It's a milestone for so many families — dropping your child off for their first day of school. Some kids may cry as their parent drives away; others won't notice their absence, too busy exploring an exciting new classroom. As for parents, many moms will shed tears as they watch their child toting an over-sized backpack into school. I will be that mom in the coming weeks, but my tears are for a different reason.
Whether it’s preschool, Kindergarten, or for us, 1st grade, my daughter is anxiously counting down the days until she heads back to school. It’s an emotional milestone for so many families. Some children may be overcome with nerves, others filled with excitement as they race through the school’s front doors. Each year, it’s a day that I anticipate with mixed emotions. That’s because my daughter is our lone surviving triplet.
It’s something I never planned on when I was pregnant. Losing a child is the furthest thing from your mind as you’re embracing the joys of pregnancy. As the weeks passed by and my belly grew, I envisioned our perfect family of five. I pictured my daughter, Peyton, and her identical sister playing together, harassing their brother as he tried to get in on the fun. I pictured family dinners around the table, sharing tidbits of our day. And I pictured the first day of school with three little children, each one holding up a sign announcing they were off to the next grade.
But life threw my family a curveball, forcing us to navigate through a dark, grief-stricken road. After going into labor more than 17 weeks premature, our first daughter died within hours of birth. Nearly two months later, we were once again faced with heartbreak as our son died in our arms. The loss of a child changes your life forever. While not always visible, I carry the loss deep inside me, branded forever within my heart. As the years pass by, I’ve learned how to live life after loss, but the grief always remains, ready to tug at my soul without a moment’s notice.
As each school year approaches, I brace myself for an emotional year ahead. While I’ve learned how to balance the grief with joy, I remind myself that it’s OK to have moments of sadness. The first day of school will always be bittersweet. Instead of lining up three little backpacks, only one will be sitting by the front door. And as I say goodbye to my daughter at the drop off, I’ll always wonder what could have been. My heart aches as I think about my two children in heaven. They should be here. My daughter should have her siblings by her side.
While that first day will always be mixed with grief, it’s also a day filled with hope and joy. Six years ago, the thought of my daughter going to school had not even crossed my mind. Born at 22 weeks gestation, no one expected Peyton to lead a healthy life. Science and statistics were against us. During the early days in the NICU, my husband and I hoped for the best, but we braced for the worst. Yet, time and time again, our micro-preemie shocked her doctors. Six years later, she’s happy and healthy and eager to head off to First Grade.
In the coming weeks, many of us parents will be sending our children off to school. As I prepare for what will be an emotional day, I think of all of the parents with aching hearts.
The parents who lost their baby through miscarriage or still birth and the parents who held their children, only to watch them leave this earth too soon. The first day of school is a milestone we all dreamed of, but life doesn’t always go as planned.
As I watch my surviving triplet walk into her new classroom, a sense of pride will mask the grief. This little girl who was once attached to oxygen tubes, is now breaking free; her independence symbolic of all that she has overcome in her life. As I pull away from the school, the tears of happiness and grief will set in. I am a mother to a child here on earth and two children in Heaven and it’s OK to feel both joy and deep sadness. Life is full of bittersweet moments. My children gave me more strength than I ever thought possible, and that strength coupled with love will get me through that first day of school.