Just inside the door, five young children carefully took in our faces as we entered the co-workers’ house for a barbecue. From a stroller parked inside the living room, just out of the way in the foyer/hallway, an almost-one-year-old boy peered out at Evelyn. Nearly the same age as him, her prematurity still shows in her smaller stature and inability to drunk-stumble around a room as he would demonstrate a few minutes later. A two-year-old girl sleepily lounged on her mother’s shoulders; her slitted eyes feigned sleep as she secretly kept tabs on the murmurings beneath her. Three grade-school-aged children kept a safe distance, busying themselves with their own maturity.
As the segregation of guests evolved, we slid into the room set up with a tin bucket filled with colorless wooden blocks, two more vividly hued toy sets, and a puzzle map of the United States. Propping myself up with a large cream-colored bean bag, my hand, in turn, propped Evelyn as she practiced sitting independently on the floor. Not trusting her ability as much as she did, my hand lightly graced her back, keeping the tilt from side-to-side in check.
Chit-chat amongst the adults–parents and non–swirled around current schools, summer plans, future schools, and sleep habits. At rare times, the conversation spun on its head to include ourselves: travel plans for the summer, future job aspirations, memories from a pre-kid time. Inevitably, the topic artfully steered itself back to the children: where will the kids go during the travel? How are plans made about the future revolving around the kids’ placement at good schools? How were things different in the past–not pre-kid, but with much younger kids?
Evelyn contently sat, watching each movement, turning to find each voice, smiling only when she felt safe enough to let her guard down. Enthralled with the two-year-old girl who was able to shed her sleepiness long enough to put together blue and green halves of squares and hexagons, Evelyn’s expression changed to one of awe and glee. Occasional throaty giggles escaped her previously shushed presence. Her blue eyes only left the little girl’s face when a more pressing investigation of a new sound had to be conducted.
The nearly-one-year-old boy toddled toward Evelyn, his thick legs–hidden behind his denim pants–lead the way to sturdy feet. In a mixture of crawling, walking, and dragging one leg alongside the other, this boy made the rounds of the room. Touching every toy and making eye-contact with every person, his two-toothed grin and inappropriate waving “goodbye” twenty times fascinated Evelyn. With so much to watch, she forgot she did not know how to reliably sit by herself for minutes at a time, or that she usually refused to use her right arm to weight bear. She ignored the fact that when we put her on her tummy, her first reaction is to roll over. She tried to scoot closer, pivot her body, and be just like them.
And for these moments, I forgot what it is like to be a mother of three angel babies. I forgot what it is like to be the one who had a child born alive, but one that did not survive. I forgot what it was like to be the one adult in a room without a child while inside screaming “I have babies too!”. I forgot what it was like to be the only one fully invested in a conversation and to not have one ear in the conversation and one eye on my baby. I forgot about a time, not long ago, when I would have felt welcomed yet uncomfortable with this crowd. I forgot what it felt like to be the downer of the group explaining where our baby was but always ending with something uplifting like “but we’ll try again!”. For these moments, as Evelyn was just like those other children, I was just like those other adults. I will never be just the mother of a baby who did not live. I am now the mother a baby who survived.