"Houston, I'm pregnant," were the first words I spoke at my mother's memorial service. I had turned 35 years old only 4 days earlier. Now I was the first of her three living children to give a eulogy as we said "See you later."
Why start with pregnancy? At a funeral? Because I decided to start at the very beginning of her life. At the crux of change. At the point in time where her mother found herself to have a toddler with health issues, and pregnant again. Only 18, married, and expecting her second child after a cesarean section had saved the life of her and the first baby, Charlie. It was 1946 in Las Cruces, NM and the household of Houston and Betty Jo was a hard scrabble life in the desert. They worked hard at providing through a small dairy and cash crop farming. Having both survived the Great Depression, they didn't take anything for granted. Including babies, always considered a gift.
My mom, Mary Ann, would be the second child, as well as last child for her parents. With two cesareans close together, her mom was sterilized before the age of 20. There my mom's life began. In a two room adobe house in the desert, treasured by her parents.
This thread ran deep in my mom's life. Finding a treasure in each baby, each pregnancy, each milestone. She saved curls of hair, first drawings and handprints, even baby teeth in her jewelry box. She loved being a mom, a Girl Scout leader, a Sunday school teacher, and eventually a granny.
In 1978, my mom experienced the darkest day of her life. At 9 months pregnant she gave birth to a perfectly formed and beautiful baby girl, Heather. Heather was born sleeping. My mom was not allowed to see her, to hold her, or to say goodbye. She told me this was the first time in her life she thought she felt "old." She was 31 years old. Sorrow had found its way to her heart. My mom, the saver of all precious childhood keepsakes, saved the autopsy report of her baby girl. The only "picture" she would ever have of her.
To say that she was elated, and also terrified, to be expecting me only a few months later, would probably be an understatement. Though I know that my birth did not replace my sister, it did help heal her heart and return joy to the family. One meaning of Hillery comes from the same root as "hilarious or hilarity," I have never had a problem bringing laughter with me. I like that about my name.
I can't tell you how many conversations we had when she was worked up over the mean spirited words someone had said to someone who was expecting another baby. That was one of the rudest and unforgivable things you could probably do around my mom. Every baby was wanted, was precious, was treasured. It is understandable that growing up with a mom that had been taught this as a child, and then lived this out around me, that I would also see babies as wondrous miracles.
After telling my husband I was pregnant with our first baby, my mom was the next person that I told. I was nervous to tell her, after all I was still in college, but I shouldn't have been. She cried with me in joy over the news of a new life. She also cried tears of sadness with me when I miscarried my third pregnancy. I think she considered her kids and then her grandkids to be her greatest earthly treasure. She ended up with a perfect dozen grandkids, and she loved each and every one.
I sit here wondering why I wanted to put this out here on my website's blog. I just know that this is part of me. My mom's birth, my sister's birth, my birth, my daughters birth, all spiraling together through my mind. My mom was my doula when I gave birth to my first baby. Twelve years later, on my daughter's birthday, my mom slipped away from us into eternity. Birth and
death, entwined so beautifully and inexorably together in my mind.