It started with the mixer. As the speed increased, the ingredients went flying. My daughter, who loves to help bake with me, started giggling. Our cookie batter exploded in the air and we both burst into a round of belly laughs, unable to contain our howling. It’s moments like this one that I’m thankful for. After losing two of my children, I didn’t know if I would ever smile again. And as the years pass by, it’s taken time for me to realize that I shouldn’t feel guilty for being happy.
I’ve always been a positive person, the type who looks at life with the glass “half-full” approach. But all that changed in 2013, the year my husband and I learned we were expecting triplets. The sheer joy of pregnancy took a drastic turn when I went into labor more than 17 weeks premature. It’s a day I’ll never forget; a day filled with love for my three babies, but riddled with pain and grief. On the same day my triplets were born, my first-born child died in my arms. What should be the happiest day of our lives will always be tainted with heartache.
As we began to comprehend the unimaginable loss of a child, we were faced with the difficult task of remaining strong for our two children in the NICU. Less than two months after their births, we were once again faced with the unfathomable. 55 days after our daughter took her final breath, our son passed away. We were suddenly left with one survivor, fighting for her life while we were making funeral arrangements.
In a six-month span, I went from the highest of highs, to rock bottom. My emotions were tossed in a blender, spinning out of control. I put on a brave face for our lone surviving triplet, but my heart was shattered into a million little pieces. The picture-perfect life I imagined was now full of uncertainty, fear and sadness.
As the months passed by, our miracle baby began to thrive. Our mind transitioned from “if” she would come home to “when” she would home. The nursery that was put on hold months before was now taking shape. And while the excitement of bringing our 22-weeker home was apparent, the guilt started creeping into my head, taking up residence in the back of my mind. I should be thrilled that our child survived, that I would soon be holding her in the comfort of my home. But that’s the struggle some of us parents deal with—raising children as we straddle life between Heaven and earth.
That first year was filled with memorable milestones. There were celebrations for the little things our daughter achieved, things we never knew she would be capable of. But with those special moments, came milestones we dreaded; the first Christmas without two of our babies, the anniversary of our children’s deaths. And through it all, there was that pesky guilt in the back of my mind. As I laughed and smiled at my daughter’s first giggle, I felt guilt that I was happy even though two of my children were no longer alive. I was confused and unsure of how I should act as I navigated the stormy waters of child loss.
For many years, I wrestled with guilt. I felt it wasn’t fair to my daughter’s siblings that our family was truly happy. Her brother and sister never got that chance to see life outside the hospital, so how could our days be full of joy? I felt guilt each time I told people, “life is good”, knowing that I was speaking the truth. How could I be happy when two of my children died? It’s something I battled with for a long time.
But I realized that I couldn’t sit still as the world continued to move around me. I vowed that I wouldn’t dwell on the “what ifs” or “why me” feelings. You never get over the loss of a child, but you learn how to move forward. My husband and I have settled into our new normal. Our surviving triplet is now a thriving 4-year-old with a personality as tall as she is. Her strength and infectious smile bring so much joy to everyone who crosses her path. And that little girl is the light of my life. She’s what helps me get through those difficult days. The grief still creeps up when I least expect it, but I no longer feel guilt. I know it’s OK to be sad, to be angry, to be heartbroken over my losses. But at the same time, it’s OK to find peace and happiness. While it’s not the life I ever imagined, I feel blessed being the mother of three beautiful children. I like to think my son and daughter in heaven are watching over us, joining in on life’s laughter and joy from above.