“You have a redhead!” the doctor said.
My mother wasn’t expecting to give birth to a “ginger”. Neither of my parents were redheads, although there were a few on my father’s side of the family. It was a pleasant surprise. Mom was delighted. She named me Kathleen, after my paternal grandmother, who also just happened to have red hair.
My mom reveled in all the attention. There were always compliments. Early on, everyone marveled at the infant with the pretty red locks sleeping in the pram. Even the late actor Henry Fonda took notice one day as my mother exited a hardware store in Manhattan. “Cute baby,” he said as he held the door for us.
My earliest memory of the St. Patrick’s Day parade was as a spectator. My dad took me. I was about three years old and dressed in an Irish sweater, green jacket and green ribbons on my pigtails. I looked like I belonged on a poster promoting Irish tourism. Everyone thought I looked adorable. Everyone except for me.
I hated my red hair from day one. As a child, I didn’t like how it made me different. All of the other kids had either dark or light hair. I also didn’t like all the freckles that I gained with each passing summer. All of my friends came back to school each year with a glow. Instead, I had a bunch of freckles merging together. It was almost as if they were holding hands.
“You will love your red hair when you get older,” my mother always told me.
She would go on to say how unique my hair color was. I didn’t care to hear it then. She wanted me to vow to never change it. She said that if I did, I would lose the natural color that I was born with. Even as I grew into an adult, I kept my promise. My hair would stay the same until the day my mother died. I was just twenty- five years old at the time.
On January 1, 2008, my husband Brian and I found out we were expecting our first child. We were ecstatic. My pregnancy had been going very well so far. I had a strong feeling I was having a boy. We would name him Liam. Liam meant “strong- willed warrior.”
That April, we had our Anatomy Scan. My husband wore his special green tie with shamrocks. It was a corny little tie, but looking at it made me giddy. I knew it was his special little way of bringing along his own “luck of the Irish.” I flashed back to my first St. Patrick’s Day. Years later, it was now a sweet memory. Next year, I would be spending that holiday with my new little family. The sonogram technician did her thing. As I predicted, we would be having a boy. As she continued to move the wand around my abdomen, her perplexed look would lead to news that I wasn’t prepared for: little Liam had a serious congenital heart defect. It was called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Our own hearts were broken.
After a stressful few months, our lives would brighten by the arrival of this amazing little miracle. I remember the doctor telling me that I needed to push one more time. As I did, Liam officially entered the world. They put him right on my chest. I cried. I was so in love with this little person and he was so sick. The wave of emotions was both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. I will never forget that moment. I will never forget experiencing that indescribable love.
They whisked our little man off to the NICU immediately. I wouldn’t get to see him for a couple of hours. Knowing this, one of our nurses was nice enough to get some pictures of Liam as they were cleaning him off in the other room. It was a kind gesture. As she came back with the camera she exclaimed, “He’s a redhead!”
We had nine days with our beautiful little boy before he passed away. Liam was the boy who finally showed me what my smart mother had been telling me all along. Red hair was indeed beautiful. I was so very proud of him, just as my mom was of me.
Eighteen months after our tragic loss, we would finally attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade as a family. There were three of us. That past October, Liam’s little sister Julia joined our family. There is no doubt that Liam guided Julia into our arms. Although our family would always be incomplete; we certainly had reason to celebrate that year.
Every year, on St. Patrick’s Day, I do a tribute to Liam on Facebook. I call him my little Irish prince. I share our favorite photograph. It is the same picture that the nurse took that very first day of his life. In it, you see his beautiful red hair. I still miss him and think about him every day. Mostly, I am so thankful that he chose me to be his mother. For Liam, I couldn’t be more thankful.