I’ve been meditating on the theme of Hope in the Aftermath of many things in my life.
Yesterday our youngest son Gabe turned twenty-one. I am amazed at God’s work over the years. He is faithful indeed.
I’d like to share a segment of my book with you. This is the section that covers the day Gabe was born and the subsequent uncertainty that loomed in our future.
Oh what a different day today has been. In the twenty-one years of walking with God through this season, the sense of His presense and purpose is overwhelming at times…in a very good way. I praise Him for giving me HOPE in the aftermath.
Hope in Uncertainty
It was a dark day. Deep wailing sobs caused my stomach and shoulders to feel tight. I ached all over. My head throbbed from a restless night. The hot water felt good. Leaning against the shower wall, I stared aimlessly at the floor. It felt as if my whole life was being sucked into a vacuum like the water going down the drain. I rubbed my eyes, only increasing the swelling and causing red welts to appear on my face.
With the hospital towel, I slowly dried myself off. I pulled my long hair into a pony tail and slipped into a cheerful white maternity gown with pink and blue ribbons on the chest. A heavy sigh pushed through my lips and I gathered the courage to face the day.
“Mommy, are you in there?” My three year old son, Zane, popped his head into the bathroom.
Startled, I mustered up a cheerful voice, “Hey buddy, yeah I’m here. Give me a minute and I’ll be right out. I can’t wait for you to meet your new little brother.”
I practiced my Devine smile in the mirror. The reality was that once again the smile on my face masked the agony in my heart.
As I was applying my mascara, the bathroom door swung open again and Zane ran to greet me, wrapping his arms around my legs.
“Hi Mommy, I missed you. Daddy showed me Gabriel. He’s cute. But he’s not a girl.”
Zane really wanted a little sister. I had prayed for a healthy baby. We’d both have to adjust to our new son. He turned around and ran back out into my hospital room, oblivious to the reality of the days ahead.
Still sore from giving birth, I hobbled across the room and eased myself onto the hospital bed. A cheerful nurse bounced into the room and draped a warm blanket over my lap.
“Thank you so much. I love these heated blankets. I can’t seem to get warm, even after a nice long shower.” My teeth chattered through my words.
“That is fairly normal after childbirth,” she replied. “You had a stressful night so your body is still in shock. I know you have visitors coming today, but please try to get some rest. I’ll be in later to check on you. Press the button on the side of your bed if you need anything in the meantime.”
As she left the room she patted Zane on his head. “You sure are handsome. That little brother sure is cute,” she said with a smile.
“But he’s not a girl. I wanted a girl. I was going to name her Kayla.” His nose was pressed against the incubator where Gabe was wrapped tightly in a white blanket dotted with pink, yellow and blue bunnies.
Steve gently picked Gabe up and brought him to me. I look down at my newborn’s beautiful face. His thick dark hair contrasted against the sterile white blanket as I laid him across my lap. A cute little button nose popped out of the blanket. His eyes were closed in deep sleep with long beautiful eyelashes poking their way out. He looked so peaceful, so normal.
Zane came over to the bed. He looked so darling dressed in a black and white pinstripe shirt and black slacks. His hair was neatly combed and parted on the side, just like his dad’s.
“Mommy, is his name Gabriel or Gabe?”
“His name is Gabriel Steven but we call him Gabe.”
“Mommy, can I hold him?” he asked as he tried to grab the bundle from my hands.
“Put your hand under his bottom and then I will help you hold him.”
Zane pressed his hand against Gabe’s back and leaned over and kissed the blanket.
He immediately looked away and appeared more interested in his new stuffed bunny than in his brother. I hoped that Zane would one day be a good friend for Gabe. He’d need a strong big brother. Life would not be easy in a body like his.
We had no warning that Gabe was going to have any challenges. My pregnancy was normal with no complications. Throughout the nine months I had taken only a few Tylenol™ tablets for some regular aches and pains. I walked regularly and kept my weight under control. There was no reason to think there would be anything wrong.
A few days after my due date when my labor pains were consistent, Steve and I had headed to the hospital. The pretty, young receptionist took our information to admit me to the maternity ward.
“Oh! You are Gigi Murfitt, right? Dr. Rogers has gone home, but he left instructions to call him. He wants to deliver your baby.”
Steve and I walked the halls for about an hour and checked in with Dr. Graham who was handling my case until Dr. Rogers arrived. I was fully effaced and dilated to a four.
My youngest sister Patti arrived just in time. “Are you ready for this, sis?” she asked as she took the camera out of the case.
“I’m excited, Patti. I think it’s going to be a girl.”
Just then another pain hit hard. There was much activity in the delivery room. After an hour of fairly intense labor, I begged the nurse.
“Please! I have to push. I have to push. The baby is coming.” I groaned through the pain.
Steve rubbed my forehead. “Just hold on, honey. Dr. Rogers is almost here. Keep breathing. It won’t be long.”
Moments later I heard Dr. Rogers’ kind voice. “Go ahead, Gigi, you can push now. It’s time. I’m here.”
I pointed at my sister. She gave me a thumb up. The camera was ready. Her eyes were wide and curious. This was her first time to witness the birth of a baby. She was mesmerized by the unusual guttural sounds I made as I pushed through the pains. I had chosen a natural delivery with no drugs. What was I thinking?
With one last push, I felt the baby’s body thrust forth. I was dizzy from holding my breath. I heard Dr. Rogers’ voice clearly say, “Oh-oh, we have some problems. You have a little boy but he has something wrong.”
What does he mean by problems? Panic struck my face and I looked at Steve. When I turned to look at our baby I could clearly see what was wrong. His tiny hands stuck out of his shoulders. He had no arms. His chubby deep purple colored body was curled into a ball. Dr. Rogers cleared out the baby’s throat. The room was dead silent except for the sudden loud wailing of our newborn.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” I stared at his deformed body. Tears blurred my vision. The room began to spin.
Steve rubbed my face as he tried to help me catch my breath. “Calm down honey. You have to breathe. It will be okay. He’s beautiful. It’s going to be okay. Just calm down.”
The delivery room nurse slapped an oxygen mask on my face. “Breathe slowly sweetie. Take a deep breath in and out.” The smell of oxygen made me gag.
The stars cleared from my head and I could focus. After the umbilical cord was cut my precious screaming baby was placed on my chest, wrapped tightly in a hospital blanket. I was afraid to pull back the blanket and take a good look at his deformed body. I had never seen anything like it.
I kissed his head and rubbed his chubby little cheeks.
“Hey baby boy, it will be okay. Mommy’s here. Don’t cry sweetheart. Mama’s here. You’re so cute and so chubby. You are beautiful baby, Gabriel.”
His cry stopped as he recognized my voice.
The sobs kept coming in my throat like hiccups. Mascara smeared my cheeks. Steve rubbed my back as we both looked in shock at our new son.
Nurse Debbie took Gabe from my arms. “We need to take him for testing. He’ll be just down the hall.”
“Wait. What kind of testing? Is he okay?”
Steve kissed my forehead and looked deep into my eyes and said, “Everything is going to be alright Gig. Let me go talk to the doctors. I’ll be right back. I love you sweetheart. It’s going to be okay. I won’t be long.”
Patti stood silently at my side while my doctor finished the stitches. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
Dr. Rogers washed up and came to my side.
“I’m so sorry, Gigi. I’m as surprised as you. We didn’t see this in your ultrasound last week. These things are never easy. He looks healthy except for his arms. Dr. Cheryl Wright-Wilson is the pediatrician on call. She will be back to give you a full report once we have a better idea of what’s going on. I’ll make my rounds tomorrow to check on you. Please get some sleep. I’m so sorry.”
His voice was gentle and comforting. He blinked a tear away as he walked out of the room.
There was a flurry of nurses tracking my vital signs and applying ice packs to my stitches. It felt so good when they put heated blankets on my body. I stayed in recovery for over an hour while they prepared a room for me.
A nurse I had never seen before came in to the room.
“We were able to find you a private room. It is almost set up and we’ll move you there shortly.”
I was grateful for the special treatment.
Patti pushed the matted hair off my forehead. “I’m going to call our family. I’ll be right back.” As she left another woman approached me.
“Hi Gigi, I’m Ann, I am a social worker here at Overlake. I am very sorry about your baby. We are here if you need anything. Can I ask you some questions? Do you need any water or food?”
“No, I’m okay, thanks.”
“Have you chosen a name for your baby?”
“Yes, his name is Gabriel Steven. My husband’s name is Steven.” My head was throbbing from crying so hard.
“Are you and your husband planning on taking him home?”
“What do you mean?” I replied with furrowed brow.
“When a baby is born with severe birth defects like yours, some parents choose not to take their baby home. They don’t feel they can handle the situation. If this is what you want to do I need to know as soon as possible so I can make arrangements with foster care.”
The tears and the sobs interjected between my words. “He’s my son. He’s going to be just fine.”
“I understand. I’m sorry but I had to ask. I know you will make an excellent Mom. Please call us if you change your mind. She handed me a business card then picked up her things and left.
Another nurse came and checked my vitals. Then they moved me to a large private room.
Steve returned followed by a gentle grey haired woman with a soft voice and warm smile.
“Hello Gigi, I am Cheryl Wright-Wilson. I am the pediatrician on call tonight. How are you doing?”
“I’m okay. Thanks.” I tried to smile.
She continued, “I’m so sorry about your son. It appears there are no life-threatening issues but we’ll keep him in Neonatal Intensive Care through the night just to be on the safe side. We aren’t sure what is going on but I suspect the possibility of a something genetic. More tests will confirm our diagnosis. He is a strong and otherwise healthy boy and he is beautiful.”
She put Gabe on my lap and unfolded the blanket tucked tightly around his tiny body. He squirmed and let out a loud squeal.
She picked up his hand and explained. “The bones from his elbow to his wrist are called the radius and ulna bones. He does not have these bones. The upper arm is the humerus bone. This appears to be abnormally small. This is common in babies born with a syndrome called T-A-R which stands for thrombocytopenia absence of radius bone. The bigger problem for these babies is a low platelet count in their blood. We will continue to monitor this with more blood work.”
“What exactly does low platelet count mean?” Steve asked.
“The platelets in our blood help to form clots. When we are injured the platelets play a part in stopping the bleeding. So a baby with low platelets will bruise easily and a severe bruise could even be fatal. These babies have to be transfused often to increase the platelet levels in their blood.”
“I also suspect there is something abnormal in his legs. They don’t straighten. I think his hip might be dislocated. We’ll learn more about that after we can get some x-rays.”
“Do you see this red mark on his nose? She continued. “That is called a hemangioma. It is a buildup of blood vessels on the surface just under the skin. In some babies it goes away and in others it gets worse. It isn’t serious but it is something we will watch. In the coming days we will know more.”
All the while she was talking my head was spinning with questions. TAR syndrome? Bleeding? Platelets? Transfusions? Hemangioma? Will he live a long life? Dislocated hip? Will he walk? Missing bones? Can they fix his arms? Now what do we do?
Dr. Wright-Wilson interrupted my anxious thoughts.
“Let’s get him back into the N-I-C Unit. Get some rest and we’ll talk to you in the morning. Dr. Joslyn will be on rounds tomorrow and can follow up with you. I know this is hard but you’ll make it. He is a beautiful boy. I can tell already he has parents that love him. That is what is important.”
Steve hugged her.
I kissed Gabe as a lump formed in my throat. Dr. Cheryl wrapped him like a burrito in the blanket and took him down the hall.
I wonder if he’ll even make it through the night. Maybe it would be better for him if he didn’t.
I chided myself for that thought and tears drenched the blanket as I pulled it up to my face.
Steve and I sat silent for a long time. We cried in each other’s arms. Just after midnight he headed home where my mom was taking care of Zane.
“I love you honey. We’ll get through this together okay?” He kissed my forehead and rubbed the tears off my cheeks. “He’ll be okay. We’ll figure this all out one day at a time. Please try to get some sleep. I’ll be back with Zane early in the morning.”
He kissed me once more and left.
I lay there for what seemed like hours with thoughts rolling through my mind. Will Gabe die from this blood thing? Will he ever hold my hand and walk with me? Can they fix his arms? Will he ever have a girlfriend? Will he go to school? Will he marry? Will he ever walk? Will he have any friends? Will people make fun of him? How am I going to handle this? Will Zane accept his new brother? How could this have happened? Is God punishing me?
Oh God please help me understand.
In the moment of my son’s birth, I knew one thing for sure. Life would never be the same. A cloud of uncertainty spread across the landscape of my future. But in the horizon I could see a glimpse of hope as the sun poked through a tiny hole in the dark clouds.
It was the hope passed down through family stories of how God had gotten us through hard times before. It was a hope that God will make a way even in uncertain times. With that hope in my heart I finally fell asleep at the end of a very difficult day.
Thank you God, for working all things together for good. I am grateful.