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.
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.
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!
Since they shut down Google Reader, I don’t really read blogs anymore, which also diminishes my motivation to write blog posts. Curse you, Google! (shakes fist)
That being said, here are several things that have happened since I last blogged, in no particular order:
1. We had a new baby. Her name is Ramona and she has strawberry-blonde (or, as Evan calls it, mango-colored) hair. At some point I’ll write about her birth and stuff like that but, for now, Ramona is here and that’s what I have to say on the matter.
2. We were planning to take the train to California for Christmas, but the cost of the rooms on the train (with a new baby, we realllllly needed one) plus a hotel room plus plus plus . . . we ended up just staying here for the holidays. June got a dress-up box full of very frilly skirts and tiaras and wands and bracelets. (I am not trying to over-the-top reinforce gender roles; it’s also ok if skirts and tiaras are what June likes. That’s the beauty of feminism.) Evan got a robot frilled lizard (frilly things for everyone, apparently) and the promise of starting parkour lessons with his best friend.
3. Evan started parkour lessons today! I went in to fill out a waiver (which I DID read thoroughly before signing) and June was so entranced by the gymnastics classes that we stayed the whole hour, even though I had Ramona with me and would have liked to go home and feed her someplace comfy like my couch. Evan had SO MUCH FUN. It was adorable to watch him. He’s by far the smallest in the class. He couldn’t stop talking about how great parkour lessons are – so I think it was a success as a present. Jarom got a Fitbit (I have one too!) and a smoker (with the caveat that he is required to learn how to make really good ribs). My big gift is a trip to visit my sister-in-law, with just Ramona, no other kids – for a whole week!
4. My sister-in-law moved to Washington :( and after seeing pictures of her house and giant, giant, giant foresty yard I’m working on a plan to get us moved out there too.
5. June is very reluctant to start kindergarten this fall. I’m not sure what her deal is, although she’s offered excuses like “I’ll miss you too much” and “I want to go to the ivy school instead of Evan’s school.” Last year a Montessori preschool opened up in a cute yellow house covered in ivy down the street from us, and I guess I mentioned something about it to June. I was pregnant at the time, so I don’t take much responsibility for how rational I was being.
6. I can’t describe how much June loved watching the gymnastics, tumbling, and cheerleading classes at the parkour place. She begged me to let her start gymnastics. I said first she’d have to stop fussing about kindergarten, but that confused her and she thought I meant she had to start kindergarten first. I don’t know, June, we’re in the middle of a huge building with tons of kids doing incredibly dangerous things and it’s loud and I’m having lots of anxiety and can we talk about this later?
7. I switched my anxiety medication about a month ago and while there’s been a lot of rough patches with the transition, the best part is that I no longer feel exhausted all the time. I can make it through the day without a nap, I can get out of bed in the morning, and I want to paint. That’s a big and wonderful change.
8. Next month Evan will turn 7. Over the past 3 years, since we bought our house, there have been lots of room swaps. Sometimes Evan is in the bigger bedroom, sometimes he’s in the littler bedroom, sometimes he and June share the bigger bedroom. But I finally put my foot down and said NO MORE SHARING (not long before #9 happened). Evan was initially excited to have the “cozy” little room but it wasn’t long before he had very hurt feelings about it. We hadn’t moved everything out of the room from it being a storage room/Ramona’s eventual room, so there wasn’t a ton of space for his things. A few weeks ago Jarom helped clear it out and we started letting Evan have the dog sleep with him. For Evan’s birthday, we’re going to get a loft bed, move out the rest of the storage things, put up some posters, maaaaaaaybe paint a wall or two, actually organize the little closet in a way that’s useful for Evan, and put his desk under the loft bed. All in secret while he’s away for the night! I hope he loves it.
9. In a terrible bedtime drama mishap, June gouged a big chunk out of the bridge of her nose. I took her to the ER for stitches. I’m crossing my fingers that the scar fades, because it looks quite Frankenstein-y at the moment. How shallow of me is that?
10. Also, Evan broke his arm when Ramona was about 2 weeks old. That was another fun ER trip. It’s healed now, though.
11. Ramona laughed once when Jarom was tickling her, a week or two before Christmas; she laughed at her reflection in the mirror twice last week. Otherwise she makes this face that ought to be accompanied by peals of laughter, but she’s silent. Come on, Ramona! JUST LAUGH! She’s ridiculously easygoing, everyone loves her, she sleeps through the night, and I feel like we hit the jackpot here.
12. I didn’t blog when we hit 2.5 years since Christian was born/died. Partly I was caught up with a beautiful new baby, partly I didn’t want to force it on everyone, and partly – like I said before – I just don’t blog anymore. But I did note the day, and, while I wasn’t as sad as I’ve been in the past, it was still hard to think of what Christian would have been like at Ramona’s age. Or as a rambunctious two-and-a-half-year-old. What would he think of Ramona?
13. We didn’t get any family pictures done last year. :( I wanted to wait until Ramona was born, but then Evan broke his arm, and June busted up her nose, and Ramona was really jaundiced. In another shallow move, I’m waiting until we’re all a little nicer looking (and that includes my extra chub – I mean, comfy padding – from the past 3 years).
What have you been up to since the beginning of the school year?
Woohoo! School has started!
Evan has been so excited about going to first grade that he does parkour everywhere we go. And practices doing flips on my bed. It’s one of the few ways he expresses enthusiasm.
He got up just after 7 this morning and immediately said, “I’ll get dressed so we can go!” Sorry, bud, you’ve got an hour and a half before we need to go.
Who is your favorite person in the whole world? Maggie and Trinity (two of his kindergarten classmates)
What is your favorite color? yellow
What is your favorite movie? Jurassic World (he’s seen it 3 times in the theater, not quite the record of Jarom’s 16 trips to see Jurassic Park as a kid)
What is your favorite outfit? “My Jurassic World velociraptor shirt and skinny pants.”
What sport or game do you like best? “Playing Wild Kratts.”
What song do you love? Shut Up and Dance (he loves it SO MUCH that I have begun to hate it passionately)
What is your favorite cereal? Rice Krispies Treats Cereal
Who is your best friend? Cooper (I was surprised at this because he rarely mentions Cooper, who moved away more than a year ago.)
What do you want to be when you grow up? a veterinarian
What is your favorite book? Bunnicula (which we haven’t started reading yet. He’s just really excited for it. We’re still working on Fablehaven as a family)
What are you really good at? parkour
Where do you wish you could go on vacation? to see Cooper
What is your best memory? staying at the beach house in Monterey last summer
What would you buy if you had $1,000? “A chihuahua and a snake. A python. A pet python.”
What is your favorite food? oatmeal, watermelon, and fried rice
If you could have a wish, what would it be? “To have a baby Indominus Rex. But he’d be nice.”
What is your favorite ice cream flavor? cookie dough
Who is your biggest hero? “Pa, because he helped me across the monkey bars.”
What do you like to do most with your friends? play and swing and run
What do you hope you’ll get to do in school this year? science!
I’ve put off writing this for the past week and a half, because I’m not sure how things are going. Life is confusing and wonderful and terrifying and hilarious and sad. So, pretty normal.
Christian’s second birthday was, I’m happy to say, not looming ahead like his first birthday seemed to. It’s mainly due to the fact that a week before his birthday this year, we got to have an ultrasound of our [so far] healthy baby girl, and the good news – the excitement of looking at baby clothes, the optimism, the hope for the future – really mellowed out the sense of loss over Christian. It was really, really nice to feel like good things will still happen in my life, maybe happen soon.
Unfortunately, some of my excitement was – whether consciously or not – an attempt to ignore my ongoing grief. I’ll never stop being sad that Christian died. I will enjoy my life, but I don’t think there’s going to come a day (though maybe I’m wrong) when I think, I’m so glad this is my lot in life. Grief manifests itself far less frequently now, but it has still taken up permanent residence in my heart. Sometimes it sneaks up on me, like when I’ve spent a week or two being happy about a baby girl and then suddenly the next day is what should be my two-year-old’s birthday party.
We asked friends and family to do a good deed in Christian’s honor again for Doubleplusgood Day. My brilliant idea was to take cookies (the delicious orange chocolate chip kind!) to the labor & delivery nurses at the hospital where Christian was born. To be honest, I do NOT remember the nurses fondly, but I’m willing to concede that I was not my best self that day. So I made cookies, put them in a pretty box, wrote a nice note, and headed down to Payson with Evan in tow.
Yeah, it didn’t occur to me until I stepped off the elevator onto the labor & delivery floor that this was all a terrible idea. Have you ever experienced intense anxiety? For me it always feels like prickles – actual physical ones – all over my skin, and I want to run and hide or stop existing or curl up into a ball. I don’t know what I was thinking! Somehow I forced myself to walk over to the nurses’ station, and although I’m rarely emotional in front of people, I did get really teary. All the moms on the floor were going to have live, healthy babies that day, babies they got to take home and watch grow. And being back in that part of the hospital did not bring back very pleasant memories. Dead babies aside, the day Christian was born was really an awful day – no sleep, no food, maybe needing an emergency C-section, headaches, barfing, machines beeping constantly… the overwhelming emotion of knowing my baby was about to die, on top of all those things, made for a lousy day.
So I didn’t stay long at the hospital. One of the nurses came and gave me a hug, they congratulated me on my upcoming baby, they were all sympathetic and nice. But I wanted to cry because despite their compassion, they had no idea what it’s like. (I don’t want them to! I wish no one did, including me.) It reminded me of one of my favorite, heartbreaking moments from Christian’s birthday: when we were just about ready to go home, the bereavement volunteer (the one who put together our amazing, priceless box of keepsakes) was finishing up. She’d been there for hours and hours. She tucked the last few items into the box and turned to me. I was sitting in the rocking chair, holding Christian, who had died probably about 3 hours before. She said, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I shook my head. I don’t remember if I looked at her, but I definitely heard the emotion in her voice as she said, “You just want him back?” I definitely started crying again then. She understood. She knew the agony I was going through, and would go through. And she wished desperately she could help.
(I should toss in a disclaimer here that it’s currently 3:30am, I’m still up because I have to finish a project for Jarom, and I am not only sleep-deprived but caffeinated and hormonal. It’s ok if you are sad because I’m sobbing – quietly – thinking about that moment.)
Anyway, I had a friend put together a floral arrangement for us to take to Christian’s grave, but when Evan and I left Payson it was about to rain. Then I had to go pick up June (who had been crazy wild fussy and was really making it hard to grieve), and by the time we all made it home, I was emotionally spent. When Jarom got home from work he sent me to bed. I cried big tears and let that anguish engulf me until I fell asleep.
That being said, Year 2 is so much better than Year 1. I didn’t feel (quite as much) like I needed to force Doubleplusgood Day on people. Christian is my son; it’s ok if other people are too busy or uninterested or whatever to remember his birthday. The world will go on. I was touched by the acts of service done in his memory, where last year I just really hated having to “celebrate” that way.
Next year, I hope, will be even better.