In the halls of the maternity ward of Jackson-Madison County General, there hangs a three part banner, the center of which you see here. It can be found around the corner from the waiting room, the center section proclaiming its purpose while the two ends are covered in pale lavender circles, each bearing a child’s name . . . or perhaps two or even three names. There may be a date for each name, sometimes two dates very close together. But never a weight. Never a length. Never a time. Those numbers aren’t important. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure little else matters because these children never went home with their parents.
For some of the families, there is only one circle, bearing one name. But one family’s circle began with a daughter born in 2006. Slightly less than a year later, her brother was born and slightly less than a year after that, a third child to whom a first name was never given.
On the other end of the banner is a grouping of six, all bearing the same last name, but only one whose circle bears a full name—the first one born in 1997. The others followed quickly . . . 1999 . . . 2001 . . . 2002 . . . 2003 . . . 2005. The handwriting on each circle was clearly that of the same person; each consecutive circle carrying the title “Baby” coupled with the family name, evidence perhaps that the pregnancy was not advanced enough to determine if this little bundle of joy that would never be was a boy or a girl. Or perhaps they simply could not bear to select a name for a child they would never hold.
There are twins, one of whom died at birth and one who lived for three and a half months. There are circles that simply say “The Smith babies” or “The Jones babies”, but I’ve changed those last names because, even though these families have chosen to memorialize their sleeping angels in a very public way, they have not done so in a very public place, and I want to be certain I don’t invade their privacy, even after all these years.
As I stood before that banner, reading those names and realizing what each circle represented, it was a sobering moment. In the excitement of waiting for our own little one to make his grand entrance, I reflected on those mothers and fathers who were denied the privilege of watching their children grow, of being able to hold them in their arms for years instead of minutes . . . or not at all . . . parents who as long as they live will carry these children in their hearts. Like the brush of a butterfly’s wings, these little ones were here for just a moment, but their touch was surely felt. Each one was wanted, and despite the brevity of their lives, each one was and is loved.