I have a tray in my bedroom dedicated to Nelle and Iris. On the tray, I have their framed footprints, some candles, an art print of the tree where their ashes are buried, and some other things.
During the holiday months, many of the items go into storage. In their place, I have a small Christmas tree with ornaments for Nelle and Iris. Last weekend, I packed away the tree and put the tray back to its everyday arrangement.
After doing this, Autumn (who is now 6 years old), stopped to peer intently at the tray. She's walked by it a million times but something in the switch made her pay attention this year.
A soft headband dangles around the corners of the art print. The headband has some delicate butterflies and flowers stitched on its dove gray fabric. A friend of mine made the headband for Autumn when she was born. We've had conversations before about her sisters, who died before she was born.
Next to the headband is a photo of Autumn, barely one day old, wearing the headband. She reached her hand out to grab it and look more closely and I quickly stopped her. The butterflies and flowers are so delicate; I was nervous she'd smoosh them.
"The butterflies are your sisters, Nelle and Iris," I told her. We've had conversations before about her sisters who died before she was born.
I continued. "You're a rainbow baby. Have you ever heard me call you a rainbow baby before?"
I was sure she hadn't. I've been cognizant that I've never really explained this to her. She knows that her sisters died, but she doesn't know how monumental it was that she came after. That she's the one we tried so hard to bring into the world.
"A rainbow baby is born after another baby has died," I told her. "Because when a baby dies, it's like a storm. And after a storm, there is a rainbow." I was conscious that my voice was breaking and a few tears were sliding down my cheeks.
I could tell she was processing the information. She then said, "I'm going to tell my whole class that I'm a rainbow baby. That I had sisters who died and I'm a rainbow."
That made my heart so happy.
A box sits on the tray. Intrigued by the conversation, Autumn asked if we could look in the box. I have a lot of things for Nelle and Iris in the box, but haven't opened it in years.
I agreed and we sat on the floor together. I gently pulled out my ultrasound photos. Cards people had sent me. The boxes from the funeral home that held their ashes. A teeny, tiny knit hat that the hospital gave us.
And a pair of baby shoes. I bought them for Nelle. It's how we announced my pregnancy: a photo, a line of our existing members' shoes, with the little baby shoes at the end.
I told Autumn that the shoes were for Nelle and it didn't feel right letting her (Autumn) have the shoes when she was born. Those shoes were meant for her sister, if she'd had a sister.
Without looking up, Autumn corrected me. "But I do have a sister. I have two sisters."
I was astonished by her wisdom. I try so hard to refer to Nelle and Iris in the present tense. They exist. I have five children, three living and two I hold only in my heart. Autumn caught the slight slip of my tongue, saying that she hadn't had a sister. When, in fact, she had.
"You're right," I said, "You have sisters. If your sister had lived, she would have worn these shoes."