“This is bad, very, very bad.” These were far from the celebratory words I expected to hear on what should have been one of the most joyful moments of my life. After nine months of a seemingly healthy pregnancy, it felt surreal as the neo-natal intensive care nurse solemnly shared that a plane was on its way to whisk my fragile firstborn to a children’s hospital seven hours from home. I had barely a moment to hold him in my arms. There was no time to memorize the delicate contours of his sweet face, and no time to welcome him into the world, let him grip my finger with his tiny hand, and tell him he was loved. I couldn’t even tell him that everything was going to be OK, because in that moment, very little was. Amidst the chaos, I only knew that I had to be strong for him.
Many people have asked how I could have possibly handled such devastating news as a first-time mother. In moments like these, I’ve quickly discovered that you really don’t have time to consider how you’re feeling, you just go; you pack your bags, arrange for care of your home, jump in your car and go. It was during the sobering weeks of sitting next to Mark’s incubator, intently watching the rise and fall of his every breath, that I began to process my suppressed feelings. To my surprise, despite the stressful circumstances, my heart was flooded with genuine gratitude. The scene around me was not how I envisioned embarking on my parenting journey, but this precious bundle, riddled with invasive tubes, marked with a scarring incision, was mine and my love for him deepened with each passing hour. It was during the lengthy hours of my hospital stay that I embedded the promise from Jeremiah 29:11 deep into my heart: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I am thankful that I didn’t know then what I discovered soon after. Many babies born with a diaphragmatic hernia like Mark’s don’t survive due to respiratory failure. I’ve heard of several cases in my own little world where this was the tragic outcome. Not knowing the magnitude of my child’s medical fragility was a blessing at the time, as I clung to hope every day following his first intricate surgery. My heart ached for the many moms and dads in our hospital wing who were desperately grasping for hope. I was keenly aware that there were some among us who would be leaving the hospital bearing the incomprehensible heartbreak of empty arms.
Vivid memories of Mark’s eventful birth are flooding back into my mind as I await the arrival of my first grandbaby just weeks from now. My firstborn, against all odds, is almost twenty-three years old now, and will soon have a child of his own. Their decision to keep the gender a surprise until the baby’s arrival is met with the familiar response, “Well, it doesn’t matter if it is a boy or a girl, so long as it’s healthy.” I smile to myself when I hear this as it seems to imply that if the baby isn’t healthy, it would be less valued; that the parents would be overcome with disappointment if their baby didn’t meet society’s lofty expectations of newborn perfection. I know from experience that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Mark and I have walked through many medical adventures together, joking with one another that they will soon put his nameplate on a designated hospital room. Over the years, new medical conditions invaded his growing body, but every time we boldly claimed the promise committed to memory many years before: God has plans for Mark. Plans to prosper him, not to harm him. Plans to give him hope and a future. The gift of these chaotic and life-threatening medical adventures deepened our faith as we continually relied on God to walk us through each difficult moment.
No one escapes this life without unexpected trials, but true comfort can be found for those who claim the promise from Jeremiah as their own. The fragility of life affects all of us and challenging adventures will inevitably be a part of everyone’s story. As I get closer to becoming a first-time grandmother, I can also claim this promise over the precious creation that is about to enter this world. While I will not know until that celebratory day whether it is a boy or girl, or whether it will arrive in perfect health or not, I do know that this child is already fully loved and fully known. This precious baby’s new mom and dad can confidently rest in the promise, “I know the plans I have for you.”