Friday, September 17, 2010

Falling in Love Under Difficult Circumstances

Having to put a brand-new baby into Intensive Care for the first few weeks of her life pretty much fit my view of a nightmare scenario.

Johnny and I had gotten ourselves into a parenting pattern by Baby Number Four. We started parenting our first child as granola crunching post-grad students. We adopted the "attachment parenting" formula all the way. Each of my first three babies got swaddled, held, carried, exclusively breastfed, co-slept and gently, gently moved into a crib at eight months of age.

Baby Tess neatly fit into our established parenting pattern until day six of her young life, when we suddenly had to hand over our desperately ill baby girl to a gigantic hospital establishment.

For the past two weeks, this newborn kid has undergone more medical tests, harder operations, and more blood draws than you can imagine. She sleeps in a crib. She uses a pacifier. She's eating some sort of weird liquid fats through her IV tube instead of breast milk. She lives in a giant NICU unit 45 minutes away from her family's home.

For almost all of that time, I've desperately prayed to God to get Tess out of this nightmare scenario FAST. "Please Lord, get Tess home soon."

Through the miracle of grace, I stopped freaking out about the permanent damage this hospital stay is going to inflict on my little girl's ability to trust and relate to the world. I started to understand that this scary, weird situation is not a result of my or Tessie's sin. Her healing journey was planned by God for his wider purposes-- and her hospital stay going to end when God says it will end.

In the meantime, as my Johnny said "Tess is writing herself one interesting Baby Book."

My youngest girl's Baby Book is not going to match any of her older siblings. Yet it is still a Baby Book. There is still love and joy and funny moments in the desert of the NICU.

God exists in the NICU. Love exists in the NICU. I've had much less bonding time with my newborn than I've wished. However, love is not a strict mathematical formula.

The moments that I've spent rocking my sick baby in her hospital room have the intensity of a desert experience. Being alone, means being close to God. Thanking Him in advance for the gift of healing and the joy of family life that Tessie and I have yet to experience together.

I'm already walking away from the NICU experience 'purified'. Simplified. A better parent and a better Catholic.

St. John of the Cross, pray for us to carry our daily crosses with pure joy.


  1. There will be time for the skin to skin, carrying around, exclusive breastfeeding (that human milk will help heal her little gut!),and attachment parenting. This is only a small season in your baby's life. I know that your being in that NICU has had positive impacts on other people both staff and other parents.

    One of the things that happens when things go awry (with us it was complicated pregnancies) is that you gain a great appreciation for the miraculousness of the whole process. You also spend a lot of time thankful for medical advances that keep babies and mothers alive who would have died 200 years ago.

    For me the separation was not from my newborn, but from my firstborn. After 3 years of never being away from him for more than a few hours (and never overnight) I was hospitalized and hour and a half away from home and could only see him a few days a week and mostly only a couple hours of those days for 3 months. Did it do damage to him, we'll never know for sure because so much of who we are is basic personality. What we do know is that it was the only way to insure that his baby sister stayed in utero until close to her due date. You do the best you can within the circumstances you are given.

    I'm sure that Tess will appreciate the special pages in her baby book that no one else has. I'm also sure that you will appreciate the hours you've had alone with her. Those are precious hours that moms of more than one don't always get. At the same time I'm also sure that all of you will be glad when you and Tess can come home from the desert. Praying that happens soon.

  2. It is amazing what we can do when we have to. Life has a way of giving us no choice and then God works. His grace is there when we need it. :)

  3. Years ago I was waiting for many hours in a hospital while I friend labored with her first child. when the doctors began to talk C-section I burst into tears, so sad that my friend might be denied a "natural birth." When I went to the chapel to pray, God reminded me what the ability to do a C-section meant: no more lonely crosses on open prairies, no more motherless children left to grieving fathers, no more women who died long before they should.
    And that is what this time in the NICU means to you and little Tess. No watching her waste away from something you don't understand, no wondering why she isn't thriving like your other children. While modern medical technology can be daunting, it is also God's gift to a fallen world struggling with the centuries long effects of sin.
    We keep praying.

  4. I wish I was closer so I could hug you. And that I knew you in real life so it wouldn't be weird :)

  5. I wanted to offer some encouragement, prayers and hugs from a fellow mostly crunchy mom who did a NICU stint. My daughter Mercy was transferred to the NICU shortly after her birth due to breathing difficulties. It was a long 10 day stay, but now she is 4 months old and doing beautifully. I will keep your family and your beautiful daughter in my prayers.