I would never want to lose one baby to gain another. No way. And yet, this week I'm wondering about how loss can enlarge our capacity to love, how suffering can stretch our understanding of joy and how pain might deepen our embrace of everything.
Fat strips of white tape fastened his tiny arm to an IV board. Fluid fed through tubing the size of a strand of spaghetti. Eyeshades shielded frail eyes from the warming lights and a C-Pap machine, held in place by a stocking cap, whirred air in and out of his yet-to-function-on-their-own lungs. Hauntingly coffin-like, an acrylic capsule held this little life and its supporting machinery, yet capturing life rather than catapulting it toward death. At three pounds four ounces, my newest little grandson determinedly clung to his life while his Mama recovered from near-death herself and his Dad attended their needs.
The spring prior, my daughter and son-in-law waited to discover if their exhaustive efforts had produced a pregnancy. In my best/worst faith posture I blurted to God, "I'm pretty sure my daughter is never going to fall in love with you through more suffering. I'm pretty sure she needs to see your goodness in order to trust you going forward."
The next day they found out they were pregnant. All was well!
But in the early third trimester of her pregnancy, my daughter endured something like five hospital stays to keep this baby alive and developing while preeclampsia raged through her system. As her body blew up like a giant helium blimp and her various levels hovered near "dangerous," I begggggggeeeedddd God to intervene. Please save this baby! Please save my daughter!
And then that day, one year ago this week when her levels peaked, her doctor made the call and a red blur of a baby was brought forth - in health. Oh there were enormous efforts to be offered still. Our daughter would remain in the hospital under care for nearly a week. My husband, Evan, and I would share the parenting, carpooling and homeworking of our older grandson for several weeks. All of us adults would traipse back and forth several times each day for many, many weeks to visit our newest little family member, holding, feeding, changing, medicating, loving this little life so long desired.
Looking back, in the oddest, hard-to-explain reality, I remember the load seeming incomprehensibly light. Each morning I sprang from bed, happy to help. With absolute freedom, I cancelled several important engagements to invest fully in the present. I joyed as I lugged my computer case over my shoulder for the nine millionth time down the long hospital halls. Eagerly, I sat my butt in the vinyl hospital chair next to my daughter and awed over her innate ability to handle the wee form of her delicate son. I drove my grandson to and from school, schlepped him to football, monitored his homework and grabbed him what seemed like ninety-five rounds of Chick-fil-A. I answered calls from my son-in-law with his spreadsheet of scheduling needs. My husband and I made room in our lives to fill the small gaps when either one or the other of our newest grandbaby's parents were not at his bedside. That year we celebrated Thanksgiving before the early afternoon and spent the rest of the day in a cookie-making team for the NICU nurses.
Dominic in NICU
Despite the burden of the upheaval and rearranged world, the load felt feather-light. Because there was a baby in a NICU some fifteen miles from my house. A LIVING baby with a LIVING mother.
To those who have carried and lost a baby and forever hold a hollow of grief, this story may open a never-healing wound. To those who've never carried a baby at all, my telling may needle with further pain.
I know. I've never had a baby myself. I've never even been pregnant. My two beautiful children were born in my heart through adoption. Childlessness is familiar to me.
I've also touched the pain of child-loss-ness. One grandchild relinquished so very long ago. Then, just a few years ago, another baby entered and exited this world in a silent night at twenty-two weeks in utero with no explanation for his shortened existence. These two were offspring of the very daughter who teetered on the brink of yet another loss.
So when Baby Dominic appeared months early one year ago this very week, at a tiny poundage and fragile structure - yet ALIVE - I joyed. Because I'd knotted with the pain of empty arms, I welcomed the wait to hold the incubated bundle.
Somewhere during this season, I read a quote that is now stitched into my heart. "If we could see what God sees, we would want what God wants." I printed the words on a small card and placed it on my daughter's hospital tray table. As she moved from room to room and from stay to stay, I moved it with us. I believed it for us both. For all of us.
Today, it sits on my desk and reminds me still.
I wouldn't trade the gift of any of my grandchildren. Those who are lost to me, and those who are with me. Each and every one is love to me. Each of them has shaped me and the world of my family. I would never want to lose one baby to gain another. No way. Would I love Dominic this much if his brother, Malachi, had survived? Surely! And yet, in some inexplicable way, the loss of Baby Malachi made the gift of Baby Dominic that much sweeter.
God uses everything. Everything.
Happy Birthday Dominic. Welcome to year number two.
Read more - much more - of Elisa's story in her very personal memoir, The Beauty of Broken. Elisa Morgan's newest book, Hello, Beauty Full, is now available. Read it for your own growth, or share it in a group study. There are discussion questions and teaching videos available. Elisa is the cohost of Discover the Word and a regular speaker at events around the country.