need

I prayed a brief, distracted little prayer last Sunday at church. “Lord, I need to need You.”

Yesterday, driving home from the hospital, I wondered if I could take it back.

Tears are by no means uncommon for me, but with my first pregnancy, and now this second one, I sometimes wished I would be a touch more sentimental and emotional. The idea of an ultrasound wand gliding over your abdomen and seeing straight through skin and muscle and bone until the monitor flickers with images of a tiny, 8 ounce person floating around in a dark, watery world is as beautiful as it is strange. But instead of tears, I felt calm, happy, and content at my first glimpse of this new person, already one of the most important people in my life even though we have never looked one another in the eye. I laughed when the ultrasound tech tried to give directions to someone who might as well be in outer space. “Baby, can you please move your hands?” As if in irritation, the baby’s arm moved in a jerking motion across the little face, a move I recognized all too well from my toddler’s increasingly opinionated rejection of food at the dinner table.

When the tech finally finished, I waited on the table in the dark room for the doctor to come in and repeat a few images and discuss the results with me. The doctor was business-like, and the room felt quiet after the chatter back and forth between myself and the tech. I didn’t mind, though, since this appointment was running long and I needed to get back to my sister’s house to pick up my son.

The doctor abruptly set down the wand and looked at me. “The problem we’re seeing here is…” At those words my stomach clenched and I don’t think it has relaxed since. The left side of the baby’s heart was not contracting at all. Apparently this was ok in utero but would be a serious problem after delivery. I blinked over the phrases “multiple surgeries” and “heart transplant” but the tears didn’t start streaming down my cheeks until he talked about referring us to CHOP in Philadelphia. CHOP was where your child went when they had a serious problem. The idea that we would have to leave our little city, our home, where Henry was born, to drive even just an hour and a half to Philadelphia seemed so drastic to me. I looked down at my abdomen. Irrationally, I wondered how someone so small, not even fully formed, could have a problem of this degree. It felt like this little body wasn’t big enough to contain something that could cause worry and trouble of this magnitude.

I discussed more information with the doctor, called Cooper, made arrangements for additional appointments, and had my blood drawn to determine if the baby had any genetic defects that could be causing the heart problem. Through it all, I had a vague reel running through my mind of myself, finishing up the ultrasound with just a few brief words with the doctor, worrying about getting over to pick up Henry on time, calling Cooper after I got home to tell him about the baby waving their hand just like Henry and how I was pretty sure we were having a boy since the ultrasound tech kept telling me to close my eyes since the baby was “in a revealing position.”

It was on this drive to pick up Henry and the subsequent drive home that I remembered that brief prayer from church. Maybe I don’t actually want to need God. It would be nicer if life stayed kind of how it is now, challenging at times but not really anything I can’t handle. Or at least, nothing I can’t handle if I am content to stay the person that I am now.

As I write this morning, I realize that I’m a little angry with you, God. It’s one thing to give Cooper and I, mature (sort of) adults, a challenge like this to navigate. But to allow something like this to happen to a little baby who hasn’t even been pushed out into the real world yet seems harsh. Trying to put things in perspective by thinking of families we know whose children have also had health problems before birth, some devastating, doesn’t really help. Because even the mildest of problems, even a missing finger or toe, seems out of place and cruel in someone so small and delicate and new. Like forcing your guest to scrub the toilet as soon as they walk into your house. Let these little babies at least settle into this beautiful and turbulent world before saddling them with some problem too big for them to handle. Not to mention the ones who don’t even make it into this world, or who leave shortly after they arrive.

Psalm 139 says:

“For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made: your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Lord, how can you be knitting this body together inside me and allow it to not be perfect? Did your fingers slip when you made this little heart? Can you possibly bring enough good out of this situation that justifies the pain and the fear? What if you’re creating someone who is going to need you, desperately, from day one in a way that all of us need you but in a way that is clear even to my myopic eyes?

I think my definition of wonderful might be different than yours. I say that we should value and celebrate those who might not fit our shallow idea of perfection, and I mean that, but when it comes to my own baby of course I desperately want a healthy, happy child like Henry. Teach me to love this baby the way you do, when you see their unformed body as you weave them together. Please, please restore them to full health. But help me to see them as wonderfully made, not as a checklist of normal and disordered but as a person made in the image of the Holy God. Just as I surrender my own life to you, I surrender the life of this baby to you. I need to be guided by the truth of your word, to be made bold by your holy spirit, to see those around me with love and compassion the way you do, and to praise and trust you in all things. I need you.

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