Seven years ago today I was with my husband in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, lazily swimming laps in the early morning sunshine. It was our last vacation “alone,” though it was obvious from my burgeoning belly and the tiny fluttering feet swimming along with me that we were already a family of three. It was a happy, innocent time. We had no idea that just three months later our sweet daughter Avery would be stillborn due to an umbilical cord accident, an accident that no one saw coming, an accident that happened after a beautifully normal, boringly uneventful pregnancy. Avery’s death rocked my world, turning a blissful existence into a real-life nightmare loaded with chaos and guilt.
Seven years. It feels like an eternity; it feels like yesterday. A lot has changed in seven years. I quit my job, wrote a book, moved across the country, and had two more incredible, healthy children. After a great deal of soul searching, I’ve learned that Avery’s death was not my fault, and I’ve learned that healing is not learning how to stop missing my daughter but about learning how to live while missing my daughter.
But most recently I’m learning that my 5-year-old son asks the toughest questions I’ve ever had to answer about Avery.
When our daughter died I made a promise that she would never be forgotten, not by me, not by my husband, not by her brothers or sisters who were not yet here. Her photo is proudly displayed next to the urn containing her ashes, and we always use her name freely in conversations. I wanted Avery to be a presence my kids grew up with, not a dirty little secret I’d spring on them when they were grown and getting ready to have their own children.
My oldest son Carter started asking questions about “the baby” when he was two. We did our best to explain that “the baby” was his sister Avery, and she was no longer here with us on earth. For a while that was good enough, but as he’s grown older he’s become increasingly curious, and some days the questions blindside me like a 300-lb linebacker.
How did Avery die?
Do other babies die like that?
Did Avery die at the hospital?
What kind of car took Avery to the funeral home?
Did Avery ever meet me?
Did Avery ever live in this house?
Why didn’t I die when I was in your tummy?
Will I ever see Avery again?
Did Avery look like me?
Did Avery look like you?
Is Avery ever going to come home?
Do you think Avery would like Princess Elsa or Princess Anna better?
So many questions come from that brilliant little mind, so many questions with difficult answers. I always try to be as truthful as possible with
my son – I don’t sugarcoat things, yet I still feel the need to be delicate with the harsh realities of life. In keeping Avery’s memory alive I’ve inadvertently placed my children in the middle of something they don’t entirely understand, something that even adults don’t entirely understand, and I need to be careful that I don’t make them paranoid or rob them of their childhood innocence. It’s not easy, but my boys need to know about their sister – they deserve to know. She has made me into the mother I am today, and she is also the reason her little brothers are here on this earth.
Last week as I tucked Carter into bed his face became serious, his green eyes wide, innocent, and searching. I’ve come to recognize this as the “look of difficult questions,” and I braced myself for what was to come.
“Mommy?” he whispered. “Do you miss Avery?”
“Yes,” I answered, trying to hold back my tears. “I do.”
“So do I,” Carter remarked sadly. “Which is crazy, because I didn’t even know her. I didn’t even know her, but I still love her and miss her. Why is that?”
I stared at my second born, my first living child, a little boy so desperate to unlock the secrets of the universe. “It’s okay to feel that way,” I finally said. “She was your big sister.”
Carter tilted his head, soaking in my answer. “Mommy?” he whispered again.
His face spread into a grin, revealing the adorable little gap between his front teeth that I hope never goes away. “If I sleep really good tonight, can we get donuts in the morning?”
Finally – an easy question.
Heidi Chandler lost her first child in 2008 from an umbilical cord accident at 38 weeks. She now has two sons (ages three and five) and lives in Plano, TX. You can find out more about Heidi and her book Holding Avery: A Memoir at heidichandler.com
Category : Guest Bloggers