"Tiny Christmas Stockings"

BY: Kathy L. Young

A very heartfelt "After Christmas" post from a special guest blogger; My Mother. She shares her story of loss and hope as she honors my siblings no longer on this Earth.  Thank you for sharing you heart and your story Mom! As you read, please, share your thoughts and heart if you have experienced loss. . .

Christmas! Fifty-two years of memories flood my mind as I sit and watch the fireplace mantel, hung with our children’s, spouse’s, and grandchildren’s Christmas stockings, all swaying gently with the breeze of the ceiling fan. Two of those stockings were little fuzzy, red baby Christmas stockings, hanging between siblings, with their names lovingly penned in gold. Our tiny baby girl, Sage, and tiny baby brother, Shiloh, were nestled beneath my heart for only very short times, but they impacted my life forever.

We married in 1963, still in an era of“getting married, then a year later, having a baby,” not much was said about couples who had difficulty getting pregnant. People were still getting accustomed to saying the word “pregnant,” let alone discussing problems with conception. I had grown up absolutely loving babies. One of my deepest desires was to have a “Walton’s” size family. We married in June, right after my H.S, graduation, and started college together as a married couple. THIS was rarely done, so the 60’s were a time of change, and my husband and I found ourselves right in the middle. The first three years proved challenging, especially with my health. I had polio in 1962, and the Obstetrician didn’t give us much hope of ever having children. However, six weeks into 1967, our son, Shawn was on the way! I spent nine gloriously healthy, happy months, ecstatic over this wiggly, kicking, poking and scratching little miracle inside me. The old-fashioned birth process with my very elderly, white-haired country doctor was extremely hard. Shawn was ten days overdue, and I went to the hospital very early on in the labor process. A few minutes after I was taken back to the delivery room, I was put to sleep, so there would be less strain on my heart. So, I closed my yes...blackness...no pain, no memory...open my eyes...there was my baby boy! Well, the desire to have more children was still strong, Years passed, and after going to the Duke Infertility Clinic, Sage was on her way! Five years of waiting, and there she was, our wee one, deep inside me, growing...barely enough time to become excited...and pain, blood clots, and she was gone! Grief washed over me in wave after wave. No one spoke about our loss. It was hushed up as if the pregnancy and loss never happened! We lived in the south where again, the “female problems” were not discussed. The very people who could help me through my grief were silent; no other woman who had experienced the loss of a baby offered one word to help me walk this path.

I adjusted, and continued to heal, physically. We never knew why we lost Sage. The why didn’t really matter, she was gone. My life was filled with rearing our beautiful son, and a career in music, attempting to pry my mind away from having another baby. The years passed, Shawn was six, and Shannon was on her way! I was afraid to become too excited...the loss of Sage was still as fresh as the day she left my body, and I lived with that fear until the doctor assured me the danger of early miscarriage had passed. Old wives’ tales said that a baby’s temperament was decided by the temperament of the mother while inside the womb. I sang and laughed every day, determined this baby would be happy! Tales, or not, Shannon was born healthy, bouncy, and happy!

Several months later, Shiloh was starting his journey inside my body. I was around twelve weeks along, and so excited I could hardly breathe! This “Walton” family was taking shape! My mother started sending newborn clothes, and even a sweet little teddy bear, just right for tiny hands to hold and cuddle. Several weeks after finding Shiloh, the all too familiar pain and spotting began. Hospitalized for a week, barely moving in that bed, I went into labor. My screams for help went unanswered, and there, alone in that bed, Baby Shiloh was born. I never saw my baby...the nurses started “cleaning” everything, and I was taken to surgery to “finish.” He was gone...just gone! A huge piece of my heart left with him. Again, no one mentioned what happened, and even my mother told my husband to get rid of the teddy bear. Thankfully, he didn’t. The dam of grief was so overpowering, I thought I would burst inside! I buried Shiloh beside Sage, so deep down inside me, safe and secure, and quiet...until many years later.

In 1977, our third baby, Shalene, was born. She had been our “miracle” baby, but that’s another story. And when I think about carrying all three babies for nine months, they are each miracles! My chances with my physical limitations, the odds of my conceiving and carrying one child let alone three to full term had been slim to none. Years later, I started sharing Sage and Shiloh, though at that time they were not named, with other women who had lost babies. Slowly the centuries old taboo of “female” problems began to tear down. We shared, and cried, and shared some more! One Christmas, while hanging stockings, my babies cried out deep down inside me, to hang their stockings too! Nothing symbolizes the family so much as its stockings hung, awaiting Santa Claus. So the first stockings Shawn, Shannon, and Shalene had made in school were symbolically hung with Vince’s and my old stockings in a corner. Then two little baby stockings were pinned to mine. Still I knew I wasn’t through.

Forty-five years pass. I have shared with countless women helping them to know they lost a baby, a person, a forever member of their family, and have a place in line with their other children. I have not healed, I do not believe that a woman ever completely heals after her loss. For me, whether I carried Sage only a few weeks, or Shiloh a few months, or nine, they were my children. They live in my memory as vivid as when I carried them. My memory has not dimmed with age.

Christmas. Looking at those stockings in the corner, suddenly I realized the other stockings had their names written on them. I had never thought about giving our babies, names. For days I thought and searched, just like I did when naming our other babies. Naming the first baby had never entered my mind. Again, back then our culture didn’t treat that early loss as a real baby...a person. Now, the knowledge that the baby was real...so.; we didn’t know whether they were boy or girl. Vince and I chose the first, a girl, Sage. The second baby I had always believed in my heart, thinking as the nurses took the tiny bundle away, that it was a boy, Shiloh. Those babies were real! It was time they joined the stockings on the mantel in their line of siblings! I labeled each new, fuzzy red stocking with “Sage,” then “Shiloh,” and hung them. I then explained everything about these babies that I had tucked so deep down inside me, to their daddy, to Shawn, Shannon, and Shalene, and the stories behind them. I shared my deep loss and all these years of silent grief. These babies were here, in all our hearts, in our imaginations, tucked not deep down inside us, but right out there, a part of our family.

I went on with my life, living through each loss, yet their presence through my memory was never far from my mind. You MUST go on and take each day with its blessings, as well as challenges. The old people say that this is “life happening.” It’s how we deal with these episodes that makes or breaks us. You choose to break, or to allow it to define the best in you!

I’m seventy now, and still the memories are right there, fresh to tears when I speak of Sage and Shiloh. I still hurt, but in a different way. I miss them, who they were and what they could have become. I know we will all be together someday, imagining like older people do. It is now another Christmas, watching all those stockings waving gently to the ceiling fan. There are three birth children, two children in God’s nursery, three spouses, four grandchildren, my husband, and me, fourteen! There is my ‘Walton” family! I am very blessed! Somehow, the hanging of those red, fuzzy stockings with Sage and Shiloh penned in gold, brought those babies right into our family room, our family circle, living memories inside all of us, the Young’s, a, “Walton” family!