When we were in the third trimester of our pregnancy, we went to an illustrator specialising in birth announcement cards. In Europe, we have this long standing tradition of sending them when a baby is born. It states the baby’s name, length, weight, the parents and grandparents.
We thought of this sweet, innocent girl, sitting down, blowing bubbles and our two cats playing and trying to catch them. Those two little rascals with personalities of their own. We had wondered about how it would be, adding another, human little rascal in the mix. How all three of them would be partners in crime. Jolien dropping the food she didn’t like on the ground and our cats, especially Jack, immediately eating it up. We, her parents, never having a clue.
The illustrator translated what we wanted to see wonderfully. She asked about the colors of our Jolien’s hat – it would be orange – and little dress and I immediately said “turquoise”. As a child, it had always been my favorite color. I guess that never really left.
So with my due date approaching, we prepared for another tradition in Belgium: the sugared almonds which are given to anyone visiting the newborn baby. Of course, they had to be blue/turquoise as well, matching the color of the dress on her card. Preparing for these last things, signalling the end of our pregnancy and the imminent arrival of our girl, it made my heart jump with anticipation. Oh, how I want to go back in time.
When we came back from the hospital, the house was as we left it. We didn’t have our baby girl with us. Instead, we had a shoe box with some precious keepsakes. Prints from her hands and feet (‘Among the biggest feet they’d ever seen on the NICU,’ they had told us), clay imprints as well, a little lock of her soft brown baby hair, the washing cloth we used for her first and last bath,..
At first we didn’t know what to do with the little wooden house with the tiny jars of sugared almonds. We distributed some of them anyway. Our Jolien didn’t just die, she was born as well. There were some who found it strange, us wanting to celebrate the birth of our girl.
Some of the jars are still there and that’s ok. The wooden house is her house now. During the day, we put her urn in front of it. Whenever we go out, we put her inside, imagining she’s safe there from her two partners in crime who might inadvertently push her off the dresser.
We got the cards reprinted and sent them to more people than we had previously planned. We added another card with pictures of our Jolien. This is one of only a few ways we can tell the world that she really existed, that she was beautiful and that we’ll be proud of her forever.
The text in turquoise next to the pictures is a song from Herman van Veen, a Dutch singer-songwriter who had his heyday in our parents’ youth. It’s about a little girl who cycles past the singer (her father). He sees the sun is always with her, sees her happily waving at a swan, laughing. The little girl cycles further and further away from him, towards the horizon.
And then, she’s gone.