It reminds me that I must thank you, and God too, for giving me what I want most year after year–Christmas with my family, which this year, includes my new granddaughter. Oh, and thanks for my new release, Christmas Lights—I dedicated it to her.
But I digress. There was one Christmas, some thirty years ago, where I almost didn’t get to keep what I asked for—my newborn daughter. Yes, you remember her? She had been born strong and healthy and nine pounds two weeks before…
Before bacterial meningitis stomped in and almost claimed her life on that dreadful December 21. Our white picket fence-perfect life, with a two-year-old son and new baby girl, spun hideously out of control. It was Christmastime, yet here we were, in the same hospital where she had been born. Wearing scrubs, washed down with Betadine. Sobbing, shocked…staggering through a neonatal intensive care unit.
….Spinal tap? I can’t even remember my birthday while I struggle to sign the form.
Tears, strangling pain. What’s happening? Neonatal nurses, who are angels from heaven, tell me it’s okay to cry. They cry, too… Their strong but soft hands around me, hold me up.
My husband, my hero–his strength seeps into me as he chokes back his own tears and fears.
Finally our wise and wonderful pediatrician sits us down. “You need to be with your little boy now,” she says.
My backbone turns to ice first. “Will he…?”
“No. This strain is not contagious.” (Small mercies.) “But it’s Christmastime, and he needs you, too.”
So we split time, taking our little guy to see Santa. Helping him hang his stocking—as well as his newborn sister’s. Trying to answer his baby-talk question about where his baby is…
Praying endlessly. Shuddering in dread every time the phone rings.
Once, it’s Uncle Ted calling. My heart hammers horribly until I hear his voice—no caller ID in those days. He’s a pharmacist. I feel a little better: the antibiotic protocol your doctor has prescribed for little Christine is cutting edge.
Still…there’s a little red velvet Christmas dress from her Uncle Mike that can’t be worn inside an incubator. No holiday bonnet for a little head stuck with IV lines.
She’s so strong, the doctor tells us on December 22. But this is very serious. If she survives, be prepared for deafness, blindness. Seizures. Crippling. Mental deficits.…the ugly list goes on and on.
It’s okay, honey, I reassure my husband when I can form words. I’m a teacher. I’ll teach her everything she needs to know….
They allow Christi out of her heated, enclosed crib to nurse. We have to be careful of all the tubes and wires. There’s even a rocking chair for me. At home I try to feel like a new mommy, pumping milk and freezing it to take to her. The bottles are so tiny.
Santa, do you remember? Early on December 23, you’re finishing the last toy when the doctor calls us, after morning rounds. “Mrs. Hanson, your baby will survive for sure, but, remember….” Pause. Warning. Panic. Of course we don’t forget the possibility of all those bad things.
Why do I want to go hide in the footwell of the desk in the living room?
December 24: Santa, you’re ready to hit the skies, and we are leaving for church. Sometimes, there’s nothing left but God.
The phone rings as we pick up the car keys. It’s the head of neonatal pediatrics.
Terror, my heart starts to die… then joy to our little world.
“Your baby will live,” says Dr. Miller. I can hear his smile. “We’ve tested everything. She is fine and perfect in every single way. Have a merry Christmas.”
Oh, yes. I knew then for sure, and I knew it later. Perfect vision, honor roll. Homecoming princess, gifted pianist, star athlete, cum laude at university…And I know it now: The Lord lives.
And the Lord loves.