gratitude

But I’m okay, really.

This morning, Theodore threw up on me, twice.

Plus when he spit up last night, that’s three times in less than twelve hours. That is a new record for him. I don’t know if he is sick, or if it’s just a coincidence, but I will henceforth be carrying a change of clothes with me because “Baby Puke” is, shockingly, *not* the new Chanel No. 5.

I was slightly later to work than usual. My leg is damp with the 2 ounces of Tide To Go I scrubbed into my black pants. That baby’s biological scent just lingers in my hair and sweater. And on top of it all, I am worried about my baby. I’m at the office, but my heart wishes I was snuggling my baby and making sure he is not uncomfortable. I know he will get sick, eventually, but I would not mind putting it off as long as possible.

That was my morning. But I’m okay, really. Because I have my son. And he is well. And we are well.

In Ohio right now there is a mother and father facing the first morning after their five day-old daughter died.

One of the surprising by-products of receiving the diagnosis of Intrauterine Growth Restriction during my pregnancy with Theodore was joining a Facebook group with other IUGR parents. Before the diagnosis, I had never heard of IUGR, let alone what life could look like due to this condition.

In the group, parents ask questions and tell their stories. I learned of the myriad of outcomes from IUGR, and that no two babies are the same. I learned why it is often safest to remove a baby slightly early from the womb, and how incredibly strong tiny babies can be. I learned how incredibly strong parents can be, even in the most difficult circumstances. We pray for each other, suggest questions to ask our doctors and tests that should be requested, tell each other to hope for the best and be patient, and cry for each other when it’s just too much.

I have also seen pictures and heard stories of babies so small and fragile, they should not be here. Intrauterine growth restriction causes a baby to not reach his or her growth potential. So instead of just being “a small baby” or, “an early baby,” they are developmentally and physically retarded behind their gestational age.

The effect of this condition is that by looking at these babies, it is like taking a look inside the womb, to a place we never or rarely otherwise would be.

My son was born three weeks early. Not technically a “preemie” (at 37 weeks, he is called “early term”), so people are generally surprised at his size and complications. I tell them that although he was only three weeks early, he was the size of a baby six weeks early.

In the IUGR Facebook group, there are mothers whose children were born two weeks early, but the size of a baby eight weeks early. Five days ago, a mother gave birth to a beautiful baby girl ten weeks early, but the size of a baby fifteen weeks early.

She was beautiful.

She was like nothing I had ever seen before.

The lines on the palms of her hands.

She had dark hair.

I imagined all the babies who go full-term and whose mothers never see their baby so small and early in his development. I imagined all the mothers who see a line on the pregnancy test, or the blurry gray shapes on the ultrasound machine and never see the skin and eyes and fingers and toes.

But we have seen them. IUGR and preemie moms have to wait longer to have their cute, pudgy babies so many people crave. We have to wait a little longer to see smiles and strength and visual tracking and rolls.

But we have seen things other mothers have never seen. We have seen life before the laws recognize life. We have seen breath when others see a “lump of cells.” We have literally watched our babies develop in the harsh, heavy world to learn what other babies get to do inside. We have seen incredible things the animations on pregnancy apps cannot show.

Heartbroken, this beautiful little girl suffered brain bleeds in her short life and there was no hope for her. Her parents held her in their arms and watched the angels take her away last night.

This is a gift. There is a reason. But I’m sobbing for them all the same.

My son, my hefty, happy son is two and half months old. Every once in a while I forget how we could have lost him, how small he was, how hard it was. But then I remember and I look at him and just thank God.

This morning, Theodore threw up on me, twice. Plus last night. The smell is there, I was late to work.

But I’m okay, really.

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The Reason for the Season

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It’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give.

We say that to kids all the time, don’t we? I know I heard it many times over the years, when circling ideal spoils from Toys R Us catalogs and American Girl magazines.

I assumed, of course, that it meant not to focus on what I wanted, but on the gifts I would buy for my brothers and sisters. So I would go out to the Christmas fair at school or the dollar store and buy erasers and mini screwdriver kits and chocolate bars, to distract myself from the fact that I would get way better stuff on December 25.

As I grew a little older, I learned that not everyone has so much joy at this time of year. There are many who have explained how depressed they get in December, thanks often to both cold weather and a family that they wish was very different. Sometimes they are missing someone they lost, or sometimes they take note that they never even got the family they had always longed for. It is, surely, a season of shadows for many.

But this year, I am learning even more about not just giving, but gratitude.

In my job, I often see people in very low points in their lives. Occasionally my clients are in a great and exciting point in life, other times they made a big mistake they have to try to clean up; but other times, they are simply doing the best they can and still can’t catch a break.

Just yesterday, I attended a foreclosure mediation with a couple who worked hard and lived within their means their entire lives. But a family crisis left them jobless, and – perhaps soon – now homeless. Later in the evening I visited the home of a woman who was wheelchair-bound and was being sued for the loan balance owed on a car that had long been repossessed. As she told us her story in her freezing cold, dank, cheerless home, I became overwhelmed.

Her story cannot be shared here, but when I went back to my warm, seasonally-decorated home, where my husband was cooking us dinner to enjoy together, I was filled with the sense that I was a very small person in the face of the needs of this world.

I could  not shake the idea that I had to do something – I took this job to help people, after all. Both my boss and I will do something to help these neighbors, but even that will not repair all their on-going physical and emotional needs.

To compare, my issues at this moment are being frustrated by the clutter of my closet, my lack of a washing machine, and my procrastination in signing up for health insurance. My needs are so small, that when my husband was blessed with a gracious bonus this week, we actually have no idea what to do with it!

[See what I mean? Big issues, right?]

So this year, take the idiom we repeat so often to children to heart. And don’t use it as a distraction for thinking about what you want, truly practice a heart of gratitude. Give what you can. Give all day and whenever you see a need – give to charities and the food bank and the fuel bank and the homeless shelter and anyone who has a need you can see. (I can’t tell you how much less stressful it is grocery shopping to someone in need – it’s a pleasure, not a chore, I promise!)

My grandmother always used to love saying that Jesus is the reason for the season. And He is – Christmas, despite its many secular garments, is at its heart a celebration of the birth of our God on this planet. It was and is a gift, and calls for our giving to others in the small – but meaningful – ways that we can, without any expectation of something in return.

-D. E. Barbi Bee