Dear Laurence & Flannery,
Today is your first birthday. I had planned on doing something to commemorate the day, but I’m sitting here in the clothes I’ve worn since Thursday and trying to remember when I last brushed my teeth. It’s not because I’m grieving that I’ve basically fallen apart this week, month, year. It’s because you have a baby brother. Yes, I’m taking care of a newborn. And I’m not taking such great care of myself these days. I’m working on that. While still wearing maternity shorts, which is fine. I’m a mom of six and showing myself the grace I didn’t dole out with you or your older siblings.
We announced last year, on your due date, that another Ballew was forming in my womb. We almost lost him, too. But he was born earlier this year. At the right time. We named him Lewis Rhys Mullins.
You were born too early. And, as your older brother, Graham, pointed out to me — we couldn’t have all three of you. The math is tricky on these things, but Lewis came along when you were still supposed to be growing inside of me. Graham asks me how he can still be so sad you are dead, when he is so happy he “could explode into a million pieces about Lewis, but we wouldn’t have Lewis if they were here.” And I don’t have an answer for him. Because I feel the same way.
Lewis didn’t take away the pain from losing you. He actually complicated things a bit. I was grieving and rejoicing in the same moments. There were no clear lines in my journey when we saw the two pink lines on that test. It was all muddled up. Then, we almost lost your brother. And I was trying to grieve losing you, rejoice about Lewis, but wrap my head around what I would do if I lost three babies in one year.
I missed you everyday. Thought about what life would be like with all five of my kids. Then a sixth came into the picture, and Graham was the only one who vocalized what was in my heart. I felt…guilty.
On the anniversary of your death, I was pregnant with your brother. It was surreal. I wasn’t sure how to feel. And some days I still don’t know how to feel. I felt both of you move inside of me. I delivered you. I buried you. I drove by your grave, because Graham wanted to make sure no one had stolen it. One of your sisters, Elizabeth…we call her Bess, asked when you were “coming alive” and coming home to live with us. She asked why we had to drive away and leave you in that cemetery. Then I felt your brother move. I carried him longer than any of my other children. I delivered him. And I woke up three times at the hospital crying, thinking I was having a repeat surgery they did after I lost you. And I looked down at your baby brother and my feelings were absolute love. I loved all six of you. And I could only have four of you here with me.
Bess brings her twin babies into the kitchen to eat dinner with us. She tells me you both will be alive again like Baby Jesus and we will all eat dinner together when you come out of my tummy. She’s almost four years old and a bit confused. Your sister thinks she died as a baby, too, but didn’t stay dead like you did. Your brother sometimes forgets your names. Other days, he talks about you all day to remember how much he loved you. He calls you “the babies who died” and Lewis “the baby who lived” and I’m left to go switch the laundry.
I apologize that this letter isn’t fluffy or poignant or precious. It’s just how I feel after being up all night for thirteen straight nights with your baby brother. He’s getting teeth. Graham and Bess are obsessed with him, like they would’ve been obsessed with both of you. They are already planning his first birthday party. Today would’ve been yours. With family gathered around two high chairs. With two smash cakes. Your dad thinks Flannery would’ve had red hair and green eyes. We often think about you, Laurence. What would you have looked like covered in cake?
I don’t believe in a baby heaven. I don’t believe you two chose Lewis for us. I don’t believe your dead relatives are fighting over who gets to hold you. I do know I’ll see you again someday when there’s a new Heaven and a new Earth. I don’t know what you’ll look like. Just like how I don’t know what Adelaide will be like completely whole and healed. She’ll have her gorgeous personality and love for life, but she’ll be walking and dancing and talking. I honestly don’t spend too much time thinking about it. I’m pretty busy trying to figure out how to keep her from peeing out these diapers that don’t fit quite right and learning sign language so I can try to communicate with her.
But I do think about you. My fourth and fifth children. Your lives were short, but you were loved every moment by this family. And even though Graham — and all of us — don’t know how to wrap our finite brains around it, we do wish all of you could be here today. Somehow. With Baby Lewis reaching for your cake. And Adelaide shouting for cake. And Graham and Bess fighting over who would get to hold two babies in the family photo, while the other was left just holding one baby. We all wish we could have three babies today.
You are missed and loved and cherished. You matter, because you were created in God’s image. You were just born too early for this world. This crazy Earth that wanted you to breathe oxygen, when you still needed water. When you still needed umbilical cords. When you still needed me. With all my extra pounds and tears and hormones and the times I yell when I shouldn’t and the times I keep my mouth shut when I should speak up. I’m not a perfect mom, but I love you. I couldn’t save you, but we saved your brother. It is what it is.
Happy Birthday my loves,