The thing about motherhood is that you discover this new spectrum of love and pain you never knew existed. You never knew the capacity of love could stretch so far nor the depths of pain. It makes your heart raw, exposed. It’s terrifying. But once it’s happened, once you know this new depth of love you can’t unknow it, you can’t unfeel it, you can’t unwant it.
With the birth of my son came 3 life changing love lessons:
#1 You are stronger than you know
“He’s tangling in his umbilical cord,” the doctor said calmly. “I know you didn’t want a Cesarean birth, but this is what we need to do right now”. Eight or nine doctors rushed into the room and quickly wheeled me down a hall. “Will I be awake or asleep? Awake or asleep?” I mumbled as doctors lifted me from one table to another and strapped me down. This is the last thing I remember before waking up in a new room to my mother and husband.
The rest of the night was a blur but I do remember being wheeled through the NICU to see my baby. “You can touch him if if you like” someone kept saying. I touched his foot to appease them. I was so drugged I really couldn’t process in that moment that this baby was mine.
Two days later, on a Friday my son was released from the NICU and able to join our room. By Sunday our eventful scary adventure was over and we were packed and ready to discharge. An hour before discharge my son, asleep in my arms, made a jumpy movement. His left arm and leg twitched repeatedly. My husband noticed and called in a pediatrician. “Seizure like activity” two doctors called it as they wheeled him back to NICU for a catscan. Our packed bags were at the door of the room, his going home outfit laid on the bed. How was this happening? A few hours later we were told we could visit the NICU. He had IVs and bandaids on both wrist and feet. He’d had a spinal tap at only 4 days old and now he was on a cocktail of just in case meds. My husband and I waited for two hours for the doctor to share the Catscan results. As we waited we made up stories of what the results might be.
Mr & Mrs. Nur your baby is an anomaly. He has extreme imagination and intelligence. His movements are his re-enactment of his elaborate dreams. We’d like to study him to further our understanding of genius in the human brain.
Mr & Mrs Nur did you watch super hero movies while he was in Utero? He’s dreaming he’s an Avenger and fighting epic battles in his sleep.
“Mr & Mrs Nur your baby’s catscan shows a brain blood clot. We want to transfer him to CHOP for more testing and consultation of the neurologist.”
Sobbing on the bathroom floor of our hospital room, I called my father. “Stop” he commanded almost emotionlessly. “When you are sick it is your mother who comforts you. She is there now with you isn’t she? So get up, stop crying, and be calm so you can comfort your child. You can’t be scared and hysterical. You have to be calm, and comforting for him. Because you are his mother and that is the most important job you will ever have.”
I felt the breath return to my chest and a deep sense of focus. In this moment I knew it was absolutely true. I was stronger than I knew…because I had no choice but to be.
#2 Spirituality matters, don’t be too busy or too proud to pray
The CHOP transporters came a few hours later and loaded my baby into an aluminum looking box that reminded me of when E.T. was sick. I rode in the ambulance with him and my mom and husband trailed behind. At CHOP a team of neurosurgeons met with us to give an overview of what test would be done and what possible outcomes existed. That night my husband and I prayed beside our boy. It was the first time in almost 2 years of marriage that we prayed together.
We had both taken conscious effort to meet and marry someone of spiritual compatibility. But in our almost two years of marriage we had done very little to foster our spiritual growth.
Over the next 3 days we took shifts staying at the hospital as doctors ran test, an MRI, an MRV, brain wave monitoring etc. Why us? Were we being punished for something? Nothing really bad had happened to us before, so was it just our turn for tragedy? I called my dad again, he had always been religiously annoying, someone who nagged about what I should be doing more of. But he was also extremely intelligent and practical. He made sense of the world in ways that mattered. “Take a deep breath” he said. “Now hold it in. Keep holding it. Now breath out. It is only by the will of God that you took that breath. Understand that in the depth of your existence.” He told me that we get so wrapped up in our day to day, our jobs, our salaries, our relationships, our homes, that we start to quite easily take pride and credit for everything in our lives. My husband and I had “made a baby”. I had “grown him” for 40 wks in “my body” I’d say, with no acknowledgement of God’s doing.
The essence of my dad’s advice was to regain humility, to be consciously aware every moment of everyday that everything we have or ever will have and everything we are or ever will be is only by the will of God. With that said, our son would only be okay by the will of God. So ask God. Don’t be too proud to pray and ask for help.
“God answers the prayers of those who praise him.”
I had always felt unsettled about praying for health. So many people prayed for their dying relatives and those relatives still died. What made us special?
I decided to pray anyway but not for my son’s health. I prayed he wouldn’t be in too much pain or feel fear during all of his test. I prayed the doctors would be able to do their best work. I prayed whatever the outcome of his test we would be capable of being good parents who loved him and provided him with the support he needed.
If God answered the prayers of those who praised him, maybe I could ask other believers to pray for my boy too. I texted a coworker whose spunky healthy six year old had been born at 25 wks. Her response invigorated me. I texted my husband who had stayed overnight at the hospital. “Today is going to be a good day. Today we get information. Today we get a plan for how to help our boy.” I had gone from unbearable, un-breathable pain to feeling strength and determination to handle whatever came next. My college roommate and her mother asked their church prayer group to pray for my baby. My friend asked her nurses station to pray. My coworkers, friends and family sent prayers.
My prayers said Allah while theirs said Jesus or Jehovah but I felt a genuine comfort in knowing it didn’t matter. My whole life religion had been a divider, another minority category to belong to or defend, but today we were all the same. God answers the prayers of those who praise him. Today friends of friends, strangers to my family, believers, prayed for my boy.
#3 You must have Empathy
One week after my son was born, the doctors gave him a clean bill of health. The MRI, MRV and brain wave monitoring showed a healthy brain with no sign of a blood clot. They said the Catscan could have been artifacts and the initial “seizure like movement” could have been normal baby movement due to a developing nervous system. He was fine and able to come home.
As we changed him into his going home outfit and tightened the straps of his car seat my heart still bled. With all of our worry and scare, our boy was still the biggest, plumpest, healthiest baby in the NICU. As we left CHOP NICU I caught eyes with a couple. Their faces were filled with disbelief. How? Why us? This wasn’t what we planned. I prayed for these strangers that their baby would come home soon too.
Since my sons birth I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the past. At work I’d been quick to point out incompetence. Quick to assume laziness. In my personal life I was quick to write off friends or even family. Forgiveness came with apathy or newly lowered expectations.
Now I felt empathy for strangers. I felt empathy for the unknown pain of those I’d once criticized. I vowed to show patience when faced with perceived incompetence and consider what greater demons someone might be facing.
The night my baby was transferred to CHOP there was a brief moment when I wished I’d never become a mother. The pain was simply too great.
The joy of becoming a mother is a love so indescribably fantastical you can’t begin to describe it. A mother loves her child with the love of God, and there is no greater love. But with that comes exposure to the greatest possible pain. A pain that only God can console. I only briefly glimpsed this pain and it has changed my heart forever.
Thank you to everyone who prayed for our boy, and sent their love and support in our time of need. The experience was a spiritual wakeup call for our family and I pray we continue to remember each day the blessing that is each breath.
I also feel inclined to share that Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is currently the 2nd best children’s hospital in the nation. Because we are blessed with excellent insurance our boy was able to receive excellent care with minimal cost to us. Not all families are so fortunate. As the holidays approach please consider CHOP as a charity to donate to.
To my readers: What deeply emotional experiences have changed your life? What critical lessons or values were you reminded of?
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