Bridget writes: My new baby, my third and probably last child, is almost six months old. I have only had the honor of calling her mine for mere months, but Nayana and I have a history that goes back years before the quiet October night when I held her fresh, slippery body in my arms for the first time. Back before my two boys were no more than wishes in my heart, whispers foretelling a girl in our family would come to me in times of solitude.
I believe I first “met” the soul of this baby girl eight years ago, just before my first son Kiran came to us. Before his conception, there was an earlier pregnancy, one that ended almost as quickly as it had begun. For a few brief weeks, I felt a girl presence with uncanny certainty and spoke with her on hot summer hikes through the local woods. Before she went away in a sudden gush of despair, she sowed the seed of an understanding that would slowly unfold and blossom within me. After the miscarriage, the seed lay dormant, my grief overwhelming any recognition of the gift she had given us. Years later I would come to comprehend what had happened, not in any logical way that I can “prove,” but in a deeply spiritual way. I look back on that summer of loss, and now I only feel joy. Kiran was conceived within months of the miscarriage and born the following summer. His own earthly incarnation as my son would not have been possible had that first loss not occurred.
The kindergarten teacher in me envisions a line of children in heaven, waiting their turn to be born. At the front of that line, a girl looked back at a boy and said, you should go first. I’ll wait. I believe that eight years ago I was briefly visited by that girl before she stepped back to allow her future big brother to come first. And having spent nearly seven years with Kiran, I am realizing how being firstborn is such an integral part of his own journey.
My notions of who that lost baby was and who she would become have come to me gradually. Kiran was born, and I relished my new status as a mother. I craved another child as soon as Kiran was out of the newborn phase, but Nirav wasn’t meant to join us until almost three years later. When our second child was born, and I found I was the mother of another boy, I rejoiced. I’d always envisioned myself the mother of boys, had never been one of those women desperate to have a daughter, and other than that first brief pregnancy, had never had an inclination that I was carrying a girl. Time passed and the beauty of two brothers growing up together was magical to witness. My husband was convinced that our family was complete. For many logical reasons I agreed with him.
But, logic lives in the mind, not the heart. They say a mother knows when she’s done having children. No matter how I tried to convince myself that two healthy boys were enough, there was an aching void. A deep, uncomfortable silence grew in our marriage. Outgrown clothes went into the attic, where they waited “just in case.” A blank baby book was set aside. A woolen baby cap was ordered along with the boys’ long underwear. I quietly stashed these things in the wake of my husband’s reluctance. I understood his arguments, and even had reasons of my own for stopping at two. I’ve always been drawn to symmetry and neatness. Two boys, companions for life. A family of four that fits easily in a small car or at a restaurant table. Boys independent enough to give us a sense of the freedom that comes as the toddler years pass.
And the biggie…Waldorf school for the kids’ education and my own professional journey. I’d spent years immersing myself in anthroposophy-based trainings. Five years in, I was offered a job in a Waldorf school with promising opportunities. Our youngest was finally independent enough for me to consider working. We could foresee managing Waldorf school tuition for two. But a third might put us over the edge, and a new baby would put a wrinkle in my career path. Yet…I knew deep in my being that there was one more, a little girl child, who was meant to join us. Even as I embarked on our new life as a Waldorf family, teaching in the school where I’d set my heart years ago for our family, just as the dream was becoming a reality… something, someone, was missing. In fact, that someone had been speaking to me all along and now was speaking to me more, in new and multiple ways.
I felt her spiritual presence; I felt the void where a third child should be. I’d waver back and forth between logic and gut feeling. I’d put her out of my mind, reasoning my way out of wanting another child. Still, no matter how much I doubted, she kept coming around. Over the years since the miscarriage, I’d been “hearing” her when I was out for a hike, or sitting by the crashing waves of Lake Superior, or listening to the kindergarten birthday story. She had often sought me out in winter, particularly deep in the snowy woods, the only sound my skis shushing along narrow trails. When the distractions of the day faded away, when a hush would fall around me, I’d find myself in touch with something higher than this earthly world. And in that place, a little girl was waiting. She was telling me to be patient. In times of marital stalemate, she would reassure me that it would be okay. In the darkest of emotional times, each winter when I was trying to find the light, she spoke to me. Be patient. I’m coming. It will be okay. I’ll talk to Papa. Don’t worry.
Our last “conversation” took place within a week of her conception. The previous spring, after years of debate, my husband and I had finally come to a place of agreement. But Nayana wasn’t ready as soon as we were. It seems she had one more message to offer before her incarnation as a mute newborn. It was January. We had been trying to conceive throughout the summer and fall, had some setbacks, and had arrived at another winter. We’d just had snow, a very rare snowfall during the warmest winter on record. In fact it was the only time that entire winter I got out my skis, and in hindsight that timely snowfall seems a matter of heavenly intervention. As I skied through the woods, my mind mulled over a particularly bad week at work. It may seem dramatic to characterize the previous week’s events as “wrestling with the devil”, but honestly that was the phrase that kept coming to me. I had never experienced anything quite like the deep undercurrents of discontent that I had unwittingly stumbled upon.
I was halfway through my first year as an enthusiastic new staff member and parent in this school, where I had emotionally committed my family for most of the next two decades, and I had been jolted into the awareness that all was not perfect, that in fact there were deep fissures in our community. With heaviness in my heart, I wondered if I’d blindly led my family into the lion’s den. To top it all off, here it was another winter, the first winter we were in agreement about another baby, but a viable pregnancy was eluding us. I was ready to give up, to be convinced once and for all that two children was my destiny. Heavy issues. What a waste of a beautiful day in the woods.
And then I looked up. The trees around me were different, almost ethereal. Instead of the usual haphazard arrangement of limbs, the bare branches and trunks of these trees seemed to be bending and pointing to the sky, forcing my gaze to look toward the heavens. I’d look down, blink my eyes, then look up again. More trees, oddly configured, drawing my eyes upwards. No voice this time, but it was her. I knew it. Everything will work out. I skied on, coming to a clearing. There in front of me was a large skeletal tree alone in the middle of this clearing, dominating my vision. It looked mostly dead, yet it stood there radiating glory. It was not a burning bush with angels hovering about, but it was inexplicably supernatural. Its vibrancy called to mind the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth. As a skier, I generally move fast. I don’t tend to linger. But this grand dying tree literally stopped me in my tracks and kept me there for a long while.
I was struck so deeply that I remember returning to school the next week, feeling much stronger, ready to face what had been trying to usurp me the previous week. Gathered around the kindergarten table, I tried to describe that tree. Words failed me, but the messages I heard stayed with me. She had spoken again. Death and birth each have their proper place in the cycle. Difficult times test us, make us stronger if we let them, and eventually they will pass. And, of course the message she had always given. Don’t worry, I’m coming.
Of course, it would make a great story for me to say that I felt the moment of her conception in front of that grand tree. But in reality she silently began her physical manifestation without my awareness. A few weeks after that ski amidst the talking trees, a positive pregnancy test was my Valentine’s Day gift. Counting back on the calendar, I realized that she probably had already been on her way that day in the woods. So began the next phase in our relationship.
As my baby slowly grew within, things within the school community began moving in positive directions and my outlook brightened dramatically. Once again I felt we were in the right place. My boys were blossoming with their teachers, and I could look down through the coming years and see a thriving, healthy community for our family. No longer was I wearing the rose colored glasses I’d worn when the school year started, when all seemed to be beautiful in this paradise. There was a deeper sense of truth within me along with an understanding that the baby growing inside me was coming to be an intimate part of this community. She came in a time of turmoil, I believe, because she has a role to play here. We are a group of people, fully human with all of our frailties and shortcomings, who nevertheless are committed to fully developing the spiritual capacities of ourselves and our children. I could feel something of this baby’s destiny in the gazes of my coworkers and fellow parents as they watched my growing belly.
Now, a year later, Nayana is here and our family has reconfigured ourselves comfortably. My husband is smitten with his baby girl, the boys are flourishing in their roles as big brothers, and I have found the peace of soul that comes when a mother knows all her children have arrived. And as we make the daily trip to school to drop off and pick up her brothers, Nayana gazes intently at the faces in our community, reciprocating smiles and infecting others with happiness. I am continually amazed at the niche Nayana has already carved out for herself in a world still so new and fresh for her. She has deepened my understanding of birth’s place on the cyclical round of life. Her reincarnation has begun and time will tell what mark her destiny will leave on the rest of us.
Many of the beautiful photographs you see in this blog post were taken by Jen Husz of Jen Husz Photography.
Bridget Shetty has been teaching and working with young children in many capacities throughout her life. She is currently tending the growth of her own three young children and their backyard garden, while daydreaming of squeezing a chicken coop and beehive under their play structure.
We thank you for stopping by to enjoy this article. If you would like to share your experiences working with children in a LifeWays home or center, please feel free to contact Mara Spiropoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org. She would be thrilled to work with you to share your wisdom and experiences on the LifeWays blog.