“When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.” -Brene Brown
Our family photo that includes Nelle and Iris is now framed and prominently displayed in our living room, though its presence did not arrive without heartache.
I ordered an enlargement of the photo from Mpix.com, known for high quality prints. But that meant that unlike same-day pickup from Walgreens, I had to wait a few days for it to be shipped. Meanwhile, I ordered a frame on Amazon. It arrived, and I didn’t feel it was quite right. It was a black frame, and while the photo is black and white, the rest of the furniture in the room is brown or espresso. I found an alternative at Target that I thought would coordinate better. Now just to wait for the print to arrive.
It did, and I placed it in the frame. I moved another picture from the living room into another spot to make room. I needed to add another nail to the wall to accommodate the type of backing that my new frame had, so I set the framed picture on the kitchen table to hang as soon as the kids went to school.
In an instant, I heard a crash come from the kitchen. Theo’s backpack had been next to the frame. He managed to somehow swing it when picking it up and it knocked the frame to the floor. I gasped and stared at the broken glass covering my beloved photo. The bus’s arrival was imminent, so Ger ushered the kids outside while I cried and picked up the shards of glass. I was glad that they had left the house so that they wouldn’t see me cry. I couldn’t explain why I was so upset. I could easily get another frame. Was I upset at seeing the brokenness over my baby girls, as yet another reminder of their shattered lives? Or was I merely frustrated at Theo’s carelessness?
Either way, I had to replace the frame, immediately. I was supposed to make a phone call for work, but I made my excuses. In that moment, nothing was more important than making my frame whole again. I bought the exact same frame, brought it home, and immediately placed it on the wall.
Yesterday was my nanny’s last day with us, before a new nanny starts next week. She had commented on the family canvas in our entryway a few weeks ago, and I had also replaced the canvas with a new one from our family photo session a few weeks ago, so I asked her if she had noticed. She said that she had, and also commented that she saw the new photo in our living room, and asked about the two shadows of the little girls. I was not expecting her to notice, let alone say anything.
But I told her that we had two stillborn baby girls, after Quentin, before Autumn. My voice cracked. I asked her if she was familiar with the term “rainbow baby” and she said that she was. We were standing over Autumn’s crib, and I put my hand on my baby’s head and said “This is our rainbow baby. We have been waiting a long time for her.” Her question was exactly why I put that photo in our living room. So that people who don’t know our story might see it and ask. And so that I can become more comfortable telling it.
Later, I grappled with the fact that I used the words “two stillborn babies.” Medically, Iris was a miscarriage at 16 weeks, even though I had to go through Labor and Delivery in an identical process to Nelle. I shared my struggle over terminology with another loss mama. She reminded me that it is my story, my experience, to tell however I see true. I appreciated the validation. The labels often feel very unfair, as if lines drawn in the sand – at any gestational age – are supposed to somehow dictate how we should feel or justify their existence. They were both born. They were both still. That is my truth.