The Stuffed Bear in This Photo Is Not Just a Bear
When you look at the photo below, what do you see? A happy family photo, Mom and Dad with their newborn and her stuffed bear. That is not the whole story. There is so much more to it than it first appears. It’s a happy family, yes, but not a complete family. That bear our daughter is holding is not just a bear; it is a touchstone, a physical representation of what is missing — our firstborn.
In July 2012, my husband and I were thrilled to find out we were expecting. I found out while I was away at school. I called him on my laptop from my bunk in the hostel I was staying at to share the good news. I called my parents immediately after. My mom just found out that her younger sister was going to be a first-time grandma, so I was extra excited to tell her she would be a grandma, too. She was so happy, she dropped her computer on the floor. I left Jeff to call his parents to tell them they were going to be first-time grandparents as well.
About eight weeks in, we started to have some problems, but our doctor kept telling us everything was fine. By the time we saw a specialist, we were told there was a high risk of preterm labor, but she would watch us closely. Less than a week later, I experienced a hemorrhage, and two weeks after, that our daughter Megan was born at 21 and a half weeks. We had her for three hours before she passed. She spent her life surrounded by almost all of the people who loved her most in the world.
While I was in the hospital before she was born, my husband bought me a stuffed polar bear. It was the only toy we had to give Megan when she was born. We buried her with it and then bought more to give one to everyone in our families, so when we miss her we have something to hug. It is not the same, but it is something.
In August of this year we had our “rainbow” — another little girl, Aeryn. When she was 5 weeks old, we had a photo session and this family photo is one of the photos from it. I chose a photographer who works with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, a group of volunteer photographers who do remembrance photos for bereaved parents, so she would understand my desire to include Megan’s bear and would be comfortable with whatever emotions I had to deal with during the shoot. The photos she took are stunning and capture our family well. But what they don’t show is all of the emotions that accompany trying to move forward after the devastating loss of a child.
They don’t show the crushing sadness that came after we lost Megan. They don’t show the months of anxiety waiting for Aeryn to be born, counting down each day until 25 weeks, and then 26, 27, 28… The panic I felt before each monthly appointment. What if there was something wrong? How could we deal with losing another baby? These beautiful photos don’t show the guilt I feel for not thinking about Megan as often as I used to. I still think about her every day — it’s impossible not to — but I don’t find myself dwelling on her as much because Aeryn needs my attention. They don’t show the bittersweet celebration of every new exciting thing Aeryn does, or the mixed feelings of seeing my cousin’s son, born a few short weeks after we lost Megan. A great little boy, but also a constant reminder of how old Megan would be, that she would be getting ready to go to school next year, that she would be walking, talking, maybe going to a preschool program.
A photo of a smiling, happy family; parents with their newborn. A moment frozen in time, a piece of a story, but not the whole story.
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