Thursday, November 5, 2009

Risk Factor

A friend and I were on a drive the other day, and we were talking about babies. He said something about "before"...usually when we say before, we mean before Eli died, or before our friends went through their babies almost dying, or before the host of miscarriages other friends have suffered...basically, a few years ago, when we were what felt like very young and naive...and didn't realize that not all babies get to be born, and the ones that are born don't always live, and the ones that live aren't always healed. Before, for us, is that time when we all thought the biggest decision we had to make was how many kids we could afford to have or stand to have, when we never knew that our decision may actually be how many kids were were brave enough to try to have, or how many kids we were prepared to lose.

Anyway, the past few years has opened our eyes so, so much. In the past, we always thought if you made it through the first trimester, everything would be okay. We all had basically healthy, happy kids.Then Eli died, and we realized that making it through the first trimester, or even the second or third, didn't really guarantee anything. Then our friend's baby, who was born a day or two after Eli, got extremely sick and had to have a large portion of his intestines removed and was in the hospital for a very long time. For a while, we didn't know if his intestines would ever be able to be reattached inside his body. We realized that having our babies born healthy didn't mean they couldn't get terribly sick, no matter how well we took care of them.

My friend and I rehashed all of that, and he said that if he and his wife ever decided to try to have another child, he would maybe start to relax once the baby was safely home in their arms for a couple of weeks, and I started thinking. I mean, yes. We can't avoid feeling anxious bringing a baby into the world we live in, whether they're healthy or not. I mean, terrible things happen here every day. Especially now when many of the scary things that can happen aren't abstract to us anymore, but up close and personal. I will never again think that miscarriage or infant loss is  just one of those things that happen to other people.

That being said, I think we have a clear choice when we decide to have kids. Yes, having kids is scary, and not just because they could die. It's scary because you're responsible for another human being, and not just their care and feeding and you know, keeping them in one piece, but their moral and ethical upbringing.

Whew. That's a heavy burden. I mean, even assuming they arrive safely, they never ever get sick, and you keep them physically safe, you still have to raise them. Teach them. Love them when they're unlovable. That's heavy. And how many places are there to screw up there? Just about a million. Then they learn to drive and I think at that point, parents basically never sleep again, right?

I know that all sounds depressing. I mean, what's the point in having kids if they just get hurt or die or you totally screw them up? Sometimes when you're parenting young kids it feels like you're just trying to do well enough so that they'll never talk about you to their therapist later in life. It's nerve wracking, being completely responsible for several people you created.

So, this is what I've decided. You get to make the choice to wait for something bad to happen, or to make sure you put as many good things in front of them as possible and enjoy them every second you've got them, even when they're whiny and annoying and swinging off bathroom towel racks.

Sounds simple, right? I mean, my son died. So why should I think that this baby won't? It was a big dilemma for me when I was pregnant with Seth, and I knew I had two choices...either to totally micromanage my pregnancy and freak out every second, or to open my hands and let God guide my son, whether that was guiding him here to me or guiding him to heaven to join his brother. I chose the latter, and while I had to choose it over and over (and over!) again, I had much more peace through that pregnancy than I thought would be possible.

 I'm doing my best to do that again with this baby (I almost slipped and wrote her name! Man, I need to watch it!), and to enjoy every karate kick and every evening of heartburn she sends me way. I'm treasuring the small things about her I'm learning before I meet her...that she apparently has a lot of hair, which would be a first (actually a second...Eli had a lot of hair), enough to make her head look like a cotton ball on the ultrasound screen. The fact that she is not a ham like her brothers and sisters were on the ultrasound screen. The fact that every time I rest a book on my stomach, she kicks it right off. If these things are all I get to learn about her, that would suck, but it would still be more than a lot of people get. The thing is, she, like the rest of my kids, doesn't belong to me, or she shouldn't. She doesn't belong to John. She belongs to God, and it's a privilege for me to have her with me for any amount of time. So I'm taking advantage of every moment I get.

I'll probably always be scared. But to me, I'm so glad that we were able to push through being scared and add two more children to our family after Eli's death. Lot's of people wouldn't have...I mean, we already had two healthy kids. Why push it? But my life would not be the same without Seth, and it would not be the same without this baby girl, and I'm saying that even though I know that perhaps, without the stressors of two additional pregnancies and a very difficult first year with Seth, my marriage would still be intact. Who knows. I wouldn't trade these two children to find out, though. Every day with them has been a blessing, and every day with my oldest two is an adventure, and every day I had with Eli was incredibly sweet. In many ways, I bonded more with him before birth than any of the others...we were planning a natural childbirth and doing a hypnobabies course, and we spent every night doing silly visualizations of holding our baby in the woods or something, and I felt like I knew him well before he died. I could always tell just how he was positioned,  and I spent lots of days in the hospital just listening to his heartbeat go on and on. Thank God I got those days with him.

I know there are people out there scared to death to try again. They lost a baby, or four babies, or they had a terrible labor and delivery, or they have a very sick kid. Those fears are not ever going to go away. They'll always be there, just below the surface on the good days, rearing their ugly heads right in your face on the bad days. All we can do is be brave enough to put it all out there and try again, to be thankful for each day we get with them, and to do our best for them every day we're here with them. We're not guaranteed a single thing in this life, except that if we're believers, we go to heaven. When and how and why aren't up to us, but what we do in the meantime is, and I think raising kids up, even with all the risks involved,even though we may never get to breathe that sigh of relief,  is one of the bravest and best things we can do.
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