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
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
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,
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.
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;
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.
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.