From the time my mom was a little girl, she hoped to have a baby boy. With each pregnancy, she picked out boy names and thought about what life would be like with a son. With each delivery, she was gifted with baby girls. She thought that she was done having children, especially after my parents divorced, and laid that dream to rest. However, a few years later she found out she was expecting again. On August 16, 1994, my brother Dalton was born. We were all so excited to have a little boy in our family that mainly consisted of girls. His father was overjoyed to have his first child. My mom’s heart was complete.
From the get-go Dalton was small. My mom noticed a few things that seemed a little off to her, most notably the fact that it took Dalton a very long time to finish a bottle. At his one month checkup, our pediatrician heard something no one had detected before: a heart murmur. Our world spun out of control from there.
My brother was taken to Riley Hospital, diagnosed with HLHS. HLHS stands for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a congenital birth defect. It is a severe defect where the left side of the heart does not function properly. For Dalton, the left ventricle of his heart did not work the way that was necessary to keep him alive. My mom was shocked to learn that because everyone was unaware of his defect, he should not have lived more than a few days after birth. However, Dalton also had a small hole in his heart, which is not incredibly uncommon, and usually closes after birth. Because of the hole, he was able to survive longer as it aided in keeping him alive. Sadly, Dalton needed a heart transplant to survive, and my mom was told that the chances of that happening were incredibly slim.
Dalton passed away just before Thanksgiving at three months old. While I do not have very clear memories of this time, I do remember going to Riley and being able to say goodbye. I couldn’t fully grasp the weight of what was happening, but looking back now, as a mother I can only fathom the horrible loss my mom was suffering.
Dalton’s passing has undoubtedly shaped me as a mother. In one way, it has been a cause of worry. Dalton’s heart defect was genetic, and we went through very intricate ultrasounds with a heart doctor to ensure that neither of my boys had the same defect. Thankfully, they do not. Being able to see their hearts beat in perfect rhythm in 4D on a big screen was one of the greatest sources of relief I’ve ever experienced. I have twice held my babies at Dalton’s exact age and thanked God to feel their hearts beat against my chest.
Losing Dalton has also taught me to be incredibly thankful for each day I have with my children. I believe my mother has experienced the absolute worst thing that can happen in this life, and it has left me with a lingering awareness that time is not a gift we are ever promised. For that, I am grateful. I try very hard each day to make sure that I have showered my boys with hugs, kisses, snuggles, and “I love you’s.”
One feeling I held in my heart for many years was an aversion to Riley Hospital. They couldn’t save my brother, and as I went through school, there were numerous fundraisers or drives benefiting Riley. I refused to participate in any of them. It was a trace of bitterness and resentment I was finally able to let go of a handful of years ago. Now, as a teacher, I share the loss of my brother with others every February when we discuss American Heart Month.
My mom has also experienced redemption. She is the grandmother of three loud, rambunctious, full of life boys. We have no doubt that this is an intentional gift. While we would love to change what our family has experienced, I am forever thankful for the way it has shaped us and the lessons we have taken away from his loss.