One May night twenty-three years ago, I stood in a hospital room next to a crib covered by a plastic oxygen tent. My six-week-old son labored to breathe beneath it. The doctor who had taken him--a red-faced, screaming for breath but with barely a sound coming from his lips baby--and listening to his heart, had told me, "If he lives through this night, he'll have a fighting chance." Those were the starkest words I ever heard as a mother. No cush around them, no comforting hand on my shoulder when the blow came, just the blow, the single word that started the sentence: 'if' and the not-so-much-better word that ended it: 'chance.' Between those words was the hardest night I'd lived in my life to date. To watch him breath, to think that with every labored breath there might not be another, it was an endless, terrible night. Beve had to leave me there alone with the baby because our not-yet-two-year-old was at a sitter's. When it came to dividing the parenting duties that night, there was little choice. I couldn't leave my baby. My very sick baby, who, if he made it through the night, would need me, would literally need me for his sustenance. Friends came and went that night. People prayed around that crib. Respiratory therapists thumped his chest every fifteen minutes, harder and stronger than I'd have guessed a baby should be whacked. Nurses stuck needles into his soft virgin feet,, illiciting wails that made us all flinch. It was a crowd of life around a sick baby, and kept the monsters at bay for me. But finally, the room began to quiet. Eventually even Beve left, and I stood alone with a tiny baby, struggling to live.
Every time he gasped, I wanted to breathe for him. Every time he labored, I wanted my healthy set of lungs to spill over and do the job they'd done for more time than not since his conception--keep him alive. And when I couldn't stand it any longer, I climbed inside that small damp tent and curled my body around my tiny son and touched him. Fell asleep that way. The therapists came and went through the night and left me there. The nurses didn't make me get out of that tent. They all recognized what a mother had to do when her baby was trying to live.
I thought that would be the hardest thing I'd ever live through as a parent. And, in a way, it was. I've known many others whose sojourns in Children's Hospitals didn't end with a healthy baby, but an empty nursery. I cannot imagine what that feels like. I cannot imagine how a person survives the loss of one's child. No matter how young that child is. Or how old. Sometimes when I think about the human body, and all the parts and intricate systems, all the bells and whistles we were created with, I'm surprised that more doesn't go wrong more often. I mean, most of the time, babies are born healthy. Most of the time, things work the way they should. We grow up and live lives that have meaning. More times than not. And when I think about the complexity of mind, body, spirit that God gave us, I'm in awe. It points to God Himself, even when we don't recognize Him. I mean, no computer can match us who were made in His Image. Yes, awe is the only proper response.
However, the truth is, the physical pain of my son in that hospital bed was not the hardest thing I ever went through as a parent. The pain my children face that cannot be treated with a bandaid or trip to the pediatrician--those hurt this mother's heart in ways so deep it's like that heart has been clawed by a lion. When I--or Beve and I--cannot do anything about their hurt, when we are helpless against their very real, spiritual, emotional, mental pain, it kills me. Slays me even as I'm still up and walking around. I think of how my parents must have felt when my engagement was broken. How that must have wounded them: the weight I lost so quickly it was like I was teflon (what I would give for a little of that now, I have to admit!), the endless, sleepless nights. Did they feel sleepless too? Did they feel helpless and angry and want to lash out at him for hurting their child?
Parenting. I suppose if we really knew what it would ask of us, all whole lot fewer of us would bring ourselves to do it. It takes so much. Asks so much of us. And even when we think we're through, when we think our babies are grown and gone and on their own and...it keeps asking it of us. Our love for them keeps asking it, I mean. Our endless, undying love for them. Our (also) made-in-His-Image love for our children. We take after our Father that way, whether we know it or not.