Last week my beautiful niece was born. She is our eighth niece (!) but is the first on my side of the family, my brother’s first baby and of course the first baby in our family born after Etta. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for my brother and sister-in-law to have their first pregnancy, whilst grieving for Etta and during a pandemic but needless to say they have always put our feelings first throughout their pregnancy. I’m really thankful for their thoughtfulness but also just really angry that they have even had to consider our feelings in a time which should be the most exciting of their lives. But such are the ripples of baby loss- it affects so much more than you think.
I recently read an article from Still Standing magazine which was an open letter to the writer’s sister-in-law expecting a baby after the death of the writer’s child (You can read it here if you’d like). And although some of it resonated, I also found that it was missing so much of the emotion that I felt for my newest niece. So this isn’t a letter for my brother and SIL (although I’m sure this letter is as much for them), but this is a letter for Lily.
As I am writing this, you are only 10 days old. I’ve only met you once and I haven’t held you yet but your safe arrival was very much at the front of my mind these last few months.
When I found out you were a little girl when you were growing in your mummy’s tummy, I felt a lot of different emotions. Our little girl (and your big baby cousin) Etta had died a few months before and I was finding everything very hard without her. I think we all thought that if you were a boy, things might be a little easier and maybe less comparisons would be made between you and Etta. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it was definitely hard to imagine a new baby girl arriving into our family so soon after one leaving.
On the morning of the 30th June, your daddy sent us a message to say you were on your way into the world. I cried and cried. (Don’t worry- I promise it will only be cakes, smiles and presents on your birthday from here on in). I know that your mummy and daddy want you to grow up knowing about your cousin Etta, but I think you might only understand the significance of the timing of your birth as you grow older and if you have your own baby one day. I’m actually hoping that you’ll never truly ‘get’ it.
But on the morning of your birthday, I felt like my heart was breaking. It was breaking for thousands of reasons and nothing I could do would stop the agony I felt. And then a few hours later, you were born. And the pain stopped. My heart still felt a little tender and bruised, but it was also swelling with love for a little girl I hadn’t met yet: you.
After your cousin Ezzie was born, people often asked me if motherhood was what I expected and I always answered ‘it’s much harder than I thought it would be and much more wonderful than I could have imagined’. This is what I think it’s going to be like watching you grow and flourish.
There will be bittersweet times along the way- when you get to 4 weeks old and then carry on getting older while Etta stays forever 27 days. When you start school in your oversized uniform and Etta is not starting with you. When you perform in your first nativity or assembly (I have a feeling Etta would have been typecast as an angel, while you’re a shoo-in for Mary). When you maybe walk down the aisle or start your own family one day. I know that these will serve as reminders for the things that I wished for Etta’s life. And yet I know, that because Etta is gone, I will find joy in these special moments even more. I will be celebrating you and cheering for you every step of the way.
Lily- you are your own wonderful person and your parents’ own pride and joy. You’re not Etta and I don’t wish you to be. So I promise that you won’t ever feel in Etta’s shadow- I like to think that you’ll forever be in Etta’s light. Losing her will make everything you do shine and you’ll be even more precious.
So, as you grow older and sometimes catch me looking at you with tears in my eyes, please understand that these tears are not just of sadness for our little girl that died but also of pride and delight in watching you live.
I love you immeasurably, Auntie Emily xxx