With Christian’s birthday two weeks away, I’ve been thinking a lot about the short time we had with him. One of my fears is that my memories of the day of his birth and death will fade. It isn’t possible to remember everything in detail, so I have reflected on the memories that stand out.
I remember how miserable I was physically. I hadn’t slept, I wasn’t allowed to eat, I had an intense headache, it was (understandably) a very long labor, for a while it looked like I would need an emergency C-section, and I was exhausted. In looking back I feel like my physical state had a huge impact on my emotional reaction once Christian was born. For better or worse, the sheer exhaustion dampened my emotions. When I think about the hours between his birth and going home, it seems like I was numb. Maybe part of that is the way the memories have changed over the years – in the photos we have of that evening, I am expressionless. I don’t remember strong emotions.
But at the same time, I do remember the mounting terror of not hearing Christian’s heartbeat. I can imagine the nurses’ faces as they tried to filter out my own heartbeat to find his.
And I remember the agony of waiting for the nurses to put him in my arms. The two longest moments of my life have been (1) when Christian was born, and he lay on the hospital bed; and (2) when Ramona was born with the cord around her neck, and the nurses took her from my arms to try getting her to breathe. Those two memories are inextricably linked in my mind. I know that in reality, it was probably only 20 seconds before the nurse handed Christian to me, but it felt like a terribly long lifetime.
I remember one of the nurses giving me the stethoscope later in the evening to listen to Christian’s fading heartbeat. I couldn’t hear it. The nurse could, and Jarom could, but not me. I was probably too numb at the time to feel guilt. I certainly feel it now.
With intense feeling, I remember giving Christian, wrapped in a lovingly made blanket, to the nurse when we were ready to leave. I feel the anxiety and despair of handing him over, knowing I would never hold him again. I wish a hundred times I could go back to the moment before he left my arms. I can’t say for sure if I watched the nurse walk down the hallway or if I’ve invented the memory, but I can picture her walking out of the room, quietly carrying him downstairs to the morgue.
I have good memories, too. Tender ones. I remember my parents and in-laws spending what must have been, for them, an overwhelmingly difficult and long day with us in the hospital. I remember my dad giving me a massage to ease my headache. I remember my mom standing at the side of the bed, rubbing my arm. I remember her helping me take out my earrings when it looked like I might need a C-section, and later put them back in. I remember my mother- and father-in-law holding Christian with such love.
I remember my doctor sitting, almost reverently, after he delivered Christian, while we blessed and washed our son. He called me a few days later to express his condolences again and to ask how the funeral service was. I have sent a Christmas card to his office every year since.
Despite my misery and ungratefulness at the time, I remember the nurses who did everything in their power to help me. They followed the birth plan I brought with me. They cared for me even when I was rude to them. They stayed past the end of their shifts when my labor dragged on. One of the nurses was assigned to me when Ramona was born, and she remembered Christian. That is all I could ask for.
And I remember the bereavement volunteer who stayed with us. Her own son had died years before in a very similar situation. It wasn’t that she set her own feelings aside, but she used her experience to help guide me through mine. I have never felt so much that someone was joining me in my sorrow rather than watching from the outside. She knew what I was feeling, and she let me feel that grief without trying to cheer me up or distract me or minimize my agony. I have shared this particular memory with only a few people: when she was packing up her things to leave, as the nurses were preparing my discharge paperwork, she asked if there was anything else I needed. I shook my head, and with a slight catch in her voice, she gently said, “You just want him back, right?” She knew the pain. She voiced it. I will never forget how meaningful that was to me.
I remember the friends and family who spent all day cleaning my house, who took Evan and June so we could focus on Christian, who brought meals and flowers and love. I remember the neighbor who showed up at my house unannounced about a week later – probably knowing that I would have said “Thanks, but I’m fine” if she had offered to help first. She started a load of laundry, put dinner in the oven, visited with me, and then took Evan and June for the rest of the afternoon. I use this as an example every time someone asks how they can help a friend whose baby has passed away.
I remember one of Jarom’s law school professors coming to the funeral. Nothing had been announced at the school – it was about a year after Jarom graduated – but she had seen the notice in the newspaper. It has always made me feel like there is an extensive network of people who care about this sorrow of ours. We aren’t alone in remembering.
That is what I ask you to do – remember with me.
Again, blame Google Reader for the demise of my blogging skills. I never read blogs anymore, so I also don’t write blog posts anymore.
This has been on my mind recently and I’m not actually going to plan out this post to make sure it’s coherent in any way. Take that!
An overwhelming majority of the parents I’ve met who have also had an infant or child die talk about how they feel their child’s presence still. Mormons have this phrase we like to toss around that “the veil is thin” between this mortal world and the next life. I think we use it a lot to try to comfort people who’ve lost a loved one.
I don’t feel that way. Ever.
I don’t have any concept of what Christian’s personality is like. I don’t think of him as a guardian angel. I do not feel like he is near.
And that’s ok.
For a long time I felt like I was not being sensitive enough or I was doing something wrong or I was in some way inadequate to feel Christian’s presence. But none of those things are true. Christian still exists, of this I am sure, and I am learning to deal with his absence as a big fat question mark. In case anyone feels the same – it really is ok to not feel a deep spiritual connection. One of the hardest things to be told after Christian died was that now I had a guardian angel watching over me. First of all, I’m positive he has better things to do than hover around me shaking his head as I make one mistake after another. Second, if he is just hanging out watching me, the complete lack of a sense of his presence makes me feel even worse: my son died and I’m unable to feel him near. So it’s been very liberating to realize and really accept that I’m allowed to go through life with no concept of Christian’s personality and no sense of ongoing connection with him.
My grief is mine, and Christian is mine, even if my grief and my connection with him is different from how other parents feel.
Also, Ramona and Christian look so alike! It makes me happy.
New books: 13 (4,537 pages)
Tiffany Tsao, The Oddfits
Brandon Sanderson, Shadows of Self
Andy Weird, The Martian
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
Brandon Sanderson, Bands of Mourning
Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last
Anthony Doer, All the Light We Cannot See
Alwyn Hamilton, Rebel of the Sands
David Flusfeder, John the Pupil
Patricia McKillip, The Bell at Sealey Head
John Grisham, The Last Juror
Jennifer Trafton, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic
Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist On Mars
It’s really been almost three and a half years by this point, but I never got around to writing when it was Christian’s birthday this April. I suppose that says something.
Between year 2 and year 3, I had Ramona. There was so much anxiety while I was pregnant with her! It was emotional and often overwhelming and really, really difficult to believe that things would turn out okay. Delivery was very traumatic for me, and then I got to worry about SIDS for a few months. But at the same time I healed. Ramona wrapped my heart in sunshine. And eventually I felt that just as we didn’t deserve to have Christian die, we didn’t deserve (still don’t!) a baby so pleasant and happy and cheerful as Ramona. She is incredible, and she’s helped me feel joy. Lots of joy.
Let’s see what I can remember about Doubleplusgood Day. In the weeks leading up to it, I wasn’t thinking much about Christian being gone – I was basking in Ramona’s golden glow. I had vague plans for a good deed to do to celebrate Christian’s birthday, and of course we had cookies at our house for anyone who wanted to stop by. The actual day of his birthday was pretty lousy, though, despite how much it seemed like it wouldn’t be hard for me. It was a Sunday, and we were (of course) running late for church. I was in a bad mood because I hate being late and because when it comes down to it, I’d rather be partying with Christian instead of talking about honoring him and remembering him. So that still sucks. When we got to church, there were no seats left! We’ve been late before, but there’s always somewhere to sit. It kind of pushed me over the edge. Fortunately, some people had remembered that it was Christian’s birthday, and despite my bad mood it was so, so nice to have people say something.
I had hoped that we’d have lots of friends drop by to tell us about their good deed. For me, that represents love for my family. I was surprised and a little hurt that only one family came by, but it made their visit extra meaningful. Before they came I took a grief nap (just made that up, it’s not a thing) and Jarom took Evan and June to the cemetery. By bedtime, I had gotten texts from a handful of people about their good deed. I had built it up in my head that I’d be hearing throughout the day how people helped celebrate Christian, and it was hard to spend the day feeling a little forgotten.
To be fair, Doubleplusgood Day was an anomaly. Most of year 3 was spent in anticipation of, and then delighting in, Ramona. I still have some feelings of guilt about how happy she makes me – like it’s somehow disloyal to Christian. (I know that isn’t rational.) I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in heavy grief, and I’m sure no one else wants me to, but it feels like my joy means I don’t miss Christian anymore. (I know, not rational and not true.) The guilt is lessening, though, and maybe by year 4 I will have found a balance between the lifelong sadness of Christian’s death and the joy of actually living my life and loving my family that’s here with me.
Doubleplusgood Day. April 24. Do something nice. It doesn’t have to be big. But please tell me your good deed so I can record it in my little book of beautiful things that are done to help remember Christian.
New to my story? Start here.
Fair warning, this is a poorly written collection of about 4 blog posts I’ve thought about recently, and because I’m an adult (really! I have kids and a mortgage and I think midnight is late!) I’m not even going to go back and edit for clarity, or typos. Take that!
Alright. First is this idea about how being willing to try new things is better than…not being willing. See, no editing! It’s a virtue to be brave and adventurous and to seek out new things (new worlds, new civilizations). This is not a virtue I possess so naturally I was considering how to argue that it isn’t necessarily such an amazing trait. Or, at the very least, it isn’t necessarily such a flaw to dislike trying new things. I already have a lengthy mental list of my flaws, ranging from minor to “Why on earth does anyone ever voluntarily interact with me,” and if I can knock one of the list, cool. Because I really am not one to go new places, eat new foods, meet new people, try new…anything. What do you think? Character flaw or just personality?
Next, there was some real issue I wanted to write about but it’s drifting around the edges of my memory like slow motion dandelion fluff. I remember feeling hesitant to bring it up as it was a somewhat divisive subject, but it wasn’t politics or religion. Hmm.
Well, moving on. We’re coming up on my 5 least favorite weeks of the year – between the time we got Christian’s diagnosis to the day he was born/died. To counteract how lousy these weeks make me feel, Jarom and I host Doubleplusgood Day, where we ask friends, family, and strangers to do an act of service in Christian’s honor. You probably already knew that. This year I want to make it big. Maybe I’ll tell a local news station about it? Doubtful, but one year I might. I do want to get a lot of people involved this year – so now’s a good time to start telling your friends about it. April 24. If you’re in Utah county, you can even come by my house and get a free cookie in exchange for telling me about your good deed. Last year for my doubleplusgood deed, I took cookies to the labor & delivery nurses at the hospital where we had Christian. Terrible idea, since it was the first time I’d been back, and I was pregnant and emotional. Now that I have Ramona, I’m a lot more willing to go to the labor & delivery floor, so I might take cookies to the nurses every year as part of my deed. Everyone likes free cookies.
Here’s my oversharing for today. In February 2013 I started taking Zoloft for anxiety. My doctor increased my dosage after I found out Christian was going to die, and wow I’m glad because the depression after Christian was already overwhelming. But the Zoloft also made me gain weight, and keep gaining weight. Then finally I was pregnant with Ramona and gained a lot more weight. In the first month after she was born, I went down 25 lbs (I had gone up 55 lbs during pregnancy, which was actually typical for me). And then stalled. I’m not motivated enough to do real things like eat better or exercise, so I can’t complain too much about not losing weight, right? I switched from Zoloft to Wellbutrin a few months ago, and even though I’m still not trying to change any of my habits, I’ve been losing weight. Slowly. Now I’m 17 lbs from my pre-Ramona weight, which is still 25 lbs over my pre-Christian weight. One of these days I might start caring enough to make use of our exercise bike, or take the dog on walks, or walk to the park with June and Ramona. I definitely won’t stop eating the foods I love – I want my life to be happy and full of the joy that baked goods bring. But I’m feeling encouraged by the Wellbutrin-induced weight loss.
Lastly, I’m currently listening to the audio book of The Runaway Jury, my favorite John Grisham novel. I would love to serve on a jury, but Jarom says that as a lawyer’s wife I never will. BOO.
I don’t have a real reason for not writing this earlier, other than a vague “I just don’t want to.” I want Ramona to be MINE MINE MINE and writing about her seems like she belongs to everyone. But, here she is anyway.
Ramona Minaret Hillery was born on September 20. I honestly don’t remember when during the day – maybe evening? I was in labor for what seemed like forever, and she was 8 lb 3 oz (much bigger than my other 3 kids!), so pushing her out was realllllllllly difficult. Ramona was only 18.5 inches, though, which made her a fairly compact newborn.
Birth story, blah blah blah, I don’t feel particularly inclined to write about it at the moment. It was altogether a terrifying, emotional, draining event. The days, weeks, and months that followed were full of anxiety that something would happen to her. But they were also full of cuddling, and adoration, and eat/sleep/repeat cycles (for both of us, I guess).
Our senior year of high school, Jarom and I were on the Academic Decathlon team because we are just that awesome. Our teammates were awesome, too. We have so many fond memories of that year. For our honeymoon, we went back to the Monterey beach condos where we’d stayed on a Decathlon team retreat. We keep in touch, more or less, with most of our teammates, and with our coach. It was also the year that we finally figured out we like liked each other. Yeah, teenagers. Ugh. This story does have a point: it was hard to decide on a middle name for Ramona, and in the end we went with the middle name of one of our teammates. It was a shout-out to all of the friendships we made that year. Also Minaret is just a flippin’ awesome name.
Ramona does not look like I expected. At all. June was born with black hair, and I figured Ramona would have brown hair. I always pictured her that way. It was SO surprising when she came out with quite a lot of orange hair.
She’s 4 months old now. Her hair is longer, but still – as Evan calls it – “mango-colored.” It does look like it might be starting to grow out blonde at the roots. As unexpected as her orange hair was, I’ll be sad if it doesn’t stay that color, for a year or two at least. And her eyes have stayed blue-blue – also unexpected! Evan and June both have brown eyes, and although theirs didn’t look particularly brown until about 8 months, theirs were definitely darker at 4 months than Ramona’s are. I kept crossing my fingers that she’d have green eyes, so I fought any comments about how blue her eyes were . . . but I think it’s time to admit that Ramona has blue eyes. Blue-blue.
Last weekend she suddenly noticed my phone while I was holding her. She’s started reaching and grabbing for objects with definite intention. And a few days ago, I was walking through the house carrying her, wondering why something felt different about carrying her, when I realized that I just had my arm under her bottom – she was holding her head up the entire time.
Stop growing, Ramona!
When Evan and June were babies, I was so impatient for every new milestone. Smiling, laughing, rolling over – I was desperately excited to see the people they were becoming. I feel oddly sad every time Ramona hits a milestone, though. Like a part of her is gone forever. Lost. I think maybe I should see a therapist or something.
But. Despite all my weird feelings, I cannot get enough of this girl. When I’m not holding a camera in her face, she smiles – all the time. She’s stingy about laughing; today was a lucky day and she laughed for about 3 minutes. Ramona has even been learning to sit in a high chair. Evan and June are NUTS about her. Even Jarom seems to like her ok, so we all agree our kookaburra belongs here!