The sun was yawning its way down the horizon line as I stood on a beach in the Carolinas.

I had stepped away from the crowd and stood just beyond the wave line in a short, blue cotton dress as I took in the views following the final rehearsal for my sister-in-law’s wedding.

I was feeling—well—gorgeous and glowing.

I rubbed my hands along my round belly and felt the little kick from the 7-months-brewing new life growing underneath those blue, cotton fibers. I looked down at my bump and then up to the sky where I had taken my eyes so many times . . . thanking God for the gift he had put back inside my womb.

The day happened to be the due date of my first pregnancy that I had lost eight months prior—something that had privately been on my mind since I had opened my eyes that morning. Inside I felt incredible turmoil while outwardly, I acted in a way that wouldn’t take away from the celebratory events of the weekend.

But at that moment in the sand, I felt a sudden wave of emotion come barreling in. It was guilt.

Impossible. Overwhelming. GUILT. 

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Guilt for feeling gorgeous. 

Guilt for being thankful THIS baby was in my womb when another baby couldn’t survive in there. Guilt for moving on. 

Guilt while imagining our angel baby looking down on my happiness and feeling forgotten.

It’s a guilt I silently carried with me for a while. 

A guilt that would show up in the middle of the night in the shadows of the nursery lamp as I nursed my newborn back to sleep and imagined what my first baby would have been like. A guilt that would arise every September when that supposed to be due date would come and go as quickly as my growing toddler came in and out of the kitchen.

A guilt that I now know so many other mothers like me have felt before, too.

Just recently, I followed behind that now-9-year-old daughter up the stairs as she was on her way to bed. As she snuggled into her covers, I kissed her forehead the way I always do and she giggled like she always does when I told her how lucky I was to be her mom.  

As I was leaving her room, I noticed her feet sneaking out from underneath her blanket, and the moment unexpectedly stopped me in my tracks. 

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My mind, for no obvious reason, immediately went to thinking about that day on the beach when those same feet were kicking me from within the womb as I navigated the confusion of gratitude and guilt existing together in that space.

And just like the wave of feeling ran me over as I stood in the sand nine years prior, this time I was overcome with calm . . . and an overwhelming feeling that my tiny angel was in the room.

I closed my eyes and imagined a little girl standing there holding hands with Jesus watching me carry out the mothering duties I originally thought would be for her. 

But this time, she wasn’t sad.

She was proud.

Proud of her role in carrying out God’s already laid out plan for me, knowing that this is where I was meant to be all along.

And shewhere she was meant to be, too.

For years, I asked God why He didn’t let me hold that first baby while every day still thanking him for the chance to wrap my arms around the ones who are here.  

The ones who are here because another one is not.

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As my three kids get older, I’ve thought about how and when I’ll tell them about the baby who came before them. And I hope they see it the way I do now.

That while it was a loss on earth, it was an angel gained for all of us in Heaven. 

An angel who I wholeheartedly believe knew she was only meant to be here for a little while. An angel who embraced her role as the gateway for three more angels to walk this earth.

And tonight as the sun yawns its way down from another day’s work, I raise my eyes back up to the sky . . . grateful to God for those little feet sticking out from underneath the blanket.

And grateful for the ones that never got to step foot on earth . . .

But are dancing with joy in Heaven.

Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, speaker and photographer who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. Through her work, she aims to empower people to overcome their fears and insecurities and live their truth. She and her husband raise their three children in Pittsburgh, PA.