Courage Like a Mother

I pulled and yanked on the Animal Kingdom diaper bag trying to get the zipper to close. There was no doubt I overfilled it. How does one determine what to take for an overnight hospital stay? Hospitals are notorious for gouging patient’s families—families who are already heavily burdened by their $250 Ace Bandages and $30 Tylenol tablets. I couldn’t imagine how much this surgery was going to cost and the additional fear of $5 value meal costing $12 just because we were in a children’s hospital infuriated me.
I punched the baby wipes and extra clothes with a closed fist. “What did that diaper bag ever do to you?” he asked. I closed my eyes to cover the fact that I’d rather be rolling them at him.
“I... don’t... know... what we’ll need...” I said breathlessly shoving the extra items in the bag.
Lincoln and I had been in the middle of a fight for a month. Of course, he had no idea. My husband is one of those annoying “everything happens for a reason” people. He doesn’t just say the words, he actually lives it out, in his own life. It’s beyond annoying. I regretted scheduling this surgery the moment I wrote it on my calendar. Our tiny baby, in the hands of a surgeon.
“What if he dies?” I sobbed to Lincoln one night before bed.
“Then he goes Home first,” he replied.
I believe in Heaven just as well as the next Christian, but I was in no hurry to end up there anytime soon. I was even less thrilled with the idea of giving God back this baby I had longed for. Lincoln believed those words with every ounce of his being. He believed that God’s plan was greater than ours and that if it was our son’s time, it would all be okay. I knew from the moment I saw two pink lines that this baby was a part of me—the same way my arm is a part of me. If I lost him, if our baby died, I would never be whole again. I said nothing to Link that night (not that he would understand anyway) and I avoided saying much of anything to him in the four weeks between that late-night conversation and Asher’s surgery date.
My husband took the overflowing diaper bag out of my hands before I beat it to pulp. He walked down the hill via our front walk to the running car in the front of our house. Fall in southern Indiana is typically mild, sometimes even summer-like, but that day even the weather seemed to protest our departure. The clouds were thick and dark above. The sky was just beginning to drizzle, but the air already felt cold and damp.
“Grab Asher,” Link called. “I’ll start the car so it’s warm for you.”
What a jerk, I thought. Warming up the car for me when I’m clearly mad at him! I left the front door and went back to Asher’s nursery. I thought of the afternoon we spent painting it baby blue and finishing it off with a classic Winnie the Pooh wallpaper border. We were so full of hope then, hope that faded after we learned of his birth defect. One surgeon reminded me that our boy will still be able to play t-ball and run laps just like the other kids, but this birth defect isn’t “just tissue” the way he described. In only his first few months of life he has encountered feeding issues, sleeping issues, constant ear infections, and everyone is terrified to babysit him. When we take him in public, people stare at us. I would be okay if they asked questions, but they don’t. They just stare. I imagine what I did wrong while pregnant to cause the defect. I wonder that every waking moment.
I pulled a sleepy Asher out of his crib. I patted his back gently to keep him asleep. It’s an hour's drive to the hospital and two hours of waiting before the actual surgery. I prayed he would sleep through much of it as there is no way to explain to an infant why he can’t eat.
The drive north was quiet. Lincoln seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts and feelings, as was I. Luckily Asher was lulled back to sleep easily by the car vibrating at interstate speeds. After we parked in the garage, I pulled the baby carrier with a drowsy Asher out of the backseat and quickly covered the carrier with a blanket.
When we came to the hospital on clinic days we no longer used a blanket to shield him from the view of strangers. Parents at clinic were accustomed to seeing children of all ages with Apert, Treacher-Collins, and a multitude of other craniofacial anomalies. The day surgery center was where all children received what medical personnel referred to as minor surgery. I feared those parents would not be as receptive to the way Asher looked. It was easier to hide my child than it was to hide the pain caused by someone’s careless response to his condition.
The next hour flew by with paperwork and measurements and information overload. It was daunting, but the constant influx of medical personnel gave us something to focus on. It gave us tasks to occupy our minds. After that, we waited for an operating room to become available. Asher’s patience for being hungry had worn thin. Lincoln and I took turns bouncing Asher through the hallways. For me, the walking with a screaming Asher was more comfort than the sitting in the waiting area. When I sat, my mind went wild. What if...?
At 8:23, less than half an hour past our assigned surgery time, two men in pink scrubs, masks, and scrub caps came for Asher.
“It’s your turn,” one chimed happily in Asher’s direction. What an idiot, I thought. My kid’s not going for a pony ride here; he’s having surgery. I said neither of those things. Instead I wearily looked down at my baby, still screaming about his empty stomach. I felt the weight of knowing these might be the last words I might ever get to say to him. How do you impart a lifetime of wisdom into a child in one phrase?
Link kissed Asher’s head. “I love you Buddy,” he said. His voice sounded chipper and terrified at the same time. I followed suit and kissed Asher’s head. I chose to use my time to address Scrub Men instead of Asher.
“Take care of my baby,” I said in a whisper. They both nodded and took Asher, along with his favorite blanket, out of the room.
They were out of sight before a month’s worth of emotion poured out of me. I sobbed, long, heavy, loud sobs. The sounds coming from me were loud enough to drown out the sounds of every other hungry baby in the waiting area. Lincoln pulled me to him; I was too weak to fight him off. I let him envelop me with his strong arms. I laid my head on his chest and sobbed harder into his flannel shirt.
“You are the bravest mom I know,” Lincoln said. I just kept sobbing.