Maks fluttered into our lives — quickly. We had just moved to the Rivermill, a renovated loft-style apartment that previously functioned as a textile mill in the Village of Saxapahaw just 15 miles west of the college town, Chapel Hill. Little did we know that in the course of a couple of months and after about 10 meandering years of courtship that we would be watching the fashion show, Project Runway, as we discovered — on my birthday! — that we were with child, miraculously. And when I use miracle, I don’t use it lightly — the chances of even just being pregnant, let alone what would end up happening seem so low that a logical person wouldn’t bet on it. We moved to the Rivermill on a whim — almost like something pulled us there, and we probably aren’t the only ones who experienced this. There was something unique about Saxapahaw and the Rivermill aside from it’s place on the side of the Haw River with a gourmet gas station eatery.
We quickly did the things that people do when they get pregnant for the first time — we worried, made like changing decisions (such as finally getting married), found an OBGYN practice, and got overwhelmed by other people’s opinions and all the material items that are “needed” for pregnancy and baby. Just like in any family, there was drama over a baby shower, and a lot of excitement for the changes that would come with a new addition to the family. We didn’t have a baby room ready, but we had a name which was solidified when we both were drawn to a photo of Saint Maksymilian in a Polish Church rectory basement in suburban Maryland.
There had been a lot of heavy things happening that April 2010. A plane full of over 100 Polish dignitaries traveling to the location of the Katyn massacre crashed near the terrible, terrible site. My great aunt passed away. And then there was that volcano in Iceland that spread across the entire continent of Europe reeking havoc on air travel.
We went to a routine ultrasound with our favorite of the revolving door of doctors at the OBGN practice — Dr. Raghandale, and Maks was growing and looking good at 34 fetal weeks of age. Three days later, we saw Dr. Raghandale in the waiting room of the main ultrasound room while she was a patient with her family happily waiting for her very own ultrasound. We were there for more distressing reasons, and it was that moment when the nurse walked away from the machine to get the doctor that I will never forget. The moment the doctor said those words, there were millions of emotions, thoughts, words that raced through me rapidly. It there is anything in life I could rewind or take back it would be the incredible pain that I felt. But then we wouldn’t have our beautiful, awe-inspiring two children and Maks wouldn’t be the martyr that he may have been meant to be.
Two days later, Maks was delivered on April 17, 2010 — the same day as the funeral to honor those who perished in the horrific plane crash. My mom stood by my side, comforting me by moving her hand along my forehead while we listened to Michael Jackson’s song from Free Willy. Zach held my hand as the room was silent. The hospital did many things to honor and respect our situation, as it wasn’t the normal labor and delivery. There were special signs on our door to “warn” nurses and doctors, we got a bear as something tangible for me to carry home, a certificate of delivery with baby footprints, and a photographer came to take photos of Maks for us to have for later. Our immediate family members who could be there paid their respects.
Aside from a few minor surgeries and illnesses, this was my first major experience with the healthcare system. I hadn’t ever experienced the rush and in and out nature of hospitals — the whole new world you have to get to know with roles, vocabulary, and how overwhelming it all is. Even after delivery, nobody knew what went wrong. We went along with an autopsy, only to change our minds later. The most I remember is the one night Maks stayed in the room with us. I was finally sleeping and woke up suddenly during Saturday Night Live and Kesha’s performance of “Your Love is My Drug.” She was wearing neon and it was an insane looking performance. For some unknown reason, it was the most comforting thing in the world — maybe because it was this shared experience with Maks. I cannot explain it in words, but there was a feeling that just made sense as I came to from a deep sleep to witnessing this performance.
Another major aspect of these ever so challenging days was my mom’s visit to a church on the Haw River across from the Rivermill. She just needed a place to go to turn to. There she met a woman who was married to Pastor David, and in the typical way that my mom has — they all became instant friends and David came to the hospital to see us. We didn’t have a church at that time, and both Zach and I felt the gigantic space that god and faith could help fill. The moment that Pastor David walked into the hospital room — we recognized each other. Months earlier in December, my car broken down on the bridge over the Haw River between the Rivermill and his Church. Pastor David had come out of his church to help stop traffic, recruit a former military guy to help him push my car, and waited with me as Zach drove from work to help out. He was a saint then, and at the hospital — just simply by showing up. It was in his church that we had Maks’ funeral service and Zach gave the most touching eulogy that you could ever imagine. I can still see him standing at the pulpit in the suit he just recently wore at our wedding and it was the classic example of people don’t remember what you say, but rather how you make them feel. I have never been more proud to call Zach the father of my children than in that moment. Somehow, he got a packed church full of people mourning the loss of a baby to laugh at the thought of me canoeing and running a 5K while pregnant.
Pastor David and his family would end up moving to Arizona, but their legacy lived on. Literally. Without even knowing it, we named our daughter Maia which was his daughter’s name. And, in typical Saxapahaw fashion, we were in the General Store a day after I was in the hospital almost induced, but not quite yet — when Zach was getting our order and I starred aimlessly into the soda display. The name Maia came to me, and it stayed. I had not made the connection to Pastor David’s Maya until a year or so later when another member of the Village reminded me of our Maia’s namesake.
Maks is buried in Saxapahaw. His middle name is Gerard which is the patron saint of childbirth. It is also the middle name of our delivery nurse, Maria. She was the tenth child for her mother and a very difficult pregnancy so her mother prayed to Saint Gerard. We felt so much inspiration from Maria and her story that we forever connected Maks and our lives to Saint Gerard. Again, something told us to not use the middle name Charlie after Zach’s father and grandfather. When Zach’s dad asked me why we didn’t use Charlie for Maks’ middle name — I simply told him we wanted to save it for another time.
We now see butterflies all the time and believe that they are Maks communicating with us. Zach gives anyone we know who struggles with having children a Saint Gerard medal. Words cannot express how much we love Maks and how much he has done for us. We think about him constantly and can see him in our hearts and minds as the sweet little boy that he was and always is.