This week, my friend Rebekah shared a photo on Facebook of herself, her husband and their beautiful daughter, Emilia. It was taken during the seven, precious hours that they held Emilia after she slipped away peacefully – at four days old.
Embraced, kissed, held, loved.
An outpouring of grief and support threaded its way through her parents’ Facebook walls, their friends’ walls, and the walls of friends of their friends – a tsunami of love from a community that held its breath as Emilia gave life her best shot.
News of her passing (on Valentine’s Day – during Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week) hit hard. She’d taught us what beautiful is. She’d shown us what time means. She’d inspired us to value the breaths that we take, the heartbeats, the music, the sunsets…
How could this happen? Why?
I’d barely begun grappling with what it meant for her parents and brothers when another newborn photo was posted – this baby wrapped snug in a second outpouring of love and relief and joy and hope, as was his mum, Mamamia’s very own Rebecca Sparrow … Finlay.
Embraced, kissed, held, loved – just like Emilia. Just like his sisters Ava and Georgie. And home.
For almost two weeks now, I’ve watched Fin and Emi twirl through my Facebook feed in a bittersweet dance of hope and heartbreak. One just starting. One at her end. Their mummies watch over them, protectively – bonded by more than their first names, more than the immeasurable love they feel for their children – each having stood where the other is now.
Bringing home a healthy son. Losing a baby daughter.
The circle of life announced itself, as it tends to do in moments of unmitigated grief: mysterious, powerful, tragic, beautiful.
My mother’s only sister, Ella, was stillborn in the 1930s. If a baby was born sleeping then, she was taken away immediately.
My grandmother never held Ella, never touched her. Never saw her face …
She never posted a picture of her on Facebook, never introduced her to her friends and had people tell her how beautiful she is – how precious. No-one ever said, ‘she has her Mummy’s nose’ or ‘her Daddy’s chin’.
No-one knew her.
There was no outpouring of support. No SIDS and KIDS, no Bonny Babes, no online tribe of mums chipping in for groceries and flying a friend across the country to the funeral. No helium balloons for the children to release at the funeral.
My grandmother, having endured this loss – privately, silently, heart-wrenchingly – went on to have four other children, one of whom she buried as an adult.
She died at ninety-five years old – weeks before my first daughter was born. Still grieving until the very end…
I gave a reading at her funeral service, heavily pregnant – and my baby was kicking inside me: ‘I’m here, Nana! I’m coming! Wait!’
But she couldn’t wait. She’d stepped aside to make room for one more.
One goes, another arrives…
Welcome to the world, little man.
Farewell, angel girl.
And, Auntie Ella – no-one embraced you when you were born, no-one kissed you, no-one held you …
But know this much: your mummy loved you – until her dying day.
Emma Grey is the author of Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (Lothian, 2005) and director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss. She regularly writes on motherhood, work and relationships on her blog, you can find that here here.