From the moment we decided to have another baby, I pictured you, but not you – her -Libby. She was the love I knew, that I cherished, that I had fallen for five years before – she was the love I had lost, that I desperately yearned for, whose face I begged to touch again, whose voice I longed to hear. And she was the one I searched to re-create, to have back, through you. My heart wailed for another baby girl with thick dark hair and black-brown eyes, a tiny button nose, muscular little legs, a feisty personality, a no-holds-back approach to the world – a little Libby likeness to keep her in our life. And in January 2016 we found out you were a healthy girl with the exact same due date as her. Tears drenched my cheeks as I breathed in the sweetness of that reality – the longings of my heart were being heard, being realized, being answered.
Then that April the ultrasound technician told us you had no hair. How was that possible – how could we have another girl without that hair – I couldn’t even picture it – because I had been picturing her, not you. I was shattered. I grieved that silly little loss, but couldn’t explain it to anyone – because no one could understand.
Maybe those longings weren’t heard, I thought. Was I not to see her again, or feel her, or hold her again, in you? Was I not supposed to get the chance to trace my fingertip down your profile, feeling her tiny nose beneath my fingertip? Was I not to fashion your pigtails at five months, just like hers? Was I not supposed to watch you climb the side of the couch on your mighty little legs, and remember her doing the same?
Oddly enough, finding out you had no hair was the trigger I needed. Before I brought you into this world, I had to come to terms with reality – I had to take inventory of the fears and longings of my heart surrounding you. I had to check myself. I had to force myself to let go of my deranged fantacy of re-creating your sister. I had to get on board for you. I had to open my heart to a baby girl who wasn’t the one I had lost. It was distinctly that moment when I knew it was you in my belly, not a living replica of your big sister. It was you – our Leighton.
And with each proceeding ultrasound I held out hope – for a healthy baby – and for hair. You were always healthy. And always bald. And I begrudgingly grew to understand that it had to be so – because you had to be you. You had to be different. You could not be her. It would not have been fair to you to be born with that thick black hair – the comparisons would have been too much. But oh I wanted it so badly. When you were born – big and bald – so unlike your petite big sister – I kept your hat on. I told myself it was to keep your little head warm, but I know that wasn’t the truth. I kept it on to cover up the single feature that distinguished you from her – because if that hair was there, you would have looked like twins. And that is what I wanted to see in you – her.
And here we are bonus baby, you have just turned one. Today I love you more than I can describe for being Leighton, and am thankful every minute that you are ours – that you are different – that you are you. But even in this space of the intense love I hold just for you, the fight lives daily in my heart- letting you be you, while my grief tries to cram you into the space of Libby. Thoughts pass through my mind or come out of my mouth that are more than unfair to you – ridiculous lies I have told myself in an effort to cling to her – your hair would get darker, your eyes would deepen to brown, you were mis-weighed at the doctor – for you were not possibly that big. I have created excuses for why you were not an early walker, and why you haven’t tried to climb out of your crib. But how can I stuff you into that space – her space – when the facts are before me – your eyes are blue and your hair is light. You are chunky and a great eater. Despite your coloring, you do look a lot like Libb, but you are Leighton. You are you, and we love you, just as we so fiercely loved your sister.
I know my thoughts are twisted- far beyond normal comparisons parents make between children. But they are normal (I think) in this situation, which is why I share – for those parents who come after me in this skewed reality. How could I not go there? How could I not want to see as much of Libby as I can – through Leighton, through Will? The closest things to her. So for me, this is normal, this is coping, this is clinging to what I have to help me move.
And she has helped me – helped our family beyond measure- move forward like nothing else could have. I remember sitting in our therapist’s office asking if having a baby was a good decision. Did I want a baby as a band-aid – to try to fix my heart, fill a void, put love back in our house, save my marriage? Was I wanting another baby for the right reason? Could I love her? I didn’t know then, but I know now. Dear Leighton, you have been the most beautiful outcome of the most difficult decision we have ever made – period. Thank you for the unmeasurable gift that you are.
When I think over the past year, I think about this life we have as a family of four again. I think about the normalcy you have brought back to us. I think about how good it feels to experience this monotony. I think about the relationship you and Will have, that we get to witness. I think about watching Will’s reaction to seeing you for the first time – and how it brought our first moments of joy in over 3 years. I think about the miracle it is to watch Will fall head over heels in love with you. Every morning I get to see a big brother go gaga for his baby sister, and am reminded of the blessing that you are to us. Over the past year, we have gotten to see Will discover what it means to be a brother – because he doesn’t really remember – he never truly had that before. I have gotten to see the magic of sibling bath time, I have gotten to see Will making you laugh, I have gotten to feel your little legs kicking me in excitement as you first see him in the morning. Being part of the relationship you have with your brother has been the single most healing influence in our life. Thank you, little Leighton, little wondrous gift. Thank you, big brother Will.
This year I have also gotten to be a bystander, as a Daddy fell for another little girl. I have watched the man I love, who has been next to me in the depths of despair, brighten. I have seen him put you in sweet dresses, put bows in your hair, and read books to you just like he did for your big sister. I have seen the magic of his parenting envelop you and Will, embracing you both with a heart that has always longed for a home filled with children. I have gotten to see him feel that normalcy again too – and drink it in – for the splendor of its constancy.
And Will these comparisons to your sister stop now – in three years – ever? Not likely. I imagine seeing you going to Kindergarden, having your first sleep over, joining me for a pedicure, learning to drive, going off to college, and wondering if she would have looked just like you. You are part of her, just as Will is, and she is part of you. You are made from the same mommy and daddy, the same great love. You will always be siblings, you will always be alike – and different. You will always be ours – our bonus baby blessing. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to us.