Monday, April 16, 2012

Burning Building

One of the more interesting things about being a nurse is the types of conversations you end up having with your co-workers. For whatever reason nurses seem to be able to discuss some of the most personal things with each other and yet still not consider themselves necessarily 'friends' outside of work. Perhaps it's the intimate nature of our jobs. Perhaps it's the long hours where we depend so much on each other to get things accomplished. Perhaps it's just the type of people that are drawn to nursing. Whatever it is, I've had some of the most interesting and intense conversations with my nursing coworkers.

The last little while I've been thinking of one such conversation that I had a few years ago in the NICU break room. Myself and a group of nurses I worked with, were sitting around watching the news on TV while we were having lunch. I think there must have been a story on about a house fire, because I clearly remember the start of the conversation was that one of the nurses I worked with said that the only thing that would make her go back into a burning building was to rescue her daughter, who was a toddler at this time.

Now I don't remember the responses to that statement or know how we got on to the second part of this conversation, but I remember this same nurse, a moment or two later, commenting that she might not have always done so. She said, "when my daughter was born, I loved her of course...but I didn't really LOVE her...ya know? Not the way I do now." This stuck with me because it rang true with something my mom told me years earlier about how when I was born, and later my brother, she remembered "falling" in love with us. This implies that at one point, she didn't love us as much as she did later on.

In the media, maternal love is portrayed as unchanging, enduring, self sacrificing, and beginning right from conception and continuing beyond death. This is probably one of the reasons people have such a problem with abortion, since it flies in the face of this commonly held belief. I thought it was quite gutsy for this woman I worked with, to admit to a group of coworkers that there was a time she wasn't sure she would have run into a burning building to save her daughter. What was more was that she felt this ambivalence not when her daughter was 2 and throwing a temper tantrum, or 6 months old and screaming through the night, but instead, when she was just a newborn and she felt she didn't really know her yet. My coworker had to FALL in love with her baby, and that took awhile.

On July 10th 2011, the day after Kaia was born, I remember thinking as they rolled me into the NICU how odd it was that I had to be TOLD which one of the isolettes held MY baby. I grew her, she lived inside me for months, and yet I realized in that moment that Brian could have rolled me up to any bed containing a white female infant of about the right gestational age and I would have accepted her as mine. How strange, I thought at the time, that I didn't just instinctively know her. Over the next few weeks and even months, I would come to agree with my colleague. I loved Kaia right away...but I'm not sure I could say I was IN LOVE with her for quite some time. This might have been due to the harrowing nature of my pregnancy and my reluctance to even consider I might have a live infant at the end, or the complications that Kaia experienced at birth and the separation that we endured due to her prematurity...but it did take some time to feel she was really MINE and that I would do anything to protect her.

I'm not sure when that love came about, but it did. I love her completely and totally now, but it took some time to develop. I can also say the love I have for her deepens over time, and comes from 'getting to know' Kaia. I know the way she smiles using her whole face, the way she loves to be held to fall asleep at night, how she gets totally jazzed when you make 'ch, ch, ch, ch, ch' noises and tickle her feet and how she will startle, sometimes to the point of crying, when someone in the other room sneezes. I know the way she likes to be held, the temperature she likes her milk, and have tried to capture as many of the funny faces she makes as I can with the camera, just so I can look at them again and again. All those things endear her to me and make her more enmeshed in our lives, to the point it's difficult to separate where care and concern for myself differ from care and concern for her, they are so entwined. I think about her most of my waking hours, and sometimes even when I'm sleeping.

But because I'm a dead baby mother, I often catch myself, usually when I'm holding Kaia before she goes to sleep at night, wondering how my love for her compares to my love for Aidan. Is my love for them equal? They are both my children, so how could I love one more than the other? Do I feel as strongly that Aidan is mine? I never got to know him in the way I know Kaia. He never got to do the things that would make him unique to me in all the world. I don't know what would have been his favourite position to sleep in, or which toy would make him smile even when he was cranky. I have no idea what would scare him, or how his laugh would sound or if he would have been a clingy, or active or a content baby.

Looking back I can say that I definitely went through a 'claiming' process with Aidan, but it was different than that of my 'claiming' of Kaia. This blog was a big part of that process. As was taking pictures of his name. So was thinking about him, how life 'would have been' had he lived. It occurred as I talked about him with friends and family, wrote about him online, thought about him during my day. I made him more and more mine as I designed and purchased a necklace to wear in honour of him. The way I continue to keep the shelf with his urn and his treasures in a specific order. These are the things I do for him, and they come naturally now, but they don't have the same 'return' value that makes loving Kaia easy . The things I did to 'claim' Kaia as mine were somehow so much simpler, I didn't even have to think about it. I just had to *do*: feed her, change her, play with her, respond to her cries. She wouldn't LET you forget about her or ignore her in any way. She had demands, whereas Aidan had none.

It makes me both happy and sad to see my love for Kaia grow over time. My love for her grows as she grows...which I'm sure would seem perfectly normal if I described it this way to the general population. Of course your love grows as your child ages...what could be more natural? It makes me fretful because of Aidan. He doesn't grow. He is frozen in April 2010 and won't ever get any older. I don't get any new memories of him, nor did I have very many to begin with. How will my love for him grow if he doesn't? Will it?

In one year, five years, 10 years, 50 will I be able to say I love them the same when I will have so many more memories of Kaia, and the ones of Aidan will have gone hazy and indistinct with age? I want to say I would run into a burning building for them both...but it's hard when the only one I would miss from my daily life is Kaia.

I miss you so much Aidan...but sometimes I wish I missed you more.

How have you worked out the concept of love and belonging between the living and the dead? Do you struggle with this too?


  1. Wow, that is such a powerful post and I'm sure I'll think about it often in the days to come and when I have Boh in my arms.

  2. Huh, I never really thought about it this way. I mean baby girl isn't here for another week and a half but I feel like I could tell you already that I would run into a burning building for her. I remember telling my husband right before we had the surgery with Liam that I didn't care what happened to me, that if someone had to die in surgery I would rather be the one and have him have a chance to live his life. So I guess I don't know if my love will change for them until they are here and growing.

  3. Oh my, I have been struggling with this EXACT thing lately. Every day, I love Cadence more and more and I feel "stuck" at a the same love level for Logan. This is not a feeling/issue I anticipated. I'm SO glad someone else put the words out there. As always, thanks for sharing, Emily.

  4. Running into a burning building is the least I would do for my baby/ies.

    I can see what you mean about feeling like you could fall more in love with your daughter because she will do things Aidan never can. Its a complicated mess.

  5. Thank you for this post. It's brave and honest and important.

    I was lucky in that I fell in love - very deeply - with both of my children as soon as I saw their faces. I know it's not like that for everyone. I worry about writing it here because it can come off as an attempt to sound superior, but I do know (I hope) that it was a gift, that I was lucky to have that connection so soon.

    Maybe because of that, I think about my mothering love in terms of loving differently instead of loving more or less. I don't love Teddy less than Dot, though it's a much more intangible, wistful, and often frustrating kind of love. I don't get to see how amazing he would have been. But I know, somehow, that he was and is and would have been amazing anyway. Maybe that's not much to hold onto but lately it feels like enough to get me through most days.

    Which isn't to say that it doesn't hurt like crazy to constantly be comparing the two loves and wishing I'd had more chances to see who he would have been.

  6. This is going to sit with me for awhile. I love both my babies with such ferocity, but I feel like I need to defend Andrew more than Benjamin. I love them both. I love B more everyday, I agree. It's just not fair that we don't know what our love for (gone) babies would grow to be.

  7. This is really interesting.

    Like erica, I think I was lucky in that I loved them, all three, straight away. From the moment I saw them. Like lightning and like every other cheesy metaphor I can think of for love at first sight. Loved them all absolutely desperately. Perhaps the girls more so than my son because they were so early and so fragile. And perhaps because one continued to grow and the other stopped it made it easier for me to love them both the same? ARGH! I don't know, it is very complicated. I don't think I will ever entirely understand it.

    I love them all the same but the quality of that love is different? Hmmm I don't know.