The Cardigan by Helene Jangenfält

My sister and I are sorting clothes. She has brought me two bags of things, which her little boy has outgrown. He’s just a month older than my youngest, but he’s fourteen pounds already and looks like he’s six months old when we put him next to my little one who we just recently brought home from the NICU and who weighs a modest five.

“Oooo look at this!” My sister exclaims. “It’s so small I think your little one may have outgrown it already. Mom must have made this for Benji.”

I take the tiny little knitted cardigan from her and press the material against my cheek for a second. It amazes me how it can still be so incredibly soft after all these years…

He has not outgrown it, and the cardigan wasn’t made for our brother. Our older sister knitted it for my eldest son when he was in the NICU. I remember the first time I put it on him. He was growing so fast that he only got to wear it once or twice. He was such a little trooper that we could bring him home after only three weeks.

It seems so crazy now, but I don’t remember being especially worried after the first twenty-four hours. From the moment I was allowed to take him out of the incubator and hold him, I was convinced he would make it. My baby brother had been born in week twenty-nine, so with the logic of the twenty-year-old version of myself I figured that having carried my little miracle for three weeks longer, I was on the safe side.

That was before I knew that there is no such thing as “the safe side.” This time around I rarely put my baby down, and when I do I keep him nearby at all times.

Today, I can smile at that naive girl who didn’t yet know what it meant to lose a piece of her soul—so proudly putting a cardigan on her baby and bringing him home, not doubting for a moment that everything would be fine.

But as always at such times, my smile has a touch of tears and broken dreams and I remember when I gave that same cardigan back to my sister, along with all the other baby clothes when she had a son of her own, after it had been made so cruelly clear to me that my own little Andreas would never get to wear it. They should have been the same age. Should even have been born just a few days apart…but only one little cousin was allowed to make it.

The feeling of the missing boy’s tiny little body is forever engraved in my hands; they remember him still, even now when the years have done their part to blur the memory.

But I say nothing of this. People don’t want to hear about what you’ve lost when you should be happy and grateful for the little rainbow baby sleeping in the stroller right next to you.

They will never understand, that for the most part all I breathe is the happiness of little tiny hands holding on to my finger, with the same strong grip with which they are holding on to life.

For the most part, my heart beats with nothing but gratitude when this little rainbow baby wakes me up at night, with a cry which expects and demands. I’m thankful for every chance to hold him, nurse him, and sing him back to sleep.

For the most part my thoughts are preoccupied with nothing but keeping this little miracle content at my breast.

For the most part, they don’t have time to go astray to a rainbow in the sky, shining down on that beautiful place among the trees, where the running water nearby sings a lullaby to another little miracle forever sleeping there.

For the most part…

And yet, just the fact that my life is so full now has given me more reason than ever to remember. Holding this wonderful little miracle in my arms has made me happy beyond words, while at the same time all those things which I never got to experience with his brother have become so real, that there are moments when I breathe nothing but the painful loss of the memories we never got the chance to make.

But it’s a matter of moments now. Many, frequent moments, but not hours, days and months.

But she’s not gonna want to hear about that…

So instead I bury my face in the little garment as if the scent of the baby that never got to wear it could still linger there. But all I smell is fabric softener and there’s not so much as a trace of that wonderful baby fragrance, not even from the four little cousins who have joined our family since that day 10 years ago, which is forever painted black in my mind’s eye.

Still, there’s so much hope in that two little cousins have been safely brought into this world, only a month apart. Two little cousins this time, not just one. No one forced to just sit back and watch with nothing but empty arms and dreams of what should have been, as her eldest son plays soccer with his cousin instead of his little brother.

And now, here in this moment, there’s suddenly a strange sense of healing in the notion that our little rainbow baby will get to wear something that should have been Andreas’s in another life, with a different outcome, as if the universe is trying to make up for its previous mistake.

“I’m sure he could still wear this,” I say, as I lovingly put the cardigan down in the pile with clothes to keep. My sister quickly hands me something else.

And as the course of life goes… we move on.

Author Bio:

Since January 2011, when she was put on bedrest due to early contractions and a history of multiple miscarriages, Helene has been taking a break from all other duties, such as: playing showdown for the Swedish national team and writing scripts in order to make poker software accessible to other blind poker players. Instead she writes about baby loss and childhood cancer and tries to focus on being the best mom that she can to the children she’s been lucky enough to get to keep. She has a teenager who is the pride of her heart at all times (when she’s not ready to put him up for sale on the black market) and a wonderful little rainbow baby who, at almost 11 months old, is the bravest little miracle she knows. He reminds her every day of what true love is all about. They both do. Helene shares her story at A Reason To Stay Alive.


Photo Credit: Helene Jangenfält

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  1. Beautiful. Thank you for writing this. I just entered the third trimester of my rainbow pregnancy, and this is how I anticipate feeling . . .

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