Nineteen years ago today, when I was twenty-four and my husband twenty-six, we made a mad dash to the midwife Annie’s office. The hot, southern, July sun was just beginning to heat up the air and the morning traffic rush was under way. My concentration was centered inward (in a kind of hypnotic state), but I remember distinctly watching the cars moving outside the window. Feeling my face contort now and again, I wondered if anyone could see me.
By the time we arrived in the parking lot, my body felt heavy and awkward so I refused to budge. It took two pleading assistants to extricate my bulging frame from the vehicle and escort me through the waiting room passed the line-up of scheduled patients. The midwife’s brief assessment revealed the reason for my stubborn inactivity, I was in active labor and the baby was nearly ready to finish the journey.
With no time to waste, the nurses pushed my big self back into the passenger seat of that blue, VW wagon right after the midwife had climbed in the rear. Thankfully, our next destination was just a stone’s throw away. While my husband parked the car at the hospital, Annie wheeled me upstairs. Feeling like a giant melon had formed beneath my lap, it was difficult to resist the urge to leap out of that moving seat.
Soon after my husband rejoined me, a brief power struggle ensued as the triage nurse insisted on following protocol against Annie’s advice. That second assessment confirmed what the midwife already knew, so I got a ride (similar to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride) down the corridors on a mobile bed.
Less than thirty minutes and a few position changes later, I reached the peak of the mountain. With gentle grunts and groans, I focused all of my strength below and pushed my firstborn beyond the protective cocoon of my body. The all-consuming rush of physical relief washed over me as Annie laid that little, naked, wet body on my chest.
A boy! It was a boy! Our hearts were beating fast in excitement, the joy was palpable.
|his footprint on the quilt I’d made|
That day will be forever burned into my memory bank. More babies would follow through the years, but that July 25th nineteen years ago marked a pivotal point from which all other points would extend. Maybe all mothers can recall their first births with the greatest clarity, but I’d have even more incentive to etch that morning’s event deep into my gray matter.
How sweet were those first moments. We counted his tiny fingers and toes and marveled at his eyes which seemed locked in an intense gaze. Taking a full inventory, I studied his features and rubbed his soft, bare skin against mine. Longing to feel his suckle on my breast, I was only mildly disappointed by his seeming disinterest. He was perfect.
Dimitri Mikhail Brelinsky celebrated his birth day.
Having moved far from family, we’d chosen to relish this time alone. Perhaps, it seemed selfish or unwise to others, but we wanted the first days of our threesome to remain shielded. We wanted to figure it all out on our own. To set our own schedule, make our own decisions and hog that delightful newness for ourselves. Five hours after our baby boy completed our plans, that decision would make more sense. Unbeknownst to me at the time, those blissful hours, after our umbilical connection had been severed, would be the last untethered, living memories we’d have together.
A dire diagnosis, two surgeries and a little less than a month later, we held our now bloated, pale son and said goodbye. Consumed by the stinging reality of death, I spent those early months fixated on all the never-will-be’s. The first Christmases and Easters, the first portraits and steps, first smiles and words, first spoonfuls and nights slept through that would never be. Would we ever speak his name again? Would time steal away our vision of his angelic face? Would he simply become our invisible, forgotten child, like a childhood doll stored away in a dusty, attic trunk that no one remembers is there? How could I concede to stuffing his memory, to allowing his life to disappear into the abyss as though it had never happened?
I could not.
I’ve written before about my dance partner, grief (HERE), who swiftly grabbed my hand that August day when our son died in our arms, so I won’t retell that portion our our story here. No, today is about happy memories and the legacy of a life lived.
My son’s life, while brief, impacted the world. On this day nineteen years ago, he not only opened my womb, he stretched wide my heart. He taught me how to love, to abandon myself for the sake of another. His life unraveled my plans and caused me to loosen my white-knuckled grip so that in time I could learn the deep value of trustful surrender in all things.
|his quilt hangs above our bed, along with other special momentos|
That firstborn son paved the way for every one of my brood to follow, most especially the son whom we would adopt a year later. I see him daily in his siblings’ faces. And his name crosses their lips at least once a year. We honor this special day by sending him a birthday balloon marked with love messages. My other children never had the privilege of meeting their big brother, but each one of them carries on his memory.
Like the great saints and influential people of past generations, every life bears meaning and his was no less significant. There is no hair left uncounted by the Creator, Who inspires all beings with eternal purpose. So why should a mother forget her child, if his Father never will?
|the memorial shelf I keep in my bedroom|
My prayer is for every life to be as cherished as his. For every child to be honored, regardless of the length of their time on earth (whether born or unborn, abled or disabled). My son, Dimitri Mikhail, may not be here to blow out his candles today, but his legacy continues to fan a flame of love, hope and faith within our family. A flame which I have no doubt will radiate out into the world.
Happy 19th birthday to our beloved saint,
Dimitri Mikhail Brelinsky!