Have you ever wanted something so terribly that you ache inside?
The only thing a mother wants to do immediately after giving birth is hold the baby. She can not get that child into her arms fast enough, and once there, she can at long last gaze into the eyes of her little one.
I didn’t get to hold John for his first 22 days. It nearly killed me.
Because John’s intestines were exposed in utero, he was at high risk for contracting infection upon delivery and beyond. Even though the team did a great job containing his intestines in a plastic “silo” bag, the hole in his stomach was wide and painful, hence no holding until a series of three surgeries cinched it shut.
During those eternal weeks of waiting, my maternal instincts nearly drove me mad, and Christian and I did everything we could to get as close to John as possible. We held his little hands and stroked his tiny foot (the other bore an IV). We kissed his forehead and brushed his cheeks around the medical tape. We clung to every touch and did our best to let him know we loved him and hovered near.
One fine day, a surgical nurse showed us how to slide a hand, palm-side up, under his shoulder. We were all smiles as we took turns, sharing this new means of snuggling our son. Part me initially felt ridiculous rejoicing in something seemingly small when compared with the end goal, but it felt so good to stroke his back and feel him press into my hand.
He yearned for more, too.
I’ll never forget walking onto the unit with my father that twenty-second day. John’s wonderful nurse, Cathy, saw me and smiled. After I greeted my sleeping son, I walked over to sit in the rocker. Cathy’s smile disappeared as she watched me settle in.
“Mom – aren’t you going to hold him?”
I gasped. “Can I?”
“Haven’t you held him yet?” I shook my head, breathless. “Let me check, but since Dr. Flake has closed his belly, I see no reason why not.”
She bustled away while my dad and I exchanged excited glances. I couldn’t see his face (we’d both gowned and masked due to the Swine Flu epidemic sweeping the nation), but our eyes said it all. Nurse Cathy bustled back into the pod, beaming.
“It’s a go!”
I squealed with delight and rushed to wash my hands as she set about untangling John’s tubes and wires, sensing the urgency of getting this boy into my arms.
All at once, he was there, staring up at me, so beautiful. I could barely see him through my tears, smiling all the while. He tolerated it for about five minutes and then grew highly agitated without a solid bed beneath him, so I returned my little bird to his nest.
Within ten minutes, he’d changed his mind and called to me so sweetly. I rushed to his side and complied with his request. This time, he didn’t look back as he settled in for the long haul, falling asleep, his face awash with peace.
I didn’t want to leave.
My sweet Hannah needed me back in Macungie that evening, so all-too-soon, my dad tapped my shoulder. He’d sacrificed holding his grandson so that I could enjoy every minute. It took everything in me to tear myself from John’s side, but I finally mustered the strength. Thank God he was sleeping – I don’t know if I could have done it otherwise. I’d waited so long to hold him . . . I didn’t want a limit.
I called my husband from the car. Christian had arrived at work by 5 am and had put in a full day. He’d told me over breakfast that he was exhausted and wouldn’t be able to drive to Philly to see John that night as usual.
“I just can’t do it, Beth.”
I’d understood. We were beat. The initial rush of adrenaline had worn off, and a cruel worry-monster threatened to take over. Fighting the mounting stress drained us of every ounce of energy, and we found ourselves hard-pressed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I waited for Christian to answer.
“Hey, Sweets!” Fatigue oozed through the phone. Poor man.
“Hi, Christian! Guess what?! I held him!”
“You did?” Pause. I heard papers rustling in the background.
“YES!” His chair squeaked as I imagined him standing.
“I’m going down right now! Love you!”
The next morning, Christian called me from work to let me know he’d arrived safely. Grinning and giggling, I couldn’t stop myself from asking the obvious.
“Did you hold him?”
“You bet, Sweetheart,” Christian said. “All night long.”
Those weeks of waiting were some of the longest of our lives. I still tear up thinking about it. Yesterday, Abby and John climbed onto my lap and asked me to tell their birth stories, and when I got to this part, my eyes welled up with tears.
I squeezed John a little tighter.
King Solomon was right. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 NIV).
Thank You, God, for our little tree!