The air here in Northern Virginia has suddenly turned cool, the mornings and evenings just crisp enough to require a sweatshirt. It's pleasant to be outside again, and Ellie and I have started taking walks several times a day. Sometimes she pushes a baby doll in her doll stroller. Sometimes I push her in the real stroller. Sometimes we both walk.
Monday afternoon was one of the latter kind. We meandered our way out of our little court, down the sidewalk toward the adjacent elementary school. The air was cool and comfortable, absent of summer humidity, and Ellie ran along beside me happily, chattering about the playground where we were headed.
When we arrived, she took off toward the equipment, eager to climb and jump and slide, and I stood for a moment watching her, enjoying the pleasure of the weather and Ellie's delightful energy and the kicks of her baby sister inside me. I reflected on the independence Ellie has now acquired, independence that allows for us to leave the house with nothing but our keys and for me to stand and watch her at the playground instead of running around to ensure that she safely maneuvers her way through each piece of equipment.
Suddenly, I thought of Avaleen and how different my life would be if she were here. I'd have pushed her here in a stroller, with a bag full of diapers and wipes and burp cloths. She'd be almost ten months now, likely crawling, possibly working on her first steps. She'd need to be held, prevented from eating mulch, guided up steps and down slides. There would be no time for peaceful standing and reflecting.
I felt guilty in that moment for enjoying life as it is now. Of course, I'd take Avaleen back in a heartbeat if I could, would gladly embrace the challenges of being a busy mother of an infant and a toddler, but I know that's not possible. I know our lives will forever move on without Avaleen in them.
Recently, I've found increasing joy in those moments, even without her there, a joy that shortly after her death was impossible for me to imagine. I struggle though with guilt about that joy. I fear that experiencing joy somehow means I am forgetting her or losing sight of how important she was and is. I worry that our third daughter is somehow functioning as a replacement baby, even though I've never thought of her that way.
A friend who's also experienced a miscarriage told me recently that one day, suddenly, in the midst of a poolside conversation, she felt released to let go of her grief, to remember her baby but to no longer need to dwell on her loss. I haven't had a moment like that yet, but I've started to pray for one, to ask God to show me how to both keep on loving Avaleen and to enjoy the life we've been given without her.