Last week my dear friend had a baby. Little Nate made his arrival on the evening of May 18. He and Mom are home and doing well, and I am very happy for them. I am sure much more could be said, but it is not my story to tell. Unfortunately for me, Little Nate lives 1,000 miles away from Tonawanda, New York, so I can’t go visit him or bring his parents a meal. A care package, a phone call, and my prayers will have to do.
In the meantime, I’ve had lots of time to ruminate over a different baby story, the one that is mine to tell. This story is about my Baby Jack. Like Little Nate, Baby Jack arrived in the 6 o’clock hour of the evening after a rather precipitous labor. (For the record, I really liked the fact that labor was precipitous, but I’m not writing that kind of story so I’ll spare you the details.) If we are comparing birth stories, we now have two baby boys who were born rather quickly, and arrived in the evening. That’s kind of where the similarities end.
Baby Jack was born on the evening of September 16, 2005. His story is by no means tragic, but it is not exactly lighthearted. After making his arrival, Jack was briefly given to me so we could meet face to face. Soon though, it was time for the medical personnel to make their routine checks. Jack’s ultrasounds had shown a healthy baby so we had no reason to suspect that anything would be wrong. Then the nurse looking him over said, “What’s that?” Jack had a little hole, almost like a dimple in the middle of his lower back. My first thought was that the medical personnel should patch up this little hole and give me back my baby. It wasn’t that easy. That hole could be “communicating” with Jack’s spine. He could be at risk for meningitis. Moreover, that hole could be indicative of an underlying condition such as spina bifida. Oh, dear.
It was decided that Jack should be transported to the local children’s hospital and placed in the NICU. I did get to hold him again. He even nursed a little. He latched on right away, tenacious little fellow that he was (and still is). Then it was time for him to go.
When I was ready, the nurse wheeled me to the room where Jack was being prepared for transport. The ambulance incubator is made for preemies, I think, and Jack was by no means a preemie. At 8 pounds and 8 ounces, he filled up the whole thing, and he didn’t look terribly happy about being in there either! We said good-bye, and I was settled in my room in one hospital while Jack was transported to another hospital across town.
My husband, David, stayed with me for awhile, but we decided he should go see Jack. Earlier in the day, I had had a two-year old at my side and a baby in my womb. Now my two-year old was at the home of a congregation member, (David was a pastor in Buffalo at the time) and my baby was in the NICU across town with my husband. And yes, David did come back to visit me, and of course there were nurses on the floor, but basically that night I was all alone with only a hospital-grade breast pump to keep me company.
In the morning, a very kind lactation consultant came to see me about that hospital-grade breast pump. I pretty much had it figured out, but I was so glad that she brought me a box of tissues and just sat and talked with me for a bit of time.
When a mother says that her arms ache to hold her child, she is telling the truth. My arms really did ache during my two-day stay in the hospital across town from my baby boy. I was sad, I was lonely, I was distressed, but I must note that I was not terribly worried. Somehow I believed that everything would turn out all right. In part, I reasoned that a baby who kicked as much as Jack did in utero, could not possibly be high on the spina bifida spectrum. In part, I suppose I trusted God. I know that God does not always make things turn out the way we would like. I know that some mothers’ arms ache much longer than mine did. Still, I trusted. I had a book with me – I think David brought it from the house when he came back to see me. It was Traveling Light for Mothers by Max Lucado. It is based on Psalm 23, and while it certainly did not make everything better, it was comforting:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (New International Version)
Jack was born on Friday. On Sunday, David preached a sermon, and after church he came to pick me up from my hospital. We went straight to the children’s hospital to see Jack. The nurses were taking good care of him there, and they told us how strong he seemed to be. They were so impressed when he lifted up his head to turn it to the other side!
By Monday, the doctors had concluded that Jack did, indeed, have a type of low spectrum spina bifida, but that they could perform a surgery that would “un-tether” his spinal cord and allow it to develop properly. I remember telling the surgeon that I didn’t even know what questions I was supposed to be asking. He was very nice and explained the routine risks of surgery while basically assuring me that Jack would have a good outcome. I also remember a not-so-polished intern who actually asked me if I had been taking my folic acid! I realize that there is a link between spina bifida and folic acid deficiency in the mother; however, it is not a great idea to start lecturing about this while the mother is holding her son in the NICU. Yes, I had been taking my folic acid well before conception and throughout my pregnancy; but if I hadn’t, can you imagine the guilt I would be feeling? The surgeon told us that Jack’s birth defect was just “bad luck.” Perhaps. In retrospect, we tend to think it might have been the benzene pollution in the neighborhood where we were living. (We have since moved!)
We had Jack baptized on Monday evening. I kind of liked that part. We didn’t have to wait until we were all feeling well enough to go to church. We didn’t have to dress up, or clean the house, or have a party. It was just water and God’s Word right there at Jack’s little hospital warming bed.
Jack’s surgery was on Tuesday morning, and it did go well. He was strong and tenacious, like I said, and by Friday, a week after his birth, he was ready to come home. My mom had come for a few days so she could help a bit. Jack slept on his side, and we had some special diapering instructions so that his surgical wound would be kept clean. Other than that, he was a typical newborn.
We had several follow-up visits, and Jack had to endure a few rather uncomfortable procedures during the first years of his life. Basically, the doctors kept telling us that Jack was doing great, and eventually we didn’t have to bring him in anymore. Jack is still doing great. He has a bit of asthma and a myriad of food allergies, but that’s a story for another day.
I keep reading here and there that it is important for us to share our stories. Shauna Niequist makes a plea for stories at the end of her book, Bittersweet, a book that, incidentally, contains several baby stories. Now you have my story about Baby Jack, or at least the beginning chapter. It is not a perfect, glowing birth story, but I think it is a story of hope and of God’s provision.
Today I am thankful for the arrival of Little Nate, and I pray that God will bless him and his parents with many happy stories. I am especially thankful though, for my Baby Jack who has grown into quite a boy. (He knows he’s not yet “big” so he calls himself “medium.”) We have had many stories already, both happy and sad, and God has been with us through them all.