By Jennifer Massoni Pardini
We lost you nearly four years ago on a Saturday in June.
“He’s beautiful,” my nurse said as she placed your quiet body in my arms, your catastrophically halved heart not struggling to keep your perfect ears and sleeping eyes alive. As I held you, I wondered if your soul was still there with us, or if it had already slipped back into the warm, watery wonder from which you came. Did you feel my lips on your cheek? Did you hear our hopes for you and the lifetime of “I love yous” I tried to fit into a fistful of moments?
From the moment I let you go I started looking for you.
It took some time, as I broke down every few hours, as I began pouring it all into the notes of a mother mad with love, as I told an empty room that I didn’t want to be alive because you weren’t.
Then, I started finding you. In a sandy heart of stone on what should have been your due date. In another drawn and dried into the sidewalk underfoot. Then in fallen leaves and passing shadows and melting snow.
I published an essay about how we honored your due date. I wrote about our choice because if I am going to write about you I am going to tell the truth. Then about the baby we lost after you, long before I could know of him or her all that I know of you. Then about your hearts and all of your messengers around the world helping to find them. Every word I’ve written since that day has been about you; it’s my way of raising you.
Hearts and words have brought pieces of me back to life again, but—maybe—I’m only wholly coming alive this minute. Being asked to write these words in particular has made me realize something: I am ready to let go of the guilt I’ve harbored out of fear. Because I saw your heart was ready to fly and set you free, I fear others assume I somehow loved you less, that I was somehow selfish, that I somehow didn’t fight in asking you not to, that I somehow didn’t also lose you.
I didn’t feel this guilt when I held you. Or even for days afterward. Your dad hasn’t harbored it. It came down on me when I felt the heavy, institutional judgment that pervades our culture, its religions, its politics, and its systemic message that a woman is a vessel before she is a compassionate mind or a heartbroken parent or any kind of life of her own. It’s everywhere: a headline in the news, a bumper sticker on the car idling at a traffic light, in the stigma that tries to silence stories like mine. But in the intensity and specificity of parenting you the best way we were able, that fog fell away. It came down to you, your dad, and me—and you were free. Loved, wanted, and free.
In coming alive, I return to that sense of freedom, of protecting you from your suffering. It’s my job, still, to protect you.
In coming alive, I want to be seen as a parent who also served the needs of her dying child.
I come alive with that knowledge and self-acceptance.
I come alive with your hearts and the good feeling—always—that they, that you give me. I promise I will find all of them.
Four years ago, I made a choice. Like a wave at my back I felt the pressure of it coming before we knew what direction it would push us in. It pushed me through to the way I got to meet and hold you because when the pressure within came, you came with it. The pressure all along with you, from you. And you have kept pushing me.
To speak from an open heart. To break through the silence. To join arms and embrace this as my purpose.
To not hide away out of fear, but to commit myself to helping others feel less alone in loss and grief. That solidarity is healing.
To bring your sister into the world and accept the salve of her breath and happiness and palms on my cheeks. This motherhood is no more or less a privilege than the one you gave me.
To teach her and the new little sister on the way the lessons you have taught. Your sisters are here because of you.
To accept the hard days that still come. To stop and cry and breathe through them.
To know that a version of myself was shed when I met you. It’s OK. I don’t want her back. I need to feel different in order to project the significance of your life.
To not allow anyone else to alter the peace we gave you.
To feel the power of what your dad and I have created in making our family, in our children both here with us and somewhere else. Whenever I find four hearts now, I am given a rare glimpse of all of you together.
Jennifer Massoni Pardini is a writer, mother, and heart collector. Since losing her first child, Lorenzo, she has dedicated her voice to helping the baby loss community. One of her greatest forms of healing has been found in writing about her son, and his story has appeared in, among others, The New York Times’ Motherlode, The Washington Post Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Literary Mama, and Modern Loss. Learn more on her website and The Chain-Link Heart Project (#chainlinkheartproject on Twitter and Instagram).