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As we walk to remember

As we walk to remember

Three years ago, I attended my first Walk to Remember. It had only been two months since I had said goodbye to my infant son, Ethan, and my grief felt so deep, so raw, and so fresh. The previous months leading up to that day had been incredibly painful and isolating in ways I couldn’t quite put into words. When a friend told me about the Walk to Remember, I felt nervous yet excited all at once–I had no idea what to expect, but something inside of me longed to connect with people who understood. I longed to celebrate my little boy and to simply say his name to someone…anyone who would listen.

I am so grateful I put my fears aside that day. From the moment I checked in, I felt seen and understood. My walls crumbled down with each person I spoke to. As each baby’s name was spoken and each rose was passed out, I felt less and less alone. While it didn’t take away the grief of losing my son, stepping into this community of like-minded people softened the jagged edges of grief in ways I never expected. I received an indescribable gift on that day—the gift of hearing Ethan’s name, the gift of honoring him, the gift of being surrounded by people who didn’t try to brush him aside or just tell me to “think positive”. I received the gift of meeting other parents and hearing about their babies–the simple gift of “me too”.

This event and the community that I’ve found in it have been a comfort to me over the years, as my husband and I said goodbye to four more babies–four more tiny babies added to the baby memorial banner. Each year, my aching heart has found comfort in knowing that I’d be surrounded by my tribe of some of the most beautiful, brave, and broken people, who shine so bright in spite of all they’ve been through. This year, I’m looking forward to including my newborn son in celebrating the five babies we lost before him.

When I look back on each year, I cannot help but see how much I’ve changed—I see the ways grief has brought out the worst in me, but far more I see the ways being a mother to five babies in heaven has made me better. And for that I cannot help but be grateful for the joy I have been given in the midst of something so painful and for the opportunity to meet and connect with so many beautiful hearts along the way–the mothers, the fathers, the siblings, grandparents, medical professionals, and friends whose hearts have been touched by a special baby in a very big way.

Each year, I’ve looked out at the crowd of attendees and have felt surrounded by support and understanding. Though the details of our stories may be different, these people know. They understand. Whether they’ve walked through loss themselves or have held the hand of someone who has, they have stood exactly where I stand. They know the pain of a due date that never comes—of “what ifs” and unfulfilled plans. They know the devastation of the words “not compatible with life” or “I’m sorry, there’s just no heartbeat”. They know the pain of laboring and delivering a child who never opened their eyes, or one who did but couldn’t stay long. They know the long days in the NICU, they know the devastation of planning a memorial service for an infant.

They also know the joy of knowing someone so small, but so special. They know the joy of knowing a love that is stronger than death. They know what it’s like not to take one sunrise for granted. They know the pride of being part of such a beautiful legacy, sparked by someone so small.

Of all people, we were chosen to be our baby’s parents. We are the best mother or father they could have asked for. We, of all the mothers and fathers in the world, were hand picked to experience a love stronger than death and to carry their legacy.

I’m looking forward to taking another another step toward this goal—together.

Forever Footprints’ Walk to Remember is an annual walk that takes place to honor babies that have died due to pregnancy loss and infant death. Parents, and their loved ones and friends, are invited to come walk the steps our babies will never take.We’d love for you to join us this year at the OC Walk to Remember or the IE Walk to Remember

 

Kristin HernandezKristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and the newest addition to their family–a baby boy they welcomed home in April. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.

As seasons change

As seasons change

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.”
— Ernest Hemingway

I felt especially connected to the seasons the year Ethan died.

The previous spring had been filled with so much excitement and the promise of new life. As the tree in our front yard filled with green lives, hope bloomed inside of me with eager anticipation over all that was to come. My heart felt warmer than those beautiful springtime afternoons.

Summer was the season of Ethan. One day we were driving home from the beach, windows rolled down, discussing baby names, and laughing over the irony of how many girl names we both liked and how few boy names we could agree on. Days later I went into the hospital for a routine ultrasound, blissfully unaware of the tidal wave lurking over the horizon. Soon after that we were sitting across the table from the geneticist as we received the devastating news that our little baby boy would likely fight for every breath. As the temperatures continued to rise, it felt as if we had been thrown into some sort of fire. Week after week brought more appointments, more scans, and even more bad news. Weeks later, we rushed to the hospital in the middle of a warm, August night. We uttered joyous hellos and tearful goodbyes. I can vividly feel the wall of thick heat that met me as I was wheeled back outside with empty arms, as sobs shook my entire body.

My broken heart welcomed the arrival of Autumn. The trees were stripped bare, their leaves falling like tears, and I felt understood. I found comfort in the way the changing of the season seemed to reflect my own feelings. Everything that had once bloomed so vibrantly now felt so lifeless and bare. As the cool of winter set in, questions, anger and defeat swirled around me like harsh winds. I struggled to stand beneath the force of it all. Everything felt so cold and I struggled to remember what spring had felt like.

But it came. Just like clockwork, spring returned and brought life to the trees that had once looked so dry and barren. As the warm afternoons returned, my weary heart began to find comfort and Hope. I was reminded that, though a part of me would remain changed by the seasons I had faced, spring would come again. Though a piece of my heart may ache, there was still hope–there would be spring again.

Autumn is more than a season of loss and grief to me. It is a season of harvest. It was as if I were pruned through the harsh winds of grief, and entered spring changed–more compassionate, more grateful for the sweet gift I had been given. Unlike the literal seasons, we have no idea how long the harsh winters of our lives may last–but we can cling to hope that winter can pave the way to spring. Springtime would cease to exist without Autumn and Winter.

Kristin HernandezKristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota, and the newest addition to their family–a baby boy they welcomed in April. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.

 

Main photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Celebrating and Surviving Milestones

Celebrating and Surviving Milestones

From the moment I first held that pregnancy test in my hand, my heart was filled with dreams for my son’s childhood–one that I hoped would be filled with love, laughter, and plenty of family traditions. I envisioned the milestones to come: his first birthday, his first day of school, his high school graduation. My dreams were shattered into a million pieces when our precious firstborn baby was born prematurely and succumbed to a fatal genetic condition at just 93-minutes old. The milestones that I once looked forward to with such joy and excitement were now anticipated with such deep sorrow. Three years later and my heart aches each time kindergarten enrollment begins, and I often find myself blinking back tears as I count down the years until Ethan’s class will start school.

The loss of a baby has a way of changing a simple date on the calendar into a point in time that feels so significant and so heavy with a wide spectrum of emotions. How can we face the due dates, the birthdays, and the milestones that now feel so bittersweet?

As we approached Ethan’s first birthday, I reached out to my friends within the loss community for ideas of ways to spend the day and received plenty of great ideas for celebrating and surviving milestones.  

Throw a bash

One of my loss mama friends throws a birthday party for her son each year. Through the years, this tradition has been a great way to celebrate her son’s life with friends both new and old. Some party ideas include a butterfly release, cake and icecream, showing a slideshow, and/or selecting a theme that reminds you of your baby.

Give back

Several of my sisters-in-loss commemorate special dates each year by lending a helping hand in their baby’s honor. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as volunteering at a local charity, hosting a Random Act of Kindness day, donating memory boxes through Forever Footprints, or making a contribution to an organization that has had a positive impact in their life (at Forever Footprints, you can personalize a fundraising page with your families story to make it more personal). Here are some suggestions for ways to give back

Take time to reflect

Whether you prefer to have a quiet day or one filled with plenty of activity, don’t forget to carve out some time for yourself. Go to the cemetery, look through photos and special mementos, take a walk, and/or listen to songs that remind you of your baby. Turn off your phone if you need to. Give yourself the freedom to feel whatever emotions you are met with–whether the day makes you smile, cry, or both.

In my experience, there is no one-size-fits all approach to celebrating and surviving milestones. Free yourself of any pressure to face the day in a particular way. In the first year after Ethan died, I felt pressure to celebrate milestones with grand gestures–I wanted to show the world just how much I loved him. Yet at the same time, I craved a day to myself. It took me some time to accept the fact that, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with grand gestures, Ethan didn’t need that from me. My love for him was undeniable and he was at perfect peace regardless of whether I threw a big party or spent the day alone. That first year, my husband and I each took the day off work, visited the cemetery, ate dinner at Del Taco (I couldn’t get enough Del Taco during my pregnancy with Ethan), and shared a small smash cake at home. We needed a quiet day together that year. However, by the time Ethan’s second birthday arrived we wanted to get out and be around lots of people. What we have needed has changed year to year, and even day to day, and it may be the same for you. Give yourself permission to celebrate each milestone in the way that is best for your family.

And remember, no matter how you choose to spend the day, your baby knows nothing but love.

Kristin HernandezKristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their rainbow baby. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to one baby on earth and five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.

 

Main photo by David Ananda on Unsplash