Right Where I Am: 5 years, 5 months

Right Where I Am: 5 years, 5 months

My husband is laboring. In the humid heat that feels like a tropical rainforest but without the shade, he cuts lumber, levels ground, measures holes. The long-promised backyard playset is nearly completed, and my daughters’ excitement is palpable. For as long as I can remember, they have wanted a swingset in our backyard.

At the old house, with a 20 by 20 foot backyard, it simply wasn’t possible. When we bought that house as first time homebuyers and parents of one, Evelyn was only 4 months old. We weren’t worried about space for her to run because she wasn’t even eating solid food yet, or crawling, or demanding trees to climb in and swings to ride with her pudgy legs kicking forward and back, forward and back.

And then Beatrice was stillborn in February 2006, when Evelyn was just a tot. Getting a swingset was the last thing on our minds.

Then Charlotte was born later that year, and then Calvin was born last fall, and James and I looked at each other and knew it was time.

When we were shopping around online and looking at our options, I found myself insisting that the swingset we build have four swings.

Both Evelyn and Charlotte love having friends over for playdates. But the fourth swing isn’t for a spare child visiting for the morning.

In my heart, I have four children. That swing would not be “extra.”

Beatrice is not an extra, sitting in the wings, never getting her chance to shine. She is a part of every family photo, every precious tableau of my living children. Were she alive, we would never buy a swingset with just three swings, because one child would always be left swingless, and that simply wouldn’t do.

Five years and five months after Beatrice’s death and birth, I still think of her every day. It’s not the all-consuming grief of the first year. It’s often more a subconscious recollection of the hole in my life and it subtly comes to the front of my mind that not all babies get to be born alive.

When my sister, who is halfway through her first pregnancy, calls but doesn’t leave a voicemail on my phone, I put off calling her back. It’s as though, if something dreadful happened to her baby, I can have those few hours before receiving word, and it won’t really have to have happened.

Illogical. Impossible. I have no conscious fear that my to-be-born niece or nephew will die. But Beatrice’s death split apart any sense of security I used to feel about the order of things.

When I receive a call saying that a friend’s baby has died, which has happened a handful of times to acquaintances, friends, and friends of friends in the years since Beatrice, it’s almost as though I already knew.

I don’t mean that I have some sixth sense for whether a pregnancy will end with a healthy baby. I just mean that a subconscious, deep-mother part of myself is no longer surprised by death, even death of a baby. It’s horrifying and brutal and immeasurably sad. But it’s not surprising.

For the most part, my day-to-day life with only three children is full. It’s vibrant and busy and hard. And I imagine that it would be even more full and vibrant and busy and hard had Beatrice lived, were she nearly 5 and a half years old, starting kindergarten this fall.

Our new swingset is going to get a lot of use. Calvin is a baby monster, just starting to crawl and climb up on things. Like his sisters do, I’m sure he’ll like swinging for hours on end. He might even climb up over the monkey bars and give me heart palpitations watching him.

And there will always be an empty swing. It won’t always make my heart ache like it does sometimes. Mostly, it will just feel a little bit sad. But also just about right.


This post was inspired by Angie over at Still Life With Circles. You can check out where she is and the many other babylost parents who are also participating in the Right Where I Am project.


One comment

  1. Thank you for sharing where you are, Janel, and how little Beatrice changed you. I think your 4th swing is a perfect little piece of remembering.


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