‘Which bird is mine, mama? This one?’ My boys point to my tattoo. ‘But mom, who are THESE birds?’: Mom’s sentimental tattoo helps 3-year-old sons learn about ‘the babies in my tummy that died’

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“I’m a person who loves sentimental things…a person who sits in a chair and has ink etched into my skin by way of a needle to mark a change or a transition. Tattoos mean so much to me.

I am also a person that wants to do her best raising the kids entrusted to her. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of pain, unsure what to do when loss hits us, or uncomfortable talking about grief.

My favorite tattoo is of swallows. They represent the kids that will forever reside in my heart. Two of them are solid black, meant for Sage and Ira. The other five are just the outline — meant for two babies my body miscarried, two girls I fostered for over a year, and a baby girl whose adoption to us was disrupted. Each life as valuable as the next, all beloved.

‘Which bird is mine, mama? This one?’ My boys often ask, pointing to one of the two black birds. They go through each bird, naming their sisters’ birds, asking about the other two birds that represent the babies in my belly that never made it but not quite sure.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

The other night before bed, Ira — one of my 3-year-olds — started running his pudgy little fingers along my tattoo. ‘Is this one mine, mom?’ and then his brother Sage — my other 3-year-old — hopped over to get in on the action. ‘What about mine?’

‘The two black birds are yours. Sage, yours is the first one because you came first. Ira, yours is the second one.’

Smiling, they kept rubbing their fingers along each bird, ‘And this one is Sissy A’s? And Sissy I’s?’ They ask as if we haven’t gone over this weekly for the last nine months. ‘Yep, I nod.’

‘And this is Sissy AB’s, right mom?’

‘Sure is.’

Then Ira asks, ‘But mom, who are these birds?,’ while pointing to the first outlined bird and the last.

‘Those are for the babies in my tummy that died.’ It wasn’t the first time I’ve said it, but it was the first time they seemed to try and grasp that.

‘They died? Why?’ Ira asked, clearly concerned. ‘What happened? Where did they go?’


Sage chimed in, ‘What kind were they?’

I smiled because they are freaking cute. They are so big and so small, learning the world and how it works, and I get to teach them things. I get to help them understand, bit by bit.

I addressed Sage first, ‘What do you mean ‘what kind were they,’ Sage?’

He shrugged his shoulders and looked at me with his almond eyes, ‘I mean, what kind of baby? Brown babies or white babies?’

‘Ohhhh, the babies in my tummy have all been white, my love.’ I said to Sage.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Ira popped back in, ‘But then where they go? After they dead?’

‘You know,’ I said tickling them, ‘You two are miracles. Pure miracles. Our babies that didn’t make it out of my tummy alive…they are in Heaven. They are with Jesus. You know what that’s like?’ I asked.

My 3-year-old boys would usually be distracted by now.

‘I never been there, I don’t know where this heaven is. Can we go?’ Sage asked.

‘Well, it has streets of GOLD. You know the color gold? It’s even better and sparkly and the most beautiful place. There is no crying, no sadness, nothing bad ever happens in heaven. And you know what else? No families are broken…we all live together, we all celebrate, we are all family together. How does that sound?’ In my brain I was waiting for their interruption, waiting for someone to be side tracked or ADHD’ed (looking at you, Ira). But no, we kept going.


‘We all live together? All of us? Even Sissy A and I again? And Daddy and grandma Carolyn and grandma Karen? No crying?’ Sage repeated, excited. ‘Are there treats there?’

I love these boys. I love them so much and I hope to never forget these moments of growing their understanding. What a privilege it is to be their mama.”

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner
Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natalie Brenner of Portland, Oregon. You can follow her journey on InstagramFacebook and her website. Learn more about her book hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read Natalie’s powerful backstory of adoption:

‘She said, ‘That’s them. That’s my son’s parents. That’s who I’ve been looking for.’ And then, I told her you were pregnant.’

‘I just have to ask, do you love Sage as much as you love Ira? I know you say you do, but is it true?’ We sat on my living room floor when she asked me this. I nodded. ‘I absolutely do.’

‘Can you please stop talking about it? Why do you keep talking about it?’ She slammed her cup of milk down.’: Foster mom’s emotional realization that ‘goodbye is coming’

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