TODAY, I WAS BLESSED to celebrate my fifth Mother’s Day.
A new mother is brought to life along with her firstborn. But in a way, I was reborn, a changed mother, when my second came along. What follows is a piece of that story.
My baby silently picked that name for himself. In doing so, together, we chose life.
My second child was born a minute to midnight in the same hospital room I had given birth in nearly 23 months before. But this time, though labor and delivery was practically easy by comparison (well, not the transition part, of course), the instant my baby arrived, the entire world shifted.
My tiny boy lay limp diagonally across my thighs; a dark greenish-brown sludge covered him like an alien. He was whisked away before I could grasp the chaos around us. He had been swimming in his own stool in utero and aspirated the thick meconium on the way out.
A multitude of life-saving measures began. My husband and I watched a helicopter lift our newborn away before I could even hold him. We followed him to Children’s Hospital about an hour later.
Sometime that night I scribbled on a scrap of paper, “The moment I gave birth to my first son, I felt the most intense love of my life. At this moment, I feel the deepest void imaginable.”
Questions remained unanswered. We learned loads of medical terminology but not what was wrong with our baby. He had sepsis and an array of yet-to-be-confirmed health concerns. There was nowhere left on his body for another line or drain tube to go.
“He is a very sick boy,” doctors said solemnly. He needed to be stabilized.
By day three or so – it’s hard to keep track in the swirling madness of the NICU – the attending physician told us they were “running out of options.”
There had been no chance to bond with our baby. Caressing him would cause him too much pain and anxiety, a developmental specialist warned. We knew a lab was testing for Down syndrome, but we didn’t understand the extent of his potential disability.
Doctors needed our permission to attempt a life-saving treatment that involved removing the blood from our boy’s body to spare his heart and lungs. The risks associated with it were grave.
First off, our child needed two things: to meet his big brother and to have a name – should the unthinkable happen.
“Raphael” was on our short list, and my brother-in-law looked up its meaning on his smart phone. It was an obvious choice.
That evening, I went to my infant’s bedside with an opened heart. I called his name softly. I asked him to stay with us. Please.
The next day, Raphael’s health began to turn around; he didn’t need that treatment after all.
I believe he needed his mommy to accept him and let him know it would be OK if he should stick around.
At times, our family’s had a rocky journey since, but in that moment when I went to my child and welcomed him into our life, Raphael began to flourish.
And my world shifted, once again.
This child, that painful situation, was galaxies away from what we had anticipated – from what we’d expected and longed for. In hindsight, what a gift it was that we got to really choose him that day.