both sides now

When Carmen joined our family, I swear I felt our entire circle of friends and family let out some collective sigh of relief. There. Life was good now, again. Life was safe and warm and happy. I would again get to know the feeling of two a.m. feedings and painful exhaustion and what it's like consoling a screaming infant as your older child runs rampant through the Target aisles. There. Life was good again, regrowing where the grass was seared at the dead end.

And it was good again. Life, I mean. It was good again for the first time in a while, like the hollow wound throbbing and bleeding in my side had been properly tended to and healed and stitched to perfection with ointment to stop the ache. There is always that reflexive wince when someone calls me a mom of two, or asks if we plan on another child, or points out how fortunate I am to have "one of each" sex, or things that seem so commonplace to regular moms. It stings just subtly enough for me to always remember that I'm never going to be a regular mom again, even though I was one once.

That's sort of what grief leaves you with as some shitty consolation prize for the ringer you've survived: pieces of normalcy, but not an entire picture. There will always be one child that my body carried who will be missing from our family photographs or holiday traditions, one child not seen when well-meaning strangers inquire about the age gap between Ethan and Carmen. You don't even know the half of it, I will think as a fast-paced montage of heartbreak and diagnosis and tragedy and death and infertility and uncertainty flash before my eyes before ending with a photograph of Carmen. Oh, sweet Carmen, with her gigantic, sparkling eyes. She is the sweetness at the end, yes. She has duct taped the normalcy back into our lives so that we function like a normal family. But there are always those reminders that normalcy is a thing of the past.

Sometimes I look back at old photographs of my husband and I when we were teenagers and just making our love known. Our engagement, our wedding. The smiles and selfies-with-film-cameras and blissful naivety that comes from thinking everything would be normal because we were normal and our lives were normal and there was nothing exciting or different about us at all. There's that little feeling of invasion that happens, too. That uneasy feeling you get when your home has been robbed while you weren't home, knowing someone has been touching your stuff and invading your privacy. That feeling sort of tags along with grief, too. Something just sort of takes a piece of you and rearranges things without your permission. The security doesn't regenerate even when life becomes better again, brighter again. It's just sort of dead, too.

I always had this vision that I wanted all of the things for my children that I didn't have. I want siblings and loud, magical Christmases and birthday parties with cousins. I wanted to be a grandmother who welcomed all of my children and my many grandchildren into my home on Sundays for big, boisterous dinners. There was no guarantee of that, of course. My children could all decide to not want children, to travel the world, to settle down in a yurt in Mongolia somewhere. But there's still that piece of you that goes what if and feels the quietness of your own life and wants more, louder, bigger things. The what if is hard to lose, too. It clings to you and trumps any rational thought or logic because it is fueled by grief.

In the immortal words of Tupac Shakur, it's got you staring at the world through your rearview.

There are the nights where I cry silently in bed because the happiness tickles my bones and makes my stomach flop with eagerness and joy and a general feeling of life that I can still remember thinking was gone forever. I can still feel the sorrow so deep that breathing physically aches and you're not sure that you can trudge through another day, hour, minute because your bones shake, your joints are stiff and the exhaustion is suffocating. I've come out the other side. I've climbed out of the ravine and my muscles no longer tremble and I feel refreshed, yes. I feel happiness again. Joy in it's purest form. But there are the aches that still get you when you least expect them and I know that I'll never fully recover from the injuries but I can succeed at wearing my gameface while walking it off. It's an awkward dance, an uncomfortable balancing act that accompanies life after tragedy. The ability to see life from both sides, or something.

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