Sitting in Callie’s room, I am surrounded by things. Baby things. Empty baby things. Lately, I have been completely consumed with thinking about her nursery. I just don’t know what to do with it and not knowing what to do stresses me out. I like to have a plan. It is part of my teacher soul to approach a problem with a well-thought out plan… step-by-step. But who plans for this? There is no manual and no right answer. And that bothers me to no end.
When John and I left the hospital, my parents and friends asked if we wanted them to put away all the baby stuff. I appreciated their concern but I said, “No!” I had to see it…I needed to see it. Our first stop after D.C. was Reston Hospital to pick up our car. There, inside of it, was Callie’s empty car seat, her diaper bag, and a “Treats for Daddy” bag that my friend had stuffed full of snacks for John. This is not how we had expected to go home. Those treats were supposed to be eaten. Her diaper bag rifled through for Callie’s “going home” outfit. And, of course, that empty car seat was supposed to be filled with our brand new baby girl…our bundle of joy. The sight of it ripped my heart out, but something deep within me had to face it. The thought of ignoring all of those things felt all wrong. Getting into that car was so hard and I cried looking back at the empty car seat covered in a soft pink BundleMe meant keep our little Callie snug and warm in that cold January weather.
As we drove home, I wept thinking of the night we had packed Callie’s diaper bag. It still remains one of the happiest memories of my life, now so bittersweet. I had washed all of her sweet little clothes in baby detergent, giving it that indescribable smell of an infant. We had so many pink outfits we didn’t know where to start! I smiled as I folded Callie’s going home outfit and put it in the bag. John and I had picked the cute black pants and ruffled pink top the day we found out we were having a girl. That outfit was a must. As for the rest, I let John take the lead. I absolutely loved watching him take out every single outfit from her closet and hold it up… grinning, ear to ear. He would pick an outfit and I’d fold it up and put it in the bag, the perfect picture of a parenting team. We laughed and smiled and wondered what Callie would look like. That bag was stuffed full of pink happiness and dreams for the future…clothes, blankets, hats, bows, and baby socks. Oh god, baby socks. What is it about baby socks that brings me to my knees in grief?
When we came home from that long drive from the hospital in our empty car, we knew all of the items that would greet us inside. First, in the basement, there was the stack of baby books on the coffee table, the stroller and the exersaucer. Up the stairs in the living room, there was the swing and the bouncer…the bassinet my father had used when he was a baby, my mom had dressed it all up in pink. And on the top level, Callie’s room and the pack-n-play set up in our bedroom to be used as another bassinet. John had wanted it on his side of the bed so that he could pick Callie up when she cried and hand her to me to nurse in the middle of the night.
But her room was our first stop. We wound up the stairs past all of the other baby things, straight for her room. We opened the door to the green walls and pink curtains and shut it behind us. Opening her closet, I looked right into the door organizer that held all of Callie’s socks. Those tiny socks broke my heart into a million pieces. They symbolized the smallness and fragility that is a newborn infant. The smell of the baby laundry detergent wafted over me as I wept. None of those pairs of cute socks would ever be worn by our baby girl. As we looked around the room at all the preparations we had made, I couldn’t help but feel stupid. I know I shouldn’t feel stupid, but I did. Looking at the little diaper caddies I had stuffed with diapers and wipes, I felt foolish. I felt like an unknowing idiot preparing for something that was never meant to me. I felt dumb for letting myself be so happy. Like I said, I like to plan and I had tried to anticipate where would be the best place for every little item. I had agonized over exactly how to organize her dresser. I had put the nursing cover on the back of the rocking chair where I planned to nurse during the day. The diaper creams were in the top drawer underneath her changing pad. I’d even put her little whale bathtub and baby washing supplies in the guest bathroom, ready for her very first bath. I’d thought of everything…except for this.
No one plans for this, the very worst outcome. And here we were… in it. Surrounded by empty things, empty arms, and empty hearts. After coming out of Callie’s nursery, we told our family to help clear up the baby items scattered around the house. Every one of these items represented our broken hearts and dreams crushed. When we emerged later, everything was taken out of sight. It made me sad, but it helped us move around the house without crying. Now, all of those things are shoved into our guest room and Callie’s nursery. Every time I pass by there, I think of all of the things inside. Often, I go into Callie’s room and sit in the rocking chair to think, cry, or write. That’s where I am now. Sometimes we leave the door closed, sometimes open. But where do we go from here?
At first, John and I had very different ideas of what to do. I thought about storing Callie’s things and making it into an office again…I wanted to acknowledge that she had left us. John wanted to shut the door and open it back up again when we have another baby…it just made him too sad to imagine putting away her things. Completely opposite ends of the spectrum and, therefore, a stalemate. On thing that haunted me was Callie’s clothing. I kept thinking about the fact that we are not guaranteed to have another girl. In fact, we’re not guaranteed to have another baby. NOTHING is a guarantee anymore. If we have another girl, maybe she won’t be born at the same time of year as Callie and none of these clothes will fit her. The list went on and on with little thoughts like this that plagued me about Callie’s belongings. What do we do???
As time has passed, though, our feelings have changed and we have both migrated somewhere to the middle. I don’t want to take away everything and John is ready to start thinking about it more. Talking with a colleague and good friend changed my outlook on things. She asked me to imagine what I would be doing with Callie’s things if she were still living and we were expecting her little brother or sister. I hadn’t thought of another baby as her brother or sister before. Of course, so long as we are fortunate to conceive again, he or she WILL be her brother or sister. Duh! Now we look into Callie’s nursery and think about how we would have handled things under different circumstances. We wouldn’t give away all of her clothes! We’d save them in case we had another girl one day, even if another girl comes at a different time of year…hand-me-downs! This way of thinking has helped, but it doesn’t solve everything. Some of Callie’s clothes are just too emotional to pass down to another baby…what do we do with them? Do we donate them to Children’s Hospital? After all, the cute yellow-striped outfit Callie wore had been donated to us. It might be nice to do the same for someone else. When we met with the genetic team last week, I had all intentions of doing just that. But, when I opened that diaper bag, I was overcome by emotion and memories and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Ultimately, we’ve decided to go very, VERY slow. We ordered two bookshelves to put in our bedroom. These shelves will help us display some books that were taking up space in another closet. Clearing this closet will in turn help give us room to store some things like the swing and the bouncer and the stroller that are now cluttering up Callie’s room. After that, we are buying plastic bins to store Callie’s clothes. That part will be so, so hard. But I know that is exactly what I would do if Callie had been living and had outgrown her clothes. I’d put them away for a potential baby sister to wear one day. After that, we have no idea. We know that in the end, we want Callie’s room to reflect both the fact that she was here and also acknowledge that she has left us.
As much as the memories that surround this room cause me grief, I would not trade them for anything in the world. As foolish as I had felt when we returned home to see all of the well-made plans we had laid for Callie, I now know that it wasn’t stupid at all. One can’t go through life scared of what might happen. I have to force myself to believe that sometimes, but I know it is true. People who fear commitment, really fear getting hurt. And that’s what happened to us. We got hurt…BIG TIME. We allowed ourselves to be happy, blissfully happy and it bit us right in the behind. John and I have some choices to make now. Certainly Callie will affect those choices, but it is up to us in what way we let it happen. Do we hold back, hesitate to commit to being happy for the fear that something will happen? Or, do we live fully, without holding back for the hope that something wonderful is on the other side? Right now, we are still working on it…but I believe that in the end, we will choose HOPE.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.