Ellis’ hat is too big.
Instead of fitting snugly over his newborn head, the cream-colored wool cap with the floppy bear ears keeps sliding over his eyes.
Sitting in the backseat on the way home from the hospital, his mom, Christine Wisnieski, keeps trying to push it back up. At just 5 pounds, 12 ounces, Ellis is tiny. When he sleeps, his face looks like that of an old, wise, wizardly man.
I am so lucky, Christine thinks, as she gazes at his smooth, still eyelash-free face. So lucky to be alive, so lucky to be going home, so lucky to have this family.
As if sensing his mom’s thoughts, Ellis lets out a small, screechy pterodactyl sound that makes his parents laugh.
A few minutes later, Christine and her husband, Kevin, pull up in front of their Cleveland Heights home, the one they bought a few years ago, dreaming that one day it would be filled with the sound of pattering children’s feet.
They couldn’t imagine then that it would take them seven years — three miscarriages, three lost embryos, two egg retrievals, four egg transfers, seven uterine surgeries — to get there. Nor could they imagine they would almost lose Christine in the process. Or how much they would lose — but also gain — in this time.
Now, as they walk up to the house, Kevin looks down at his son still snuggled in his carrier.
“Welcome home, Ellis,” he says softly.
* * * * *
“Maybe this journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that really isn’t you so you can become who you were meant to be in the first place.”
Christine always wanted to be a mother.
But when she first met Kevin her freshman year at Kent State University in 1997, motherhood wasn’t exactly at the top of her mind. Instead, Christine was enjoying getting to know this introspective, hardworking blond guy, who she’d first seen in a photo in her friend’s dorm.
He’d been wearing a black leather jacket and a crooked grin in the photo — and she’d kind of fallen for him, right then. He was a fixer, always trying to make things right and better, whether it was a friend’s paper or someone’s flat tire. Christine loved him for this.
“I knew from the moment I met him I wanted to have his children,” she laughs.
Kevin felt just as strongly about Christine, a social, ambitious design student who laughed easily and unabashedly. Even then, she was maternal — bringing snacks to parties (in case anyone got hungry, she says) and sitting up with drunk friends to make sure they were OK.
“She was easily the most caring person I knew,” Kevin recalls.
Since they first got together in 1998, things between them were easy. After four years of dating, it seemed natural that Kevin and Christine would continue this path together.
“We sort of inspired each other,” Christine says. “Life was better together. It was easier. It was more fun. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t do or handle together.”
The two got engaged in 2002 and married in 2003 at St. Michael’s Church in Independence. At the reception, relatives laughed and toasted the couple, telling them they’d make beautiful babies.
Christine’s best friend, Bethany Cocco, was one of the most enthusiastic celebrants, spinning around the dance floor in a long black dress and flowing black scarf. Bethany frequently talked dreamily of her and Christine having children at the same time, so they could grow up closely (although Bethany lived in New York).
Christine and Kevin wanted children too. They wanted to raise good people together, who would hopefully go on to make the world a better place.
But first Christine and Kevin wanted to build careers and a stable home. Christine started as a graphic designer downtown and Kevin worked as an engineer at Applied Medical Technology. They bought a home in Middleburg Heights and traveled to places like Italy and San Francisco. Children were on their mind, but time felt elastic — like it could stretch forever.
“It seems naive now,” Kevin says. “We just assumed children would be easy to have.”