Anneka Jane is 4 months old today. Her and I are in the emergency room. I wrote this post yesterday, not expecting today to be this way. Her fever is spiking 104 and won’t come down. She’s on oxygen. The nursing team has tried 4 times and failed to get an IV line in. They can’t place a catheter. Her hearts going crazy.
If you would pray with us, for this little girl whom we love so much, we would be so grateful.
She is affectionately Anna to me. Each morning Madeleine parades straight to Anneka’s swing, leans in and announces her sisters presence to me.
“Anna!”, she says with firm and perfect annunciation as she wiggles her fingers at her and marches on. This morning ritual is pure joy to witness. It’s sisterhood and the formation of a bond that will outlive me. I hope.
Last week, after a hard day, I slumped into Russ’s open arm on the couch and crackled out a tearful, “I don’t want anything bad to happen to Anna.” These honest thoughts are hard to speak out because they are merely a trickle of internal floodwaters. When spoken, they are accompanied by wells of emotion that bust open reservoirs that hope and faith have dammed up.
I search for a theology that permits my reservoir of disappointments, fears, broken expectations and difficulties…..while fully embracing a faith that will hold up in spite of these mounting pressures…holding fast to a hope that will anchor me, even if the dam breaks. These feel juxtaposed. This is my current conversation with God, knowing he is greater than all the conflicts within me. Believing that circumstances do not define Him.
This is the picture of our past 4 months. Pure joy, pure concern. The tandem duo of light and darkness. Experiencing the undeniable presence of God in our story one moment, and having faith that He is still present in the most disappointing parts of our story, where no evidence is seen. This is where faith lives.
I didn’t hold her for the first day of her life. I have not breastfed her. She was taking a small amount of my milk from a bottle, now she takes nothing. Her heart remains broken and she is having open heart surgery November 20. Her reflux is brutal. We constantly watch her color, in case her heart failure escalates. I’ve asked God with faith for a different story on each account.
But the circumstances of our seemingly unanswered prayers are not evidence against God. In the fire, He is there.
One morning I replaced Anneka’s NG feeding tube all by myself- with hardly any discomfort to her. This is usually a taxing feat with 4 hands and moral support. But I did it. BY.MY.SELF. I was steady, confident, careful. The tube went in beautifully, and I was able to secure it with a clean placement of the clear tape. I saved us a trip to the ER. I saved Russ a trip home. Anneka could be fed. Supermom.
The very next time Anneka’s NG tube needed replacing I had Russ’s help. It took me 3 passes and failures while I watched my precious girl suffer terribly, throw up and make awful noises as I lost my nerve and kept jamming the tube into her nasal cavity. I watched Russ grimace in horror at her pain, from my unsuccessful attempts. Finally, when the last attempt worked, I taped her face with trembling hands and the tape job looked embarrassingly nasty.
The past four months have overturned all my expectations. Specifically, my expectations of myself, my abilities and my control over the unknown (I know, I know. *handslap). I have done things I never fathomed I could do and watched myself- proud of my nerve, my faith, my tenacity. In contrast, I’ve also lost it. I’ve been less gracious, less faith-filled and more selfish than I knew I could be. I’ve been denied moments I thought were mine for the taking- and I let it get to me so hard.
After months of coaxing and coaching Madeleine to take her first independent steps, she finally took off….on her own! I was on a break from the NICU ‘gauntlet’-my affectionate term for the 3 hour NICU schedule of changing Anneka’s diaper, taking her temperature, attempting breastfeeding or bottle feeding for half an hour, then holding her while milk is slowly fed to her via her nose tube, and lastly pumping milk for the next session. This gauntlet allows for a quick break and then is repeated. EVERY 3 HOURS. I was on one of those breaks when I saw a Whatsapp message from my Mom. It was a video of Madeleine awkwardly leaving the security of standing and venturing solo for a few wobbly strides, straight into my Moms arms. The adulation and importance of this moment was celebrated in my Dad’s praise “Walking….walking….She walked!!” And my heart was so proud of her I couldn’t help but cry.
I know well and good, there are far worse things that could happen to a Mother than missing this moment. Truthfully, I didn’t even know I’d expected her to wait for me….until she didn’t. I didn’t stop to fathom that my arms wouldn’t be the destination of her first journey. Until they weren’t. I watched her big moment from the hard chair of the hospital cafeteria, on my iphone screen, hours after her expedition occurred. And that was so unexpected.
I love that Madeleine walked to my Mom and I’m beyond grateful that my Dad captured it beautifully on video. It’s a pure thing. It takes a village. But I do wish I’d have been there. I’m here now. She runs now….dances and navigates all kinds of challenges on her feet. It’s wonderful.
My joys have been continually contrasted by hard. And some days have felt impossible. Other days, impossibly perfect. Nothing looks the way I thought it would.
Only one preexisting expectation has remained. The gracious, powerful and ever-present love of God remains. He waits in the quiet moments of ‘nap time’. He gives me courage to try again- NG tube in hand, hysterical daughter on the table, prayerful husband by my side. He turns down the volume when I allow my heart to ‘tune in’ to the countless fears that threaten the future. And He will remain, even if the worst fears become reality.
God holds us together…
…when Madeleine is inconsolable because I won’t allow her to play in the toilet, or draw her masterpieces on the wall in pen, or throw a ball at Anneka point blank.
…when Anneka’s eyes are red and she is gagging up her milk and medication once again, while struggling to gasp a breath and filling her pants at the same time.
…when it’s 6pm and dinner is not started yet and all options remain frozen.
…when being a Mom feels unfair, unrewarded, unnoticed, unRachel, un-everything.
…when the simple things have become complex gauntlets. Like breastfeeding.
…when love is embodied in the practical, rather than the romantic.
He is holding me together. When things are so closely juxtaposed. So good. So hard.
I’ve done many hard things in my lifetime. I’ve dealt with things…and I write this in humility, not intending sensationalism. I’ve stood up to demons-possessing a teenage girl. I’ve embalmed a young mans body by the light of a few paraffin candles- unthinkably beaten to death in Uganda. I’ve held the tiny feet of a stuck footling breech baby in the backseat of my car. I’ve narrowly escaped a mosque in Pakistan during Ramadan that I was invited into in error- a mosque notorious for anti-feminine sentiment. I’ve survived a fatal bus accident in India and I’ve buried children that I’ve loved. And I confidently say that motherhood IS hard.
Giving birth and giving life is not a small or unmentionable vocation. Be it a baby, a dream, a cause, a calling. These are wrought with unfulfilled expectations. And filled with purpose at the same time. We step into the knowns and unknowns and we emerge with scars- not just on our bodies. But we emerge with a story. We choose to narrate it as our own….or as God’s story. I’m choosing to be in His story….taking my hands off the clay of life and sliding into the potters wheel to be in His perfect hands.
I’m thankful He holds us. Otherwise, we would have fallen apart. But we are here. 4 months in.
Oh….and she is a masterpiece.