I had kept a list of names in the notes on my phone, as it goes these days- unromantically the opposite of a worn piece of paper – since my last pregnancy, when all the names I swore I’d always loved had left my memory. I liked these notes on an undone story – these names worth remembering. Our list for boys was composed mostly of my husband’s picks, which I had also fallen for. Walter, Cassidy, Cal. My favorite for a little girl was Iris. It felt so elegant to me. With a little bit of edge where, it wasn’t too precious – to give her a chance to be whoever she is; as a friend of mine put it, so perfectly, when discussing names for baby girls. Years ago my husband had stumbled on the music of the 70’s folk singer Vashti Bunyan. She had a short bout of fame and recorded a handful of songs. One called ‘Iris’s Song For Us’ tied him to the name by way of Positive Association and poetry: I climbed the peaks of glass with you And walked a world of brass with you And gladly left the glaring streets To share a bed of grass with you the song began.
It was fall when we found out we were expecting. My belly showed our secret well before those first delicate months were spent. Likewise, I felt immediately unwell. I had been granted easy pregnancies twice before and I grappled with the dimness that comes with constant nausea. A New England winter can be brutal – both in temperature and duration. This one in particular proved hardest to bear. In February my sister lost her husband. The days and weeks that followed were blanketed with an unfathomable, terrible sadness that tested hearts against all reason. In those nights of waking heartache for her, I would feel the tiny new life so well protected inside of me. Unfurling every second. The fragility of things. We had found out somewhere in the twentieth week that we would have a girl and we began to call her Iris. The image of her; a little flower growing slowly towards the light of spring, seemed somehow hopeful in that collective darkness. I was deeply grateful for another sister for my girls. It was a gift that held a beautiful weight for me as I treasured my own so dearly and witnessed, more than ever in that time, the love that binds together siblings. A sister in particular. Irreplaceable to me.
In June, the irises all bloomed at once. I was surprised to see them blossom the whole town over during the same month that she was due. They grew along the roadside in shades of purple spilling out over the guardrails everywhere I drove. Birthday Flowers. Three days past forty weeks at dawn, we headed for the hospital. It was an unfamiliar, up and down labor. Starting and stalling all throughout that long quiet day, spent in the hands of our sweet nurse, Imelda. She was humored by our indecision about a middle name. Her mother and her mother’s mother were Imelda. Her daughter was Imelda too. Imelda Ann, Imelda Mary, Imelda Rose. She had kept to that tradition she said, about all those dear Imelda’s.Iris is born then, and with little warning. In a matter of a few fierce moments she is here. Our rosy little daughter. Its late afternoon and everyone is laughing – how quickly she came. She is captivating, blue eyes, so brand new. Her features are round and girlish and instantly familiar. She feels like new dreams, like shade dappled memories. Bare feet and long braids, ribbons tied loose behind worn cotton dresses. We had long repeated ‘Marianne’. It was something timeless; all along.
Iris Marianna is named for Summer, Sunlight, Song.