Thanksgiving and Christmas were always my favorite holidays. If I close my eyes, I can feel the excitement of waking up with my stomach churning in anticipation of the day, can smell the Thanksgiving turkey cooking and can see the formal china on the holiday tablecloth in the dining room. I remember the mounds of food that took hours and days to prepare and were consumed on Thanksgiving in about 20 minutes.
I remember the prayer of grace and focusing on everything my family was thankful for. And, of course, football.
And then Christmas memories of my mother reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to me while the fire crackled in the fireplace and while I drank eggnog. Then Midnight Mass with my father and trying so hard to fall asleep so that Santa Claus would come.
Then waking up to see that Santa Claus HAD come and there were presents under the tree. I remember being so tired after the days of anticipation. However, I was too young to remember this Christmas.
As I got older, Christmas was still magical. Pretending I was an angel dancing around the Christmas tree. Having tinsel stick to the dogs as they walked by the tree wagging their tails.
As an adult, I was so thankful for the birth of my first child, who was born about an hour before Thanksgiving in 1979. This incredible happiness coming with prayerful thanks and the gift of new life.
This birth was followed by news that a second child was on the way. And due on Christmas Day. I had a Thanksgiving baby, and now a Christmas baby.
The season between Thanksgiving and Christmas brought a flurry of emotions. I was anticipating two babies in diapers, worrying about a blizzard and having the baby in a snow plow. Wondering how to handle Christmas Day for daughter #1 if I was in the hospital then. Having daughter #1 put some Christmas presents in the bassinet for baby #2 so she’d start getting the idea that a sibling would be one of her Christmas presents.
I can remember every moment of that joyful birth. The c-section on December 23, 1981. The birth of my second daughter. The disappointment that Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, NY had a rule that newborns by cesarean section automatically went into the neonatal ICU nursery for a few hours. I didn’t understand that because while a c-section is a difficult birth for the mother, it seemed a much less traumatic birth for the baby. I was disappointed, but also exhausted, and knew that I’d be holding my baby in a few hours. We only took a couple of Polaroids, saving the film for when she would be out of the neonatal ICU nursery and upstairs with us.
But she never came out.
While resting in my room that was festooned with holiday decorations, we made all the phone calls. We told our excited relatives that Megan Barbara was born healthy with 10 fingers and 10 toes. A true Christmas gift.
Then my pediatrician walked into my room looking grave. I was confused, as I knew he was on vacation and his partner had assisted in the delivery. He told me that there was something wrong with her heart and she was no longer getting the oxygen she needed. That this started an hour or so after her birth and they were frantically working on her. He asked me if I wanted a priest to baptize her.
The priest came and performed the rite of baptism in the ICU, without us being allowed to be present. Afterwards, he came to my room and prayed for all of us. I was dazed and praying that against all odds, that the doctors could do something and would tell us that the danger had passed.
They couldn’t. They didn’t. They told us that Yale New Haven Hospital specialized in cardiac care of infants and a team of doctors and nurses were rushing by ambulance from Connecticut to New York to prepare her in the ambulance for the open-heart surgery she would have the second they arrived back at Yale New Haven.
I was not allowed to go.
They would not allow me to accompany me daughter due to my cesarean section surgery.
They brought the incubator to my room so I could say good-bye before she traveled to the other hospital. The incubator was too large to fit in the small aisle next to my bed. I was unable, even with assistance, to get to the end of my bed due to my surgery.
I never got to hold my daughter.
On Christmas Eve, 1981, Megan died of cardiac arrest. My beautiful daughter was now a beautiful angel.
For the last 34 years, the season between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day has been tumultuous. I hope that my three children who are living and loved so dearly have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving Days and Christmas Days filled with glee and love. I hope that I have been able to bury my grief somewhat each year so that they remember their sister yet experience the glory and fun of a holiday season worthy of happy memories.
No more dancing around the Christmas tree pretending I’m an angel. Now I feel the presence of my little angel dancing around our Christmas tree. My gift of a daughter. My gift of an angel.