“Happy Mother’s Day!” greeted the wide-eyed receptionist. I cringed a bit because I knew her enthusiasm for the day far out-weighed my wife’s enthusiasm for the occasion. “Are you going to hold him as your own personal gift to yourself?” another nurse chimed, matching the eagerness exhibited by the first. They were both smiling ear-to-ear; however, I knew they couldn’t distinguish between Lhorraine’s real smile and her forced smile. But I could. I can easily spot it from 300 feet away, so you can imagine how being only 3 inches away increased my deciphering abilities. I not only saw Lhorraine force-open the corner creases of her smile, but I also felt her heart bracing for an awkward day. Yes, today is meant to be a congratulatory day for all mothers. Issue is, what do you do when people keep placing happy and mother in the same sentence while you don’t feel happy and you barely feel like a mother?
The day would have been more restorative if it was commemorated with an alternative adjective. For example, Concerned Mother’s Day would have been a therapeutic substitute for Lhorraine. I think she would have been edified by a Praying Mother’s Day or a Hopeful Mother’s Day. I’m pretty sure my wife would have appreciated a Heartbroken Mother’s Day, and she probably could use a Wounded Mother’s Day. But a Happy Mother’s Day is too much of an unvarnished contrast. It lacks the necessary nuance that would enable the day to properly represent the collage of emotions experienced by a first-time mother who must daily watch her child through plexiglass. No, happy just doesn’t work this year. And if I was afforded the opportunity to re-frame the day for my spouse, I would entitle it: Apprehensive Mother’s Day.
As a husband, it was difficult to know how to play my cards on such an unfitting day. On one hand, I wanted to make sure my helpmate knew she was an excellent mother. On the other hand, I wanted to make sure I didn’t become another grain of salt placed in her soul-wound. I knew the answer was far beyond my years of experience, and I recognized that disengaging was not an acceptable response. There was only one way to go. There was only one appropriate gift to give. Empathy.
No, I didn’t fully understand the emotions Lhorraine felt today, but I did partially understand them. I readily concede: I don’t know what it’s like to be a disappointed mother; however, I know what it’s like to hear people say, “Congratulations on the baby!” when I don’t know if the baby will live. I willingly confess: I don’t know how it feels to mourn the loss of a disrupted pregnancy, but I do know what it’s like to hear someone say “Congratulations Dad!” and then follow the commendation with “Your son might not make it.“ I know how insufficient messaging can be, and I know how a knee-jerk attempt to be encouraging can have devastating consequences. Sweeping superlatives or heroic speeches just don’t work in moments like these. So I didn’t try to play the hero. I didn’t try to make things better. I purchased a card. I arranged some flowers. I brought her a gift. I leaned over. I gave her a hug. I cleared my throat. I told her, “You are appreciated.” And I held her hand as we walked into Whole Foods to get her some chicken-fried tofu. Enough said.
Here is Jesher’s current medical report:
FEEDING–Jesher is still being fed by a feeding tube. Later this week, he will be evaluated by a speech pathologist who will gauge whether or not his suck, swallow, breath reflex is developed enough to begin bottle feeding. Successfully eating from a bottle is an important benchmark before a proposed discharge can be more concretely set. We are also wanting Jesher to breast-feed. The doctors have informed us that babies who’ve been on ventilator support, as long as Jesher, usually don’t gain the ability to execute the complex functions required for successful breast-feeding. However, I have not resigned myself to this outcome, and I believe that Yahweh has plans to fully restore all of Jesher’s abilities–in spite of his tough beginnings. PLEASE ASK YAHWEH TO ENHANCE JESHER’S SUCK, SWALLOW, BREATH REFLEX SO THAT HE CAN SUCCESSFULLY SATISFY BOTTLE-FEEDING REQUIREMENTS FOR DISCHARGE AND SUCCESSFULLY EXPERIENCE THE BONDING BENEFITS OF BREAST-FEEDING.
BODY TEMPERATURE–Jesher had his first water bath today! Up to this point, he has been washed with sterilized wipes (basically, he has been limited to receiving rub downs). But now, they believe he is able to hold his temperature well-enough to take baths and wear clothes. He cried the whole time : ) But Lhorraine and I couldn’t stop smiling (we think he’ll really like playing with rubber duckies). After his bath, they put him in a baggy onesie and swaddled him in a blanket. We are praying that Jesher is able to maintain his temperature so that he can continue his progression towards normalcy. PLEASE THANK GOD FOR BRINGING JESHER TO THIS POINT…AND ASK THE LORD TO ACTIVATE JESHER’S ABILITY TO MAINTAIN HIS OWN TEMPERATURE WITHOUT MECHANICAL AID.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY–Jesher has been assigned an occupational therapist who has been helping him develop his motor skill function. Although Jesher is still quite under-sized (now 36 weeks and 3lbs / 8oz), he is progressing well through his exercises. His therapist is quite impressed with how feisty he is during their sessions. She is being vigilant about the limb stiffness that all micro-preemies develop due to the stress and rigor of growing outside of the womb. PLEASE ASK YAHWEH TO LOOSEN JESHER’S JOINTS AND MUSCLES SO HE CAN MOVE HIS LIMBS FREELY AND USE THEM CORRECTLY.
Many of our friends and family sensed the paradoxical tension of the day as well. Instead of sending Lhorraine a Happy Mother’s Day message, some of them sent it to me. There were a few in this group who did so because they don’t have Lhorraine’s number, but I know there were also some who simply couldn’t decide how to navigate the linguistic strain. They didn’t know if Lhorraine was happy. They couldn’t tell whether or not this day would bring pain or joy. They wrestled as they drafted text messages only to delete them and start again. They struggled to find the right words. They didn’t gloss over the negative in an attempt to highlight the positive. They paused. They prayed. They strategized. And they decided to send the message to me, hoping I would serve them as an adept translator. I, then, took these messages and copied the same process (pausing, praying, and strategizing), asking the Holy Spirit to grant me the greatest spiritual gift of them all–not the gift of tongues–the gift of empathy.
“Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives—especially the ability to prophesy. For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious. But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them.”
1 Corinthians 14:1-3