We started before I really started to show, and then we traced my torso every few weeks - pretty much when we knew there'd be enough growth to show change. There was absolutely no method to our madness, so each time we pulled out the canvas, we had to remember where I stood, how high we held it, how far back against my arm it was supposed to be. It drove Mike crazy. Finally, he just took the eraser of the pencil and drew a line across the canvas where my belly button was. That way, he knew where to line things up. Each time we completed a line, it was so exciting to step back and see how big I was getting. Watching my stomach grow made me look to the future with joyous anticipation. Each new tracing meant I was just that much closer to meeting my baby. To being a mother. The last time we traced my belly was February 22, the Friday before the Monday that marked end of my life untouched by grief. I knew it would probably be the last time we traced, but I thought it would be because she'd arrive before we had a chance to do it again. Little did I know that in a matter of days, my bright and sunny world would plummet into the shadows.
When I was in the hospital, my friends took some of the more emotional objects out of my house for when I was more ready to handle them. My belly canvas was one of them. The other day, something inside of me needed it. I needed to paint those layers. My journey to motherhood was abruptly halted and left unfinished. Her nursery is empty. Her clothes are unworn. I needed to close the aching gap by giving a purpose to something of hers. I needed to finish my painting. I asked Mike to get it for me, and within a day it was back in my house. At first, it was painful to look at. Haphazard pencil sketches marking my growing joy. My stolen joy.
I propped it on my easel upright, so it looked just as I would have if I were standing. It didn't seem right to me that way. How should I paint it? What should I do with it? I had no idea - I just knew I had to do something. Annoyed with myself, I walked away for a little bit and plopped myself down on the couch. I don't know how long it was before the idea came to me, but as soon as it did, I was on a mission. I strode back onto the porch, grabbed the empty canvas, and turned it on its side - so that my traced belly looked like I was laying down, my stomach pointing upward. I got down to business. With drying time, it took me about 4 days to finish. Mostly because I didn't want to smudge one layer by painting another one too soon - and oil paint takes forever to dry. As I painted, the shadows around my heart lifted. Each brush stroke was a remembrance of Kenley. Each piece of the painting symbolized a different part of who she is. She will not be forgotten. She will not be pushed aside. Her place in my heart is permanent. As I painted, I felt joy again. I was happy. I would step back from what I was doing - and I would smile. I would think about my baby - and I would smile! Oh, I also cried, make no mistake about that. My hands were covered in paint, my cheeks covered in tears, and my heart covered in love. It was a greatly needed release. Here's the finished product.
Again, I'm no master artist, but I'm still pretty pleased with how it turned out. I turned the belly tracings into hills. On top of those growing hills, is Kenley's tree. Perched in her tree is a white owl, and above her tree is her pink balloon, floating high and free. You might not be able to see the words I etched around the hill line. They are "As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be"
Kenley grew in me. She lived in me. I nurtured her and supported her, just like the hills in the painting support and nurture the tree. She will always be a part of me. No matter what changes life brings me in the future, Kenley will always be with me. And that makes me smile.