I learned a new term today: Marker Baby. I’m not sure how widespread it is, but I was reading a blog and the woman referred to a family member’s baby as a ‘marker baby’. So, what is a marker baby? A marker baby is a baby born around the same time as a miscarried child was due. It is the baby who represents every milestone that you will never experience with your baby who was born in heaven rather than here on earth. While every pregnancy and birth announcement is difficult for someone enduring infertility, it is the presence of these particular marker babies that are the most painful…at least that was the case for me.
We announced the pregnancy of our first child to our church family almost as soon as we found out. Promptly after the service, I was greeted by a former member of our youth group. Yes, she was all grown up and married…even had one little girl already. She came up to me very excited and let me know that she was expecting as well. She hadn’t told me yet because she knew it would be difficult for me. I was genuinely excited for her and even surprised at how quickly my attitude could change toward such announcements. Just two weeks prior this news would have sent me crying to my room emerging only for a gallon of ice cream. Now that I was pregnant, my whole perspective changed. How fun would it be to have two babies so close in age to each other in the church!? However, as so many people can relate, life does not always turn out as planned. When I miscarried, not only were my dreams of parenthood shattered, but that pregnancy connection we had together no longer existed. We would not share those pregnancy moments together. Our children would not play in the nursery together. It was NOT that I ceased to be excited for her, but the more her belly grew, the more it reminded me of all I was missing.
To add insult to injury, another friend at church later found out that she was pregnant, too…and she was given the exact same due date as my baby. Over the months I got to watch these two friends talk about their pregnancies, share stories, and await their upcoming bundles of joy. It was a club to which I should have belonged and yet there I was sitting on the sidelines. I don’t think there are words to describe how incredibly difficult this was for me.
Shortly after I announced my pregnancy with Jessica, one of these same ladies announced that she was pregnant as well. As excited as I was for her, I was shocked to find that familiar ‘twinge’ in my stomach. Why was I so hesitant to fully share in her joy? At first I figured that I simply wanted to be a ‘pregnancy joy hog’ and soak up all the congratulations for myself. Could I really be that selfish? Possibly…if I were to be completely honest. More likely, though, it was that reminder of the club to which I hadn’t belonged and the fear that once again I would have to experience a ‘marker baby’ if I lost my baby. It was a real possibility that I couldn’t bear to imagine.
It has been a little over three years since I lost my first baby and my marker babies had their 2nd birthday’s this past spring. I have watched them (albeit not that closely) learn to crawl, walk, begin to talk, and develop their wonderful and unique personalities. Even though it has been 3 years since our loss, I am often surprised at the feelings these children instill in me. I see them and still wonder about the child that I never got to hold. Even writing this makes me tear up as I grieve the loss of my first child.
So what hope is there for childless parents who have such children in their lives? These marker babies have been born to sisters, best friends, and other people who will forever be a part of our lives. These are not children that can be ignored or dismissed, they are children we will embrace and mentor and watch grow for years to come. They will, indeed, experience all the dreamed about milestones and be constant reminders of the child that was lost. How does one even begin to reconcile that relationship? First, I had to realize that 20 years from now, I would be in a very different place emotionally. Twenty years from now I knew I would look back, see how God built my family, and stand in awe of His plan. Why is this important? Because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t making permanent decisions that I would regret. Yes, I fully embrace the concept of skipped baby showers and baptisms. Yes, it is important to give yourself the needed time and space to grieve and not put yourself in situations that will send you 10 steps backward in the healing process. Know, though, that you will experience joy again and at that time you don’t want to look back with regret over things you missed and will never be able to go back and experience. As much as we want life to stop during our grieving process (and believe me, I hated that the world kept going when all I wanted was to scream that my life had ended when I lost my baby), life does indeed continue and there are no do-overs. My encouragement is simply to not make permanent decisions during temporary circumstances…no matter how permanent your circumstances may feel at the time.
If you are the proud parent of somebody’s marker baby, I guess the best advice I have for you is to let your friend take the lead with their interaction with you, your family, and the baby. More than anything, she knows that every child is a blessing and on some level she is rejoicing for you. However, she must deal with her joy for you and her sadness over her own loss on her own terms. While holding and embracing a marker baby may be good therapy for some women, thrusting your child into your friends arms may very well send her into hysterics as soon as she can run away, hide and cry (yes, I know this from experience). If you find your friend distancing herself from you, please know that it is not personal nor is it permanent. In reality, she would like nothing more than to fully embrace your pregnancy/child, but just cannot bring herself to do it because she is so heartbroken over her loss. Most likely she feels like a terrible friend because she cannot be the friend to you that you deserve. She may even feel guilty over not holding up her end of the bargain, so to speak, when it comes to the experience you both hoped to share together. She misses the friendship that you shared, but doesn’t know how to restore it right now. These wounds take time to heal. Cry with her, pray for her (she most likely has no idea how to pray for herself) and allow her to grieve for as long as she needs. Give her that time and space she needs and be there for her when she takes that first step in your direction.
Last, a word to those caught in the middle of this dynamic. One Sunday shortly after the birth of my marker babies, my parents came to visit our church. My mother immediately was drawn to one of the babies not realizing how excruciating it was for me to watch her ooh and ahh over the child. I quietly left the room, unable to bear it any longer. Later she found me and asked why I left. After I explained to her the dynamic I had witnessed, she was heartbroken to have caused me pain…it never dawned on her that her affections for the baby would be a reminder of the love that should have been directed toward my child, a child we never got to dote on so lovingly. I share this not to tell people to ignore a marker baby when in the company of the grieving parent, but simply to be aware of the dynamic relationship that exists. I don’t know of any woman who would desire her marker baby to be ignored…to do so would cause immeasurably more pain because she would be the cause of the withheld affection. All she wants is for you to recognize that she still remembers and grieves the loss of her child. Give her a warm touch to let her know that you remember, too. Then perhaps help her find a more peaceful part of the room where her emotions aren’t as easily triggered….preferably the spot closest to the liquor cabinet. 😉