I hope

The other night one of Hannah’s neighbors
couldn’t seem to settle down.
He had a keening, inconsolable kind of cry
that seemed desperate, almost.
I asked our nurse about that child.
“Drug dependent baby,” she said.
“We do our best to hold them,
but it sometimes will go on for hours.
Over the weekend we had eight.”
Her voice and face clearly displayed a certain kind of resignation,
the resignation borne of hundreds of such babies a year.
I may be reading into her words, but I suspect
she may be tempted to see a certain futility in her work at times.

I felt a raw kind of anger after hearing this.
When you do everything you can
together
to protect your developing child,
and everyone is still plunged into an extended crisis
that crushes you and forces you to radically alter your life,
you wish and hope to see the same kind of parents in the NICU.

Walking past one another,
sharing each other’s burdens
in that brief knowing smile, nod, or wave.
Weary eyes giving a window into a stressed, harried existence.

NICU parents know every moment means something.
One moment, your child seems fine,
and spending time with her lifts the heavy fog,
and even for a bit
you can breathe a little easier, sleep with more peace.

But in the next moment,
the bottom drops out,
and you spend half the day weeping, pleading,
leaving an opaque smear of snot and tears
on the plastic cover that your daughter is enclosed in.
You feel utterly helpless,
in free fall,
desperately seeking to find something
ANYTHING
to find some measure of stability.

The other parents walk past to their child,
and look over with pain,
your pain forcing them back into their trauma
that came a month, a week, a day, ago,
or continues.

Thank God, we have made it out of the worst of the trauma,
the days of catastrophe somehow blending into better days,
and Hannah growing, growing, growing.

Others have not experienced this hope realized.
 
We have sat in this room,
with sudden bright lights blooming beside us
a sea of blue shirts swarming around a newly arrived bed
an organized chaos of activity.

The father often stands at the edge of the chaos,
like I did,
looking adrift on a sea of emasculating pain and insignificance,
helpless to do anything other than pray, wish, or hope for the best.

Several hours later, the mother is wheeled down in her bed or wheelchair.
With dark circles under her eyes.
Exhaustion palpable,
she lifts her hand to enclose her child’s tiny hand,
realizing that even that sacred moment
represents a dream shattered.

The due date arriving.
The excited, tired call to the midwife.
The soothing music, the warm water of the tub.
The redemptive pain of labor.
The joy of the first sight of your child.
Holding your child close to your breast.
Establishing the bond in that quiet that only will deepen.

No, the mother holds her child’s hand because that is all she can do,
that small hand somehow anchoring her and giving her hope
that even amongst the shattered dream from before,
another dream can emerge.

 For some, that dream ends.
The bustle of medical staff lessens to a trickle.
The doctor consults the family,
the chaplain rests a hand on a quivering shoulder,
the lights dim.
Tomorrow, that bed is empty,
the parents gone.
The eerie bare mattress ready for another emergency.

The emptiness there draws us into prayer,
for God to join the father and mother
in their unspeakable pain,
in their accumulated dreams and hopes
that must now be laid to rest.
One day those hopes will arise again,
now tinged with anxieties that were absent the first time around.
“May they find life continuing next time,” we pray.
 
And so, here,
this nurse tells me of these dependency babies
and their desperate cries
created by open and destructive disregard for the dignity of their lives.

Jesus chastens my desire to condemn these people
most of the time.
He does not permit me to see myself as a different class than them,
as decisions I consciously make represent a different shade of the same darkness.
Yet the sight of their beautiful child
that has somehow emerged out of the witches’ brew of substances
to be here with us, crying out for solace,
fills me with rage.

Nurses see this same disregard, and serve and care for these children,
and their mothers,
every single day,
They bear witness to a unique kind of enemy love
that desires to destroy that parent
to put them through the pain
and drawn-out suffering their child is experiencing.

But no, the nurses hunker down at that bedside,
holding the child for countless hours by the time they leave.
Investing in a life that they must eventually give back
to the person whose disregard and depravity put the child there in the first place,
and in so doing setting an example for the rest of us to invest in life
whether our energy is wasted, dismissed, spat upon, or not.
I have one word for those nurses, whether they do it with pure motives or not;
Respect.

I hope that in some small way,
we function in some form of a healing role
in the lives of these nurses.
I hope in our soft touches, holds, and giggles with Hannah,
our inquisitive questions and desire to learn,
“Is this right?” “Is this ok?” “Is this fine?”
our concerned faces and questions about their lives we come to know too,
the nurses see something that reminds them why they entered this field,
this holy vocation of care.

I hope this.
Desperately sometimes.

I want to know that something redemptive is coming forth
in addition to our precious daughter’s life that we care so deeply about.
Something that swallows up the tempting (or testing?) whisper
that Hannah suffers because we weren’t enough,
weren’t intentional enough, healthy enough, complete enough, or whatever enough.
The tears shed most often in private,
looking back over and over and over again.
Wondering.

I hope.

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5 thoughts on “I hope

  1. That’s awesome Nate…brought tears to my eyes. Just so you know this inspired me to contact my local hospital and sign up to be a volunteer to hold babies. You paint an insider’s view into a world too many of us don’t know anything about.

  2. Nathan, this was beautiful. You are a talented writer. I believe that your experience with Hannah is touching the nurses in a deep way. I know they have experienced other miracles and other tragedies in the NICU. But God’s hand has clearly been on her in a significant way. I think the nurses take courage and strength from parents like you and Bethany who are at the hospital all the time, who are deeply invested in all that is going on with their child, parents who are selfless and can see past the extreme difficulty of their situation and offer a kind word to the nurse. You guys are the type of parents that the nurses draw strength from as they deal with the drug babies and their parents.

  3. I know your exact sentiment. I always thought it was so crazy when nurses would be appreciative and thank us for wanting to learn, asking questions, keeping track of meds, knowing the routine changing diapers, feeding, bathing, and “making their job easy”. As you’ve implied and to us as well, it seemed obvious that was actually our job as parents to do those things. Almost every time we walked into our 26 bed NICU empty of parents, we wondered, “Where the heck is everyone?” We had to constantly remind ourselves that not everyone gets FMLA; many people make an hourly wage and can’t afford to be here as much as we are; and sometimes people have other kids’ routines to maintain and even live in other towns. Yet still, we couldn’t help but think that we’d give anything to let our babies live. We cherished every single second. Who could be so cavalier to not even show up at the bedside?
    Loneliest day in the NICU- believe it or not- Easter Sunday. Us and three Hispanic families out of 26 total beds. (-Just further strengthening my respect for the Hispanic community.) That was it. All day. Really? (I shouldn’t have gone there, but I couldn’t help it…) Really? Easter egg hunts? Big dinners? Easter Sunday festivities? Not for us, nope, we were stuck on Good Friday for quite some time. (Although I must say, now, three healthy babies make every day like Easter Sunday! As it should be!)

    Toward the end of our stay we had one particular little neighbor named Angel. She had hydrocephaly, and just looking at her made me nearly sob. She was all alone for her first 5 days!! She was not in a incubator, so she was just sitting there on display in the center of the NICU with her big scared eyes. (The condition made her look even more afraid.) She hardly slept and never cried. It even seemed like the nurses had unusually little interaction with her. After so long, it’s hard not to wonder and even judge. Was she unwanted because of her condition? We worried about her like we worried about our own. We prayed that someone would come for her. Heck, we prayed and wondered if we were supposed to adopt her! First thing on that Saturday morning, her Dad and two brothers were at her bedside excitedly telling her all about how mommy was still a little sick and couldn’t leave their local hospital and that her twin sister was doing great. They were going crazy telling her how much they loved her and missed her. Then dad started bringing in the parade of grandparents, aunts and uncles. Whew! What a relief! A sick mom AND a twin! That explains everything! I hope some of your neighbors’ stories end like this one.

  4. Your site came up as a result in a google search on Francis MacNutt. I am in awe of your words. As a mom who adopted a baby who fortunately was loved in utero as much as my child’s heroic birthmom knew to love her, your post hit home. Thank you for the gentle, inside-out truth of our need to be compassion and love instead of harshness and judgement.

    • I’m glad this resonated with you, JCS. The crucible of suffering can produce great love, but always tempts us in the opposite direction as well. I’m thankful for the caring nurses in the NICU in our daughter’s early life; their gentleness and unconditional love sends out ripples of hope in ways they don’t even comprehend.

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