Sometimes one can wonder why babies come into this world at such a cost. There's a lot of loss, as untold numbers of conceptions end in miscarriage (some think 30% or more). There's grief, disappointment, dashed hope, tenuous chances. Then when things go well, it is still far from simple. There's what is euphemistically referred to as discomfort. There's blood and pain and the absolute terror that the contractions will never end and one's body will split apart. There's indignity and soreness and inconvenience and bone-weary-blury-tiredness and dependence. There's all those days of seeing one's mistakes with retrospective clarity.
It's been a few years since I last gave birth (16, actually) but I regularly stand at the very bed where I delivered a son, and hold the hands of moms doing the very same thing. Tuesday night was a meconium fest. Stressed babies, stressed moms, stressed staff. One mom tried to bite me. I know she didn't mean it. It's just that hard. I often stand there trying to fill their minds with encouragement and truth, trying to be a human presence in a rough spot. Her baby was cone-headed and limp, breathless and blue. I intubated his trachea and sucked out the green fluids, gave him breaths and dried him vigorously. We took him to nursery to be sure he was OK. He was. Two hours later he was dressed up in his nice warm little outfit and hanging out with his mom, who was already probably forgetting the way she had been screaming.
It was a long night, followed by normal work the next day, and the usual flow of the week. Things like praying with our department, fielding phone calls about transfer patients, examining labs, running rounds, researching protocols, organizing job charts and reviews, responding to anxious parents, looking at rashes. So when I walked through the gates again at 8 Thursday morning, I was probably still a little tired. I was barely in the door when my phone rang, nurses asking me to come to the neurosurgery ward for a resuscitation. I briefly tried to think if this was someone else's job, but no, it was mine. So I excused myself from the patient I had started to see and hustled over to help.
Baby A had been discharged the day before, after repair of his meningomyelocele (spina bifida). We are a world epicenter for spina bifida care. Our ward is packed with little bodies with big heads. Babies who have spindly limbs and too many infections. The excellent neurosurgical clinical officer had already taken several appropriate steps of evaluation and treatment. We had a line, gave fluids, bagged breaths, checked blood, listened and examined. His breathing was shallow and erratic. I admit my first thought was: does this baby really have a prognosis that justifies intensive care? I confess some compassion fatigue, but it's a legitimate question in a place with very limited resources. The surgeons who were his primary team popped their heads in the resus room. Yes, they said. So be it. We moved him to the HDU until ICU could be prepared, gathered our resources, and I put a tube through his mouth and into his airway, and took over his breathing. We got antibiotics, stat. We got warm bags of IV fluid to pack around his cold little body. We got a cot-warmer on wheels, portable oxygen, and headed to ICU. Xrays, tests, ventilator, monitors.
Later as I was signing him out to my colleague, I implored for all-out care. Baby A had responded to our interventions. I was hopeful.
And I was invested. Because he was no longer just another spina bifida baby. Those hours of intensely working on him created a bond.
Which is why I think babies are so much work. They need a bonded, invested human being, and we are wired such that the more we pour in, the more we care. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This is precious, being discharged yesterday. I spent countless hours on her survival, which makes me care a lot that she was prayed for by so many people, though nothing compared to her mom's happiness. She still has a long road of brain recovery, but we are hopeful and grateful. Keep praying.
I've been reading a book by our very own Serge missionary and friend, Barbara Bancroft.
The exhausting nature of ministry drags us down and steals our faith. Just one phone call, email, or Facebook posting can ruin our day. Serving people means that we are invested in them; we have intertwined our lives with theirs. Thus, we are vulnerable. Paul's prayer for the Ephesians points us to a source of joy and power that is not connected to our ministry. Rather, it is connected to the character of our Father and the love of our Savior. . . .
Thus the mystery of the labor of love. Need calls to our hearts. We are intertwined with fragile babies, not to mention distant kids who sometimes have a bad day, a failing grade, a broken relationship, a sore throat, a busted knee, a dashed dream. Thus, we are vulnerable, as Barbara says. Our hearts are in places where outcomes are sometimes tragic. So our very survival depends on being re-filled with God's spirit, being renewed with the assurance of His love. The answer isn't to stop caring about spina bifida or college applications. The answer is to keep allowing our lives to intertwine with the very things that can break our hearts, while depending on the unstoppable and inexhaustible resources of Heaven. Sometimes these precious ones will revive, survive, be glorious. Sometimes they will not. But either way I want to care, all-out. And I want to believe God is present.