The day we signed the contract to build our semi-custom home in North Fulton, I was a shell of a person, so hollowed out I could hear my own heartbeat echoing through its four chambers. I’d had two miscarriages in three months, and those losses were merely the halfway point in a streak of tragedies and disappointments. My husband’s good friend, a father of two very young children, had died suddenly in his sleep. My grandmother in India had passed away before getting to meet our daughters, then ages five and three. Our youngest had suffered a life-threatening reaction to medication, and we had made a poor investment at the peak of the recession. During nine horrific months—a gestation of catastrophe—my soul felt as if it had been razed to the ground, jackhammered into pieces, and dumped in a far-off landfill
At the builder’s design studio, I feigned enthusiasm while selecting our floor plan, the stain for our hardwood floors, the style of our kitchen cabinets. After we returned to Philadelphia to wrap up our lives in the Northeast, the contractor emailed us photographs of our home’s metamorphosis: a gray slab of concrete, a skeleton of wood planks, electrical wires weaving through a maze of cottony insulation. I watched our home evolve on the screen, and I became pregnant again—soon miscarrying for the third time. The dream of having another child was slipping away, and I worried that the nursery I’d envisioned in our new home might only ever serve as an office.
Four months later, after we had moved into a temporary apartment in north Atlanta, I was pregnant again. During those early agonizing months, I did whatever I could to distract myself from the fear of losing another pregnancy. I pored over reviews of sofas, researched playsets for the backyard, ran my fingers over the fibers of decorative rugs, scoured clearance aisles at the North Georgia Premium Outlets. Building a house served as the best sort of distraction from a pregnancy I feared wouldn’t make it to term.
I was 18 weeks pregnant when our builder handed us the keys. As we unpacked, and the grief from our previous losses slowly subsided, I found myself falling in love with our house—how the sun bathed the living room in a bright light from morning until late afternoon, how our daughters’ giggles echoed through the kitchen, how the orange flames stretched long and thin in our new fireplace.
In the spring, as the maple trees began to bud new leaves, as our dormant grass evolved into a verdant carpet, we welcomed a healthy baby girl. For the first time, our house—still empty of furniture, still naked of wall decor—felt complete, like the final stop on a long journey. In the nursery, when I snuggled my newborn daughter in the glider rocker, her gaze focused on my face, a truth suddenly unveiled itself. I kissed her soft cheek, whispered it in her tiny, crescent-shaped ear:
Yes, sweet girl. We built this house for you.
Anjali Enjeti is an award-winning essayist and literary critic. A former attorney, she has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere.