In the immediate days and weeks following Kenley's death, I couldn't look at pictures taken of me before we lost her. I couldn't stand to see a picture of my swollen belly, of my smiling face, of happier times. When scrolling through photos on my phone or tagged pictures on facebook, I knew exactly which picture marked the point of no return - the picture I could not swipe past unless I wanted to unleash the deluge of tears that was always perched so precariously behind my eyes. That boundary was hard and fast and I didn't dare test it. I knew what would happen. I knew seeing a photo from my baby shower would send me into a downward spiral. A snapshot of me eating spaghetti from a bowl on my stomach would rip my heart in half. But, my maternity pictures were the worst. Those were the ones that really unraveled me to the core.
When you take maternity pictures, you plan for weeks what outfit you are going to wear. You think about what will showcase your silhouette in the most flattering way. If you pick an outfit out today - are you sure it will still fit that way when the photo shoot comes around? You want to look adorable and pregnant, but not fat. (My legs and ankles were so freakishly swollen, I made my photographer shoot from the knees up for most pictures) Once you have your outfit(s) picked out, then you have to think of your husband's. He should coordinate, but not match. When you ask him what he wants to wear, he shrugs and says he doesn't know..he'll figure it out. You think about all the maternity pictures you have ever seen in your life and make a list in your mind about the ones you loved and the ones that made you cringe. You go to your photographer with your ideas. You bring props. It's a big deal. At least it was for me.
To me, my maternity pictures remind me not only of the daughter I lost, but of the care and time and effort I put into making my first photos of her special. Seeing them make me remember my excitement and anticipation over becoming a mother. They make me remember the joy I felt in being so close - yet so far away. Looking at those pictures, I don't just think of losing Kenley, I think of losing the woman I was in those photos. The happy, carefree mother -to -be whom I can never be again. The innocence captured in those pictures is precious and fragile. It would be shattered less than a month later - and it will never be recovered. That's a hard thing to accept. It's a little like a Titanic survivor looking at a photo of the mighty ship docked at port. How grand! How majestic! How could we have known it was doomed?
Today, looking at pictures from my maternity shoot is a little less painful than it was at the beginning. Not much, but still some. Part of what I am trying to do to heal is to remember the joy simply for what it was - joy. I can't dwell on the fact that it was shattered - that I was shattered. My pregnancy is the only thing I have to remember her. I have no other memories - and I am determined to salvage the joy within them. If I let myself get caught up in the dark side of remembering, then I will never be able to find happiness when I think of my daughter. I refuse to let myself get bogged down in that swamp - to let her memory, her light and wonderful memory, be soiled by sadness. So, now, when I look at my maternity pictures, I push away the sorrow as hard as I can. It's still there, but not as thick. It doesn't cloud the entire picture. I look at myself smiling and I remember her kicking inside. I remember her alive. My baby - alive. That is how I want to think of her. As a swirling ball of arms and legs inside my belly - a kicking and punching ninja who made me beam with joy simply because she was alive. I will remember her. I will remember being happy. And I will smile because I had that time with her. It's not easy. It's a very conscious effort - but I am doing it.
Just because a story ends in tears, it doesn't mean we forget about the middle, where there was joy.
I will remember her with joy because that's who I am - and that's what she deserves.