while i was in the hospital with boo, bitsy would wake up, uncharacteristically at 4 am, and pad in to see her daddy while sobbing “mommy, mommy.” then, after boo and i came home, she would come padding in at 4 am saying “i see baby now,” and she would crawl into bed with us and we would lie there, the four of us, wide awake and together.

the first night this happened i was so happy to be cuddling boo with one arm and holding bitsy’s hand with the other that i thought to myself how sweet it was to have the whole family together. and then i caught myself with a pang of shame, wondering how i could think such a thing when our whole family will never be together.

which gave me pause. because in a very important way, our whole family is together, right now, as we are. that’s not to say effie and mae are not important to our wholeness — they are. but so are bitsy and boo. and i want them to grow up knowing they have two other sisters, but i don’t want them to grow up feeling like our family is incomplete, or lacking. that they themselves are insufficient to create a wholeness. because, in fact, they are not. it is our daily experience — the four of us — that we are a whole family. and i want to be able to enjoy that, and i want them to be able to enjoy that.

just the other day bitsy pointed to a picture of mae and said “baby!” “yes,” i said, “that’s your baby sister. her name is mae.” “mae” pronounced bitsy, before turning to boo and squealing “baby!” this exchange made me think mae and effie will likely have a place not unlike that of a much-loved but now deceased great-relative: we will know them and talk about them and miss them, but will not consider ourselves less whole for their absence. perhaps on certain occasions — birthdays or other memorial days — but not on a daily basis.

mac and i have talked about whether — or, frankly, to what extent — these feelings bring on the guilt. i find that i can’t feel guilty for not missing effie and mae more. if i had them, i wouldn’t have bitsy and boo. i am so happy and relieved to have those two, so thrilled to be their mama. i love mothering them and loving them and cuddling with them and watching them grow, so that in a way it seems most appropriate to feel grateful to effie and mae for making all of this possible. it’s a strange, strange feeling, this huge gratitude tinged with sadness and deepened by memories of despair. but it comes from love, and it’s full of love, and i’ll take it.