Though it was only December 26, I felt an uneasy need to get our Christmas decorations down early. My pregnant belly so round and tight I couldn’t sit up straight much less bend over, I assigned the task of “undecorating” our fake tree to my children. As I settled at the dining table and watched my three little ones scurry around with ornaments for me to pack into boxes, I told myself my baby was lulled to sleep by all my holiday activity and that his lack of movement was simply due to the tight quarters he had to live in for the next five weeks.
By the next morning, I knew I was wrong. My baby was coming—way too early. That night after a difficult labor, my son was born and immediately transported to Children’s Mercy Hospital. Unknown to us, his urethra had been blocked. His kidney function had been ruined and urine had backed up in his body cavity until his belly was bigger than his head. Since my husband went to Children’s Mercy with our baby, I spent that first sleepless night alone at Liberty Hospital, my mind and emotions a whirlwind of worries and half-spoken prayers.
The next day after I was released, my husband pushed my wheelchair into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Children’s Mercy where our baby was hooked to a terrifying array of tubes and wires, his bassinet only one of many holding infants suffering various health problems.
Questions plagued me. Why had God ruined my plans for an easy delivery and a quick return home? Who would care for our other three children, two hours away? Why had He allowed our newborn to be so sick? Would he survive? Had I somehow caused his condition? If I’d done something differently during my pregnancy, would he be healthy now?
After a few days of wheeling around Children’s Mercy in an exhausted daze, my body became so toxic even my husband’s bedroom slippers felt tight on my swollen feet. My blood pressure shot so high it didn’t register on the machine, and my doctor readmitted me to Liberty Hospital for another night. Even after I was released and allowed to return to Children’s Mercy, I could barely function. Worse, my body was too stressed to produce the breast milk my newborn needed to heal.
Late one night, I sat beside my baby. The picc line in his head that administered nourishment and medication also made holding him difficult, so I hovered over his bassinet and gently stroked his arms and legs. His face contorted around the breathing tube that filled his mouth. Worried, I asked the nurse what was wrong. She told me he was crying but couldn’t make sounds because of the tube.
Sobs wracked me. My own baby couldn’t cry in his misery, and I couldn’t take care of him. I wept myself dry, crying out to God that my baby needed help, that I needed help.
In that moment, I gave up trying to be in control. I realized I couldn’t make everything okay for my baby. I couldn’t make everything okay for my older children or my husband. I couldn’t even make everything okay for myself. Only God was strong enough to turn this miserable situation into something good.
And the Father of mercies comforted my aching soul.
That night was a turning point for me. Though the next days were still far from easy, I began to look around. I noticed the many moms and dads with haunting pain in their eyes. Babies in much worse shape than mine filled the NICU. Some had already been there for months; some would never go home. I talked to the other parents when riding the elevator, sharing a meal at the Ronald McDonald House, or waiting in the lobby for shift change to end. I sympathized when their babies had setbacks and cheered when they made strides both big and small.
While comforting others, I learned the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. I learned that God didn’t promise we’d never suffer, but that the Father of mercies and God of all comfort won’t leave us alone in our sufferings. He loved us enough to stoop down through the incarnation of His Son when we could never approach Him, and His comfort in our suffering teaches us how to comfort others in theirs.
My husband and I spent our wedding anniversary in the NICU. But we celebrated the next morning when, after twelve days, we took our baby home. The doctors warned he’d be slow to potty train. They said he’d likely have kidney and urinary tract infections along with other developmental problems, but I was simply grateful to have my entire family home.
This Christmas, healthy despite the doctors’ warnings, my youngest scampers to the Christmas tree and jockeys with his older siblings for the best branch. As I watch him stretch up on tiptoe to hang his glittery ornament, I thank God for the tidings of comfort He taught me at the birth of my little boy.