Elora, 6 Months

This month baby is photographed on Mod Corsage by Anna Maria Horner, in stock now at Quilt Sandwich!

It has been an amazing six months with baby Elora.  Today I'll share some reflections on what it's like raising a healthy baby after the tragic injury and loss of sweet Eleni.  But first, our snapshot.

Memory Box {Six Months}

Milestones:  Sleeping through the night in her own room, in her crib!  Reaching with both hands at once, toward something presented at center.  Eating!  She's been sampling homemade purees of avocado, squash, sweet potato or banana.  Her initial reaction was to stare at us shocked with her mouth open, wearing an expression of dismay.  Now she's a pretty skilled little eater if she likes the flavor.  She's graduated to a two-nap schedule, which leaves so much more time to be awake, interacting and even getting out and about sometimes.  Just in time for summer too!

Biggest Challenge:  I was beginning to have a milk supply problem, which I believe was triggered when I dropped Rora's late night feed (9:30 pm), so that her last feed is now about 7:30 pm.  My issue was resolved by adding an extra pump in the evenings.  Since she's gaining weight steadily (just look at those thighs!), I don't have a milk supply problem, but I do need to pump more often in order to stash enough milk for the bottles she receives at grandma's twice a week.

Biggest Surprise:  I was so nervous about moving baby girl to her own room overnight.  Her room is on the opposite side of the house as our master bedroom.  Yes, I worried about her not being close to me, but more practically I dreaded the trek across the house half-asleep to comfort her for the 2-4 times per night she was needing help to sleep through the night.  I wasn't feeding her at night, but Brandon or I would often re-swaddle her and pat-pat her back to sleep in her bassinet, which was tucked conveniently beside our bed.

Well... I decided to take the plunge soon after she passed five months.  My thought was that waiting much longer was tempting that my close proximity would become a conscious preference for her - something hard to break.  The first night was terrible.  I went to her when she awoke and spent 2 hours putting her back to bed.  It was only when I fed her that she went to sleep.  I was so discouraged and frustrated that it took me an additional hour to fall asleep myself.  Sleep - 3 hours = not a good deal.

But something magic happened.  The next night and the next and the next, she slept beautifully.  In the 3 weeks since we made the switch, we've only had to go to her 3 times in all that time, and only for a brief comfort.   Plus, she's sleeping longer than she used to in her bassinet, sometimes up to 11 hours.  What a dream!  I'm feeling so wonderful!  Sleep is delicious.

Best Memory:  Although it's hard to capture this, what I want to remember most about this age is our relationship.  I want to remember how happy we make each other - snuggling after our morning breastfeed in bed face to face, my head popping over the side of the crib to welcome her awake, her almost-giggles when I laugh at how happy she is that we're sitting down in the nursing chair.  There is nothing more precious than loving and being loved in return.  Her love is the most amazing gift.

Many of you walked with me during my ecstatic pregnancy with Eleni, the shock of her traumatic birth in 2015 and her death in 2016.  Her complete story is at Eleni's Page.  When I became pregnant again not long after her death, there were heartfelt emotions and concerns, voiced or unspoken about our choice to have another.  I understood why the transition was hard for people.  It was hard for me too.  I think that some of the trouble is rooted in our culture's avoidance of the reality of death, especially the death of a child.  These things are so often hushed up and never referenced by others, as if the bereaved won't feel as much pain if they don't talk about it. 

But I like to make a point to talk about it.  It's helpful for me and for others too, especially for those who are facing the choice of conceiving after losing a baby or child.  Maybe a Q & A would make this a bit easier...

Q:  How were you ready to have another child so soon?

A:  So, speaking only of my own experience... I was ready to have another child so soon because of two things:  I had been grieving her loss in stages, beginning with her traumatic birth, and I had been grieving well

There's too much here to unpack fully, but here are some highlights.  With her initial birth injury I grieved my dream of a healthy child.  That was the biggest shock and the most difficult adjustment.  As time passed without much of a recovery, I was not in denial about what she had lost or about how our family would be negatively impacted.  When I became aware of my depression, I sought counseling.  I shared my feelings widely, which is a way of accepting myself and understanding myself.  Eventually I was able to allow myself to feel happiness in my own things, even while she was suffering.   That was the very hardest thing.  I was so close to Eleni, so aware of her desperate struggle, pain and fear, that I understood why she stopped trying, why she died.  I admire the way she fought.  And I respect that she was done.  I grieved freshly when she died and honored that grief physically with symbolic actions and memorials.  

And then, I knew that it was alright to seek happiness again, just as it was right to do so while she was alive.  Our sorrow is not a gift to those who suffer.  Love more than sorrow is what blesses and honors.

Q:  What was pregnancy like after Eleni's traumatic birth and death?

A:  Frightening.  It was not enjoyable in the way I had enjoyed my previous three pregnancies, but it was not all fear either.  Rather than a joyful expectation of baby, I lived only in hope that things would work out.  I sought the best medical care and took care of myself.  I didn't truly celebrate until she was born, alive and unharmed.  But then, oh then!  What joy!

Q:  Were you trying to replace Eleni?

A:  When we chose to have Eleni, we wanted to add a child to our family.  When we chose to have Elora, we also wanted to add a child to our family.  Our choice with Elora had an additional component - we hoped to show our other children (10 and 12) that having a baby can be a joyful, non-traumatic experience.  We wanted to remember that too. 

There is no replacing a person, as each human is an individual with a uniquely precious potential.  Eleni's death means losing the chance, at least for now, of witnessing hers develop.  Not having another child does not make Eleni's loss greater or lesser.  Similarly having another child does not impact what it means to us that she died. 

Q:  Ok, but how does having another baby change things?  Do you think of Eleni less?  Is it healing?

A:  Yes, having another baby does change things.  Life is always changing.  To go on living, I will change.  I will think of Eleni nearly every day, I'm convinced for the rest of my life, despite those changes.  Right now I think of her so very often as Rora wears the clothes she once wore, plays with the toys she could never play with, gets to enjoy the everyday experiences like bathtime and kitties that Eleni could not. 

My perspective of Eleni has changed.  I see now how very sad she was.  Before I knew that she was hurting and that she was terrified of suffocating and overwhelmed by the world whose sensations flooded relentlessly into her brain, making hardly any sense.  But I didn't see the piercing sadness on her face and in her eyes, like I do now.  My neuro-typical baby reminds me of how you can see the gladness in a baby's soul shining out from the eyes even before she can smile.  In a myriad of little ways Elora shows me her pleasure with the world.  As I look back through the pictures, the videos and into my memories I see so very little pleasure for Eleni.  More she had peace, at times.  Peace when spinning.  Relief here and there.  So very little to live for, that sweet one.  Most devastatingly, such a slim chance of experiencing love and relationship as burdened as she was physically.

Recently I brought out a black and white panda bear, given to Eleni when she was hospitalized near Christmas time.  I had tried to gracefully refuse the bear in the hospital because I feared she wouldn't respond to it at all.  She never did.  It was another symbol of something that should have been, but wasn't.  I put it in her crib after she died because it was so empty.

We had a little friend over, so I brought out all the stuffies.  When I showed Elora that panda bear, her face lit up and she reached for him with both hands.  My heart sang and my eyes brimmed with tears.  I smiled and waved the bear above her, swooping him down to kiss her face and tickle her belly.  She wiggled and lunged for him, mouth wide open.  It was a good feeling, her delight just as it should be.  And the hurting and remembering, that too was good.  

Is having another baby healing?  In my case, yes.  For my children and husband, yes too.  It doesn't fix what has been broken, but it reminds us that the world is still good and beautiful and joyful, even in the midst of suffering.  It's a paradox I don't pretend to understand, but one I experience each day, eyes wide, heart open.