Monday, September 27, 2010

It Feels Like Christmas

Life feels totally different.

Today I took Baby Tess into a follow up appointment with her regular pediatrician. This is the doctor who called me at home three hours after her formal work day ended to urge me to take my listless, non-eating baby immediately to the ER. Three weeks later we're both laughing that Tessie's six page hospital discharge summary can end with the simple instructions "refer for a hearing screening at one year and take Vitamin D drops."

It is unbelievable to get a newborn back after 2 life-saving surgeries with those simple instructions. I wish all parents could end their long NICU vigils with such healthy babies.

I ran into a funny friend at the baby's first Mass yesterday. She mentioned my "troubles" and kept dropping her voice in a conspiratorial whisper outside of church. I kept correcting her embarrassed, shameful tone by waving my healthy pink baby in front of her face. "Yes, all of that sickness was very scary- but you're missing the point. She's healed! Baby Tess is totally fine! God worked some miracles and we are all so thankful. Today's the day of great happiness and rejoicing."

I've gotten some of the "you guys should never have had to deal with all of that." I think that's all baloney. God is going to hand out some sick kids to the world. Some of them are going to fall into the laps of his beloved, faithful Catholics. In fact, considering that we're ones having the most kids and shunning the whole ugly "lets kill the sick and the lame inside the Mother's womb" rather than risk breaking our hearts inside the Cardiac Catheterization Waiting Room--it's going to look like the faithful Catholics get more sick kids than the rest of the secular world.

Who is better equipped to handle a long vigil in the NICU than two Carmelites in love?

In fact, now that the scary journey is all over, I'm borrowing one of my friend Kaitlyn's phrases "that's all I had to do?" A c-section, some tears in the NICU, one scary hour waiting for my baby's heart to get cleared of a "foreign obstruction"? That's all I had to do to bring home a beloved third daughter who smiles so clearly at only 4 weeks old?

The double trial purified all of us. I was just slipping back into normal reality when the heart crisis hit. My job was to babysit 4 kids under the age of 8 in a small hospital room for 9 hours on Wednesday. It didn't go smoothly. I got stressed handing out butterscotch pudding cups and lollipops and trying to find the right Sponge Bob episodes in the hospital's impossible to use DVD player while trying to feed a newborn who remained inept at nursing.

I called my husband at 6 AM on Thursday morning and dreaded a repeat performance of the Benjamin kids in the hospital drama for 36 more hours.

Then he told me that a foreign object was now lodged in my daughter's heart, and no one was sure how to fix it.

That second time back on the cross cleared everything else out. I didn't complain about my tired eyes or my messy house or the fridge that only contained rotten milk and granola bars.

I knew my baby's NICU journey was going to end when God wanted it to end.

Baby Tess' "happy ending" was solely in God's hands. She was either coming home or not. (I knew God well enough to know that his "happy ending" might be taking a sweet girl up to heaven at 25 days old and leaving her family the grace to cope with missing her.)

I know now that each of my kids is a gift from heaven. I get to be their babysitter on earth. My pride and my stress got all burned away. Now, I'm just left with the joy and the honor of being a regular Mom again.

I realize now that being a Catholic is hard. It does involve suffering. Everyday I wake up and I know that I'm going to be spending some time in the "Heart Catheterization Lab Waiting Room." It's a place I don't want to be, doing something that I don't want to be doing. Jesus sends me there as his friend -- because it's good for healing my own damaged heart.

Once you accept the mandatory suffering part, life as a stay-at-home Catholic wife and mother is pretty good. It's not boring. It's not mundane. It's not unimportant.

Right now, it feels like Christmas in the Benjamin house.


  1. Of all the things you've ever written, this is my favorite. Absolutely beautiful, dear friend.

  2. Beautifully written, Abby! I love how you are able to put things into words so perfectly, especially that with which I can totally identify! I read this and my heart swells with joy for the Benjamin family - so richly rewarded for your steadfastness and faith. Kisses to that beautiful Tess from us, and I'm glad she won't be around next time we're there ;-p I would love to re-meet her without the wires sometime!

  3. Beautiful post. Thank you for being such an inspiration through these trials. It has helped me to see things with a better perspective. I'm so glad I found your blog a few weeks ago. I'll need to read through these posts again when my toddler goes through open heart surgery in the next year or two! I'm thankful for our new healthy baby (who ended up being Thomas, not Tess ;) and surviving the dreaded 4th c-section!

  4. Abigail, blessings on your family!!! I've been praying for y'all, and am so happy that you're home now.

    I just want to warn you about the potential aftermath following a NICU stay. Sometimes it's a delayed reaction and you can wind up with PTSD like symptoms after a NICU stay, and I don't want you to be caught off guard if something like that were to start happening. I had that after our NICU stay, and I wasn't expecting it because I had coped very well while we were in there but less well once I could relax because it was over.

  5. Abigail -

    I have loved reading through your archives the past few weeks. The trials your family has endured since Tess was born give me hope and strength for my own crosses.

    God Bless you! I am so happy that you are able to be a "normal" mom at home with your children. Your life is an inspiration to us all.

  6. You have managed to explain the beauty of Christian suffering in a profound nutshell! Absolutely perfect. This needs a wide audience!

  7. You wrote,
    "Once you accept the mandatory suffering part, life as a stay-at-home Catholic wife and mother is pretty good. It's not boring. It's not mundane. It's not unimportant."


    On the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows our dear Polish priest, in his beautiful accent, said to us, "Suffering is our every day's bread." That has come home to me and I find myself thinking of it every day. It is mandatory to get us to heaven, it is part and parcel of our vocation. It is such a Catholic idea that the Protestant leftovers in my soul have a hard time getting it, but I'm working on it. :)

    Enjoy your Christmas.

  8. Merry Christmas to the whole family! Happy Babymoon (finally!) to you and Tess!

  9. Amen amen, Alleluia! Loved this post so much. Being a Catholic was never quite explained that way. I have now a new found respect for being a Catholic in this world of ours.

  10. This is a beautiful and much-needed post. Thank you for sharing, and I'm sooo glad your sweet girl is finally home and healthy!

  11. It seemed like forever and now it's over. Welcome back to your regularly scheduled life.
    Amazing post. Thank you.

  12. The Austin Texas OCDS community of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross would like to post a link to your "It Feels Like Christmas" post on our facebook site. Our facebook site is part of our community apostolate in recruting vocations for the Discalced Carmelites in the Provience of St Teresa (OKL). I am Melanie Bettanelli's father. If you give permission, please email me at We will use it only with permission. It is a beautifual story of suffering with Christ. Thank you.

  13. "If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love."
    — Julian of Norwich