Life in the In-BetweenApril 23, 2017 by Victoria Strong
Life is moving pretty fast these days. Days are full. Nights are foggy. Sleep is limited. And I've been living in the in-between, where illusion and reality blur.
Newborns do that. It's part of why this phase of life is seared into parents' bones. The late night rocking. The efforts to bring comfort. The days spent when only their life and needs matter. The new parent pride and feeling the whole world in the palm of their little hand. The soaking in every inch, knowing it won't last.
I've been here before. Life in the in-between. The sacred time when life slows almost to a stop, awakening the senses that dull in day-to-day business. When I can feel each inhale. Hear the rustling of leaves in the breeze. When sunset colors take on more vibrancy and seem a direct message from angels.
I've been here before. Life in the in-between. With two other newborns, yes. But I've lived in the in-between at other times, too. When I watch as experiences happen. Feeling every bit of them but the edges blur. The moment in focus. As if watching my life play on film.
As I stare at my third precious child, wearing her biggest sister's clothes, it's as if I'm there all over again. Nearly 10 years and three babies morph into one. Into the present. I not only remember I feel the memories in the layers of my skin. When I look at my newborn sleeping in my arms or grinning gratefully as she suckles, I feel the memories of her sisters doing the exact same things. Not a fleeting memory that passes through my mind. Life in the in-between allows me to experience those moments once again.
I've lived in the in-between in those last months with a full ripe belly, awaiting the new life to be. When each step is labored. When the quiet has such intention. When fully aware of the miracle of growing a human inside of me, the bond between mother and child blooming.
And I've felt it as baby transitions into this world. Each groan moving her forward and into my arms. So much out of my control and, yet, I'm inward and present. And clear about my purpose.
I lived in the in-between throughout so much of Gwendolyn's life. I slowed down, soaking in every inch of her, fully focused on that one moment, knowing time was a gift. The day of her diagnosis, I plunged deeply into the in-between -- edges blurred, senses heightened. I can still remember the cheerful heart romper she was wearing when the neurologist called to tell us our baby would die. Months, even years passed where her life and meeting her needs were all that mattered. And I was fully contented in her joy. As we periodically felt a sense of stability, normalcy, and allowed ourselves to step out, every crisis or each time we experienced a milestone we thought she'd never get to see, I moved right back to life in the in-between.
I've been here in her death. With such parallels to birth, the reality and memories blur together, seeming to come full circle. A peaceful calm amidst raw emotion. Like the guttural groans of labor, each sob pushed her out of my arms, as if I birthed her into the next world. My purpose was clear. Through tears, I caressed her and sang the same lullabies she loved as a baby. The same ones I now sing to comfort her littlest sister. My senses heightened, the specific calls of a bird in those early morning hours are now embedded in my soul and every time I hear this previously unfamiliar sound, I feel Gwendolyn ascending into heaven.
When Gwendolyn died, I plummeted deeper into the in-between than I ever have before. I felt in a dream. The mourning veil was so dense I could not only feel myself breathe but also the pauses between breaths. Days slowed almost to a standstill. I wasn't sure where the hours went, while simultaneously noticing every kernel of sand beneath my toes as I watched my busy toddler dig. I looked on at myself from afar, hovering between two worlds. My feet no longer grounded. My arms outstretched as if I could almost still reach Gwendolyn if I could just extend a bit further. Her presence still all around me like a wool shawl on my shoulders.
Life in the in-between.
Willa is now almost 4-months-old and I find myself coming out of the fog and already longing to feel that blur. Because it's in the in-between that I can still feel Gwendolyn. It's in the in-between that I feel comforted. That I can feel a semblance of each of my three children. It feels like home.
It's a beautiful place, life in the in-between. In many ways, it gave me enormous gifts. Perspective. But I know I cannot sustain here, that I'm not fully accessible here. Absorbing minutiae means other areas are neglected. While time seems to slow in the in-between, still it keeps whirling at a quick clip. And I don't want to miss a minute of my surviving children's lives.
It scares me to feel myself move out of the in-between. I don't know when or if I will get back here. Life is changing. I am.
I am beginning to feel my feet find balance on the ground once again. And just as the rain has soaked the parched California soil and brought forth new growth, I, too, have felt buds of myself eking toward the sun. New growth in an almost new world. A world in which I am making peace with a long distance relationship with my precious firstborn child. Accepting that this will eventually be enough. That the love and the gratitude will continue as constant beats, like the rhythm of my heart. And this new season will allow her presence to just be. Without the roaring intensity of constant pain. Quiet. Gentle. Yet ever present.
I haven't been here before.