This is part of my series 100 Days: Waiting for a Rainbow.
The other night I sat with my husband and choked on some of the most horrific words I think I may have ever uttered. I said, the words stopping up in my mouth, “I want a real baby.”
A real one.
As if somehow my precious William wasn’t real. As if somehow my much anticipated Squishy wasn’t real. As if you have to weigh more than 2 pounds, and cry, and wear cute clothes, and make funny cooing noises to be real. You have to actually leave the hospital, and open your eyes, and drive me crazy with poopy diapers and cluster feedings, and outgrowing every article of clothing I’ve purchased. As if being visible made you real.
I have many things in my life of which I am ashamed, but this has to be the absolute worst. The most painful bottom of horrible, shameful thoughts. The fervent pro-life believer, the insistent mother who counts unborn babies as parts of the family, the one who insists that you are real from the moment you are conceived….. I said my babies weren’t real.
I know what I mean. I don’t mean to negate either of my children’s real-ness. I mean I want the reality of a physical presence, to be a mom in the “normal” sense, instead of explaining the uncomfortable facts of my first journey into parenthood and hoping for the reality of my second. I mean I want someone to watch grow up, and learn new things, and explore this incredible world around us. Someone to snuggle with while we read stories, and to watch cars and birds, and to go on mommy-child adventures.
But as those words… real baby… cross my mind over and over, sneaking up on me at inopportune moments, tormenting me when I toss and turn at night, I feel the lowest of the low. I feel unfaithful to my precious firstborn, my fierce, proud, determined little conqueror. I feel cruel to my coming child, who I suspect of being both mischievous and deeply compassionate. It feels like the ultimate act of parental betrayal.
I realize I have so little of how to be a mother to either of my children. One who doesn’t feel real because he is gone, one who doesn’t feel real because he isn’t here yet. The corollaries of these dangerous mind-paths are worse. If they aren’t real, than neither am I. A fake mother. If they aren’t real, doesn’t it make my grief and anxiety fake, too?
I would like to banish these words, real and fake. But they lurk around every corner, taunting me.
And in these moments, the story The Velveteen Rabbit pops into my mind. The sweet, stuffed animal loved until his fur wears off and his eyes are lost and his seams are ripping out. The message of the story being that it is love that makes us real. Not what we’re made of, or what we look like, or our ability to do anything. Being fiercely loved is what truly makes us real.
There is a sigh of relief in that thought. I think it is a beautiful description of the Gospel, how the fierce love of a crucified Savior makes us real. But it also soothes my heart, knowing that when I say a “real baby,” I’m speaking out of a place of sorrow that doesn’t mean to deny William’s reality, but instead speaks volumes about how surreal his life feels. It also means that this Rainbow-to-come, this little Squishy who seems to know when I’m anxious for him, is also just as real. It soothes my heart because I know I love them both as desperately and fiercely as any child has ever been loved or ever will be loved. And that is the most spectacular form of real.