your fear.
Every time I made myself vulnerable and let you in, so many of you reached out with your own stories and said yes, me too.
I’ve carried all of your stories with me. And you’ve made my heart stronger by what it’s learned to hold.
. . .
Sometimes I envy the mom I used to be. When life was simpler and everyday exasperations cluttered my hours. I didn’t know it was easy – the sleepless nights, the toddler tantrums, the growing pains of raising more children – until I came crashing into the Really Hard of death and grief.
Now I’d give anything to go back to ordinary time.
Now even the brightest days are crossed by shadows that cloud the sun.
But I learn how to keep going. How to keep carrying all that I have been given to hold.
This is the work of growing up and growing wiser – which also happens to be the path of parenting. To help my children learn how to handle what happens. To decide what to let go and what to hold fast. To stretch into deeper love and wider compassion.
I didn’t get to pick what I was given. But I do get to choose how to move forward.
And today I choose to hold beauty. Today I choose to carry hope.
. . .
The amazing folks at Lily Jade sent me this beautiful Madeline diaper bag as a gift. I absolutely love it! Big enough to haul around cloth diapers, perfect for drinks & snacks for multiple kids, and stylish enough to double as a work bag. (I especially love the genius insert that holds all the baby gear so that you can easily pull it out to transition from diaper bag to purse.) And in a small but important way, it’s helped me make the transition from hospital to home, from my old life to our new baby…
Check out Lily Jade’s website to learn more – I can’t recommend it highly enough!