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A goodbye letter to the daughter I never had

Every year when the cold weather sets in a family of mice join us in our kitchen. This gives me a nice (if forced) opportunity to reorganize all the drawers as I dust for rodent poop. I did such a thing on Saturday morning and I found something that I had forgotten: a little mason jar with homemade capsules in it, left over from last March.

"Hey Dan!" I called, elbow deep in vinegar cleaning spray, "I just found the last of Elijah's placenta. Can I bury it in the garden, or is the ground too cold now?"

I should pause here to say something superlative about my husband, the man who has already buried two placentas out back. This last decade as I have slowly transformed myself into a homemaker he has slowly transformed himself into a farmer. So when I asked after my ability to organically dispose of human tissue, he was all over it, answering: "Not too cold at all. I'm planting garlic today so you can just drop it in the ground then."

So later in the day I did just that. And even though the pills were far too small to affect soil content in any way, I felt a sense of healthy goodness about the action. Now Elijah has a little bit of his story implanted in our soil just like Zion and Harvey before him. And in turn I felt like I was letting go of something too. My last pregnancy maybe? The last-ness of my last pregnancy?

I don't know, but it felt good to do something final.

Elijah is eight months old now. As I watch him progress through each developmental stage I find myself secretly rejoicing that the previous stage is over. For Ever. The old clothes go in an outbox and from there go out of my house. I fantasize about sleeping getting progressively easier and then staying easier. And so every day as I push forward through life with three kids I feel a little door closing within me on my willingness to do it again from scratch.

I am excited for our family to grow older, not bigger. For outings without diapers or strollers. For learning opportunities where we can all learn together. I could say that feels sad, but it doesn't. It feels right and good and appropriate and safe.

But there is one thing that is sad in that admission. My willingness for my family to be complete means there is a part of my family that will never be. It means letting go of my dream of having a daughter.

Oh my fictitious daughter! How much space she has occupied in my mind for someone who doesn't actually exist.

So in the spirit of letting go I thought I would write her a letter. Let its posting serve as a virtual internment ceremony. Here it is.


Dear Betsy Jubilee,

I'm sorry I couldn't be your mama.

I wanted you so badly, little girl. I wanted to dress you in little white onesies with pink tutus attached. I wanted to braid your hair and secure your bangs with handmade hair clips. Oh how I was ready to sew you hair clips. I would make hair clips as fast as you could lose them, I told myself, and then I would happily make more hair clips.

Maybe it would never have really been so happily, though. Secretly I had mixed feelings about you.

I thought I wouldn't be a good mother to a daughter. I thought I would never know how to love a girl. I was afraid that I would unwittingly make you like me. I'd make you hate yourself and think you were fat and ugly. Girls need mothers who are strong and confident yet react with gentleness and patience. I am none of these things. I would have scolded you for being TOO EMOTIONAL and you would have screamed "I HATE YOU!" and slammed the door in my face. Then I would have cried that everything was just like I'd imagined it.

Yes, our relationship might have been a challenge.

Still, I wanted to make a go of it.

I knew that I was wounded and imperfect, and yet I thought we could have healed each other. I thought that in seeing you blossom and grow I'd become more accepting of myself. Maybe we could have learned to be strong women together. But that's a heavy load to place on a child, and I'm relieved for your sake that you were spared.

Dear Betsy I wish you could have met Elijah. You've never seen a kid so likened to a ray of sunshine. His face is like a fresh peach, soft and plump, and when he smiles it's like... it's like when you see a new invention and exclaim "Why didn't I think of that?" I wish God had given me both of you at the same time, Elijah AND the girl I always wanted. But God is wiser than me and is much better at seeing my limits, and I'm grateful for Elijah even if it meant missing out on you.

Because in truth is, Betsy, you aren't actually real.

You aren't a real person, Betsy Jubilee, you are a figment of my imagination. You are a name I gave to a possibility, a possibility that never had more than a 50% chance of coming true. So as much as it feels that I am letting you down when I say no more children, in reality I am letting myself down if I don't say it. I am letting myself down if I refuse to fully embrace reality because of some phantom image I have of what might have been.

So Betsy Jubilee, I'm choosing to say goodbye to you. Goodbye little girl who doesn't exist. May the emotional energy I've invested in you diffuse across the universe.

Harvey, Zion, and Elijah's Mama.

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