I told my husband I didn’t think I could ever be happy again. I had waited so long for this type of love, and now that it was gone, I was certain nothing would ever take the pain away. My husband seemed more angry than worried. “You’d better figure out how to be happy again,” he said to me on more than one occasion.
I didn’t blame him. He was hurting, too, after the death of our son. Three heartbreaking miscarriages, a seemingly endless parade of negative pregnancy tests, the invasive fertility treatments–these were all massive roadblocks to a goal that had seemed so easy. For me, it was simple–I would find my true love, get married, have lots of babies, and live happily ever after. End of story. Never, in any of my daydreams, did I imagine how the plot of that story would hurt so much and how there would never be a “happily ever after,” just a painful series of stops and starts.
I will never forget the moment that Joey was placed in my arms for the first time. After fourteen months of trying to get pregnant and over fourteen weeks of bed rest, he had finally arrived. Seven hours after he was born, I was able to hold him for the first time. My husband wheeled me into the Newborn Intensive Care Unit where the nurse was holding a tiny bundle, my tiny bundle. He appeared to be sound asleep, swaddled so tightly that only his nubby, blonde hair and his tiny, yellow preemie face were visible.
“Well, hello my little Sweetface,” I whispered to him. At that moment, his eyes popped wide open, and he looked right at me as if to say: So it’s you. You are the one I’ve been waiting to meet. You are my mom. My heart melted into those eyes, and I was madly in love.
From the time I brought him home from the hospital to the time he became unrecognizable to me, Joey was always by my side like an anxious puppy. He would say to me, “Mommy, I am so your boy.” He was a happy child who found such simple joy in every aspect of life. He laughed easily and talked constantly and charmed anyone who was lucky enough to meet him.
After our initial infertility, my husband and I went on to have three more sons. I knew in my heart of mothers’ hearts I was not supposed to have a favorite child, but I did, and it was Joey. Whether it was the fact that we understood each other so well, or the fact that he always wanted to be with me, or that he was so eager to please, there was something about him that I preferred. He welcomed each new baby just as a big brother should. He was helpful and proud. He adored his brothers and would jump eagerly into every picture with them. He loved the camera, and the camera loved him. He loved music and art, books and games, school and the outdoors. I imagined that he would be the son who would take care of me when I was old, take me on trips with his family, and call on me regularly.
And then one day, everything changed.
One morning, one grand mal seizure. An ambulance ride, a CAT scan, and an ER doctor telling me in deadpan, “Bad news, it’s a tumor.”
One moment that changed our love and lives forever.
Joey survived for almost fourteen months, but what had made him Joey was gone after that first seizure. The tumor in his brain was making him vomit several times a day. The radiation treatments made him shake. The steroids had added thirty pounds to his muscular five-year-old body. He couldn’t run or ride his bike. He had no desire to play or laugh or go to school.
I stayed by him the whole time, watching him fade away before my eyes. I layed with him and held him until he took his last breath. And when he was gone, I was sure I could never be happy again. I was sure I could never love any child like I had loved him.
Four months after Joey’s death, I found out I was pregnant again. I had spent nearly two decades wanting nothing more than to be a mother, yet I didn’t want this baby. I refused to be excited or happy, and I prayed that I would have another miscarriage.
As the weeks went on, I grew angry, impatient almost, waiting for the fetus to abort itself. I knew it had to be deformed; after all, I had had a child with cancer, another child with a birth defect, and three previous miscarriages. Being over forty, my mind swam with images of a child with chromosomal abnormalities; and in fits of rage and fear, I would beat my stomach and threaten the god that “made things happen for a reason.” I can’t do this again. Please just take it way. I’m not strong enough.
Each day the pregnancy progressed, I grew angrier and more convinced that I was carrying another child who would bring me pain and suffering. I didn’t even tell my closest friends or family that I was pregnant. I was embarrassed, thinking they would believe I was trying to “replace” Joey.
Yet, each doctor visit brought more reassuring news. The baby’s measurements were perfect. The baby’s features looked normal. The baby inside me was growing and thriving just to spite me.
I slowly began to allow myself to think about the baby. I longed for a girl, not only because we had all sons, but because I wanted this child to be completely different from Joey.
At twenty weeks, the doctor told me I was carrying another boy. I fell into a new depression realizing that he would never know Joey – about his laugh, the fun games he created, or his super tight hugs. He would never be welcomed and entertained by his oldest brother. Most painful of all, there would never be any pictures of the two of them. Joey would be a stranger to this child. And that fact tore at the shreds of my already fragile heart.
Then one year and thirteen days after I lost one precious son, another arrived. Eight pounds of perfectly healthy baby was placed in my arms; and when I looked down at him, he was staring right at me. His eyes were wide open, and he seemed to say: So you are the one I have heard about. You are my mom. Everything is going to be okay.
I fell in love all over again.
I spent the first few months of Evan’s life in a state of panic, certain he would succumb to SIDS. I was convinced that getting this “replacement” son shouldn’t be this easy. Something had to go wrong. Gazing at his gummy smile and beautiful eyes, I was guarded.
I began to look for similarities between Evan and Joey. Often I would alert my husband, “Look! Evan is curling his toes around his toys like Joey used to!” or “Watch how Evan bounces forward on his bottom! Joey used to do that!”
I would sing Evan the same songs I had sung to Joey. In the dim evening light of the nursery, I would whisper to him, “You are so my boy.” I needed to believe he was Joey, reincarnated and sent back to me. That had to be the answer, the reason for Joey’s illness and death, and the reason for this new, unplanned child coming into my life. Loving Evan hinged on his likeness to Joey.
As each day passes, though, I see Evan growing into his own unique little person. A little person who loves to cuddle, hold hands, and flirt with my friends. I can see how he will be different from the brother he will know only from pictures and stories.
But I see similarities, too. Like Joey, Evan loves books, his brothers, the outdoors, and gives the best, tightest hugs. I adore him for those traits.
No matter how many similarities I find between them, I know Evan was not sent to replace my precious Joey. He was sent as a twist to the plot of my “happily ever after” story. He was sent to teach me that I can be happy again; that I can open my heart to love, and it will be okay.
Losing Joey may have scarred my ability to love fearlessly; but welcoming Evan for his own unique, endearing qualities is dulling the scars. When he’s old enough to understand, I’ll tell Evan all about the big brother he’ll never know. I’ll explain the many different types of love, telling him that one of the greatest loves of all is “healing love.”