July 25th marks one year since my daughter was born. Like all new parents, this life-changing event brought with it a year of firsts. My firsts just don’t look like everyone else’s firsts.
I remember the first time that I saw Isabelle. It was several hours later and I was still groggy from the medications. My first thought was that she was huge (9 lbs 14 oz) and then my heart shattered after realizing how many wires surrounded her. I remember wishing that this had been a more intimate moment and not surrounded by dozens of people that I didn’t know.
On July 26, my daughter went home to her Heavenly Father instead of with us. For the first time in my life, I questioned the strength of my faith and whether I would ever be able to move forward after something that horrible.
This year I planned my first funeral. Honestly, my husband did most of the planning. I just nodded when he selected the readings and songs, not particularly caring which ones we used at the time. Now, I am thankful that he put so much thought into it.
I distinctly remember the first time we attended church after the funeral. Every baby’s cry that echoed across the room sent chills down my spine and nearly brought me to tears.
I remember the first time that I had to discuss my daughter in public, and then didn’t. It was a week and a half after her death, and a random woman asked me if I was pregnant. I told her no and didn’t say anything else.
The first time I returned to the building in which I had taught for the previous two years to express my interest in teaching again was also a difficult first. I spent most of my pregnancy teaching in that building and would be forced to face that fact each time I returned.
I remember the first baby shower invitation that I received after Isabelle passed away. It brought with it a wave of emotions.
Hours before I went in to be induced, I made a quick trip to our local grocery store to pick up a few last minute things. I remember my first trip back to that grocery store. I picked up the two items that I needed and left as quickly as I could.
I remember the first time I went into Isabelle’s nursery alone. I burst into tears and quickly walked out. It was a while before I attempted that again and instead would avoid making eye contact with the perpetually closed door that loomed in our hallway.
I remember my first holiday, Halloween, without our daughter. Since it is a relatively minor celebration compared to Thanksgiving and Christmas, I had not anticipated its difficulty.
I remember the first time someone asked me how my new baby was, oblivious to the fact that she had passed away. I smiled, told her she was fine, and quickly looked another direction while dodging tears.
I remember the first time we hung up Isabelle’s stocking this year. I knew that it would be hung up every year for the rest of our lives, and that any future children we had would know about their sister.
The first Christmas without her was difficult. Thoughts of her seemed to be unavoidable. Matt and I spent the holiday season traveling to visit family in both Florida and Japan in hopes of distracting our minds a bit.
I remember the first time I saw a positive pregnancy test since my pregnancy with Isabelle. It was Valentine’s Day. I was overjoyed but a part of my heart ached at the reminder that this was not the first time I had carried life.
I remember the first time I returned to the hospital where Isabelle was born. I was getting a simple blood test to make sure things were progressing normally in my pregnancy with Mark. I spent the entire thirty minutes trying not to allow my mind to revisit what happened in that building.
The first time I felt Mark wiggle, I was absolutely thrilled. However, I also couldn’t help but think of the last time I felt Isabelle move.
I remember the first time someone looked at my pregnant belly and then politely asked if this was my first child. I decided that I would say, “Second – I have a daughter” whenever this question was inevitably asked. Although I have deviated from that on one occasion, I generally stick with that response.
I remember the first time I went through all of Isabelle’s belongings. It was when I was boxing them up to make way for her brother’s things. It was not planned, it just happened because I knew the timing was right.
The day I went in to be induced with Isabelle I had vacuumed the entire upstairs of the house so that everything would be clean when we returned. The first time I vacuumed the nursery after that was almost a year later. Sometimes it just takes longer to revisit certain memories.
Some of these firsts, I had no choice with, while others I chose the timing. Together, they make up my first year as a parent who lost her child.
I have counted each month of this year silently wishing that I could post pictures on social media of an adorable baby with a “6 months” sticker on her belly when the 25th rolled around. Instead, I did the best I could to move forward through each small first, some in which I didn’t expect to be as difficult as they were.
Now that what would have been Isabelle’s first birthday is here, I look back at each one of those firsts, and many more not listed, and am amazed at how far I have come since July 2014. I remember thinking early on that I would never get through a day without crying. Then, one day, I woke up and realized that it had been several days since I last cried. I had been putting one foot in front of the other and functioning like a somewhat normal adult.
That doesn’t mean that I just “got over” what happened. Rather, over time, I learned how to live with what happened. Traumatic events change us and also have a way of helping us to prioritize what is really important in life. The last year has been a journey that has forced me to rely on my faith, my family, and my friends more than I ever have before. It is also a journey that will continue for the rest of my life long after I am surrounded by people who remember what happened in July 2014.
As I venture on the journey of pregnancy after loss and eventually, God willing, to raising children, I know that there will be many more firsts. Some will be the same as what other parents experience, while others will be painful reminders that my parenting journey is just a little different. Regardless, it is my journey, and it has made me into the person that I am today.
Happy 1st Birthday, St. Isabelle Clare.