Part One: A Son

1.            Insidious Surprise
My first child, Stross, was born with obvious birth defects (spina bifida and no anus), yet no one in the operating room had ready answers. A kind anesthesiologist assured me I wasn’t to blame.

2.            Becoming a Mom
Eerie, quiet moments contrasted the busyness of medical teams examining our son and preparing him and me for transfer. My husband, Mark, and I felt exposed. The dynamics of our relationship, shaped years earlier, underpinned how we began relating to others.

3.            Hold On
As our transfer preparations and Stross’ surgery arrangements were made, Mark made painful calls to notify family and friends. I held Stross for the first time and heard God “speak.”

4.            Helplessness
Doctors informed us that spina bifida may be the least of our worries – they suspected a severe chromosome abnormality. A visit by a family from our church brought life into sharp perspective. Their son, who I’d seen walking with leg braces and crutches, had spina bifida. I hadn’t known.

5.            Back Off
Stross entered surgery less than five hours after birth, and Mark and I were eager to be with him in recovery. So were our parents. I angrily watched our son’s grandmothers stroke his paralyzed legs while praying for God to “make him whole.”

6.            Rebound Pain
The pain our parents felt magnified Mark’s and my pain. We struggled through family interactions while sorting through intensely personal emotions. Our competing roles of son/husband/father and daughter/wife/mother complicated even private conversations.

7.            Celebration of Motherhood
Recovering from a cesarean gave me time to adjust to motherhood. A diligent nurse, armed with a breast pump, coaxed out my ability to nurture while female friends, armed with Stross’ “Zero” birthday cake, reminded me that motherhood was worthy of celebration.

8.            What Have They Done?
Others’ reactions to Stross’ birth revealed an array of theological explanations about who God is and how God is at work in the world. No one’s perspective was welcomed – especially the elderly couple who asked our pastor, “What have they done to cause God to do this?”

9.            Sister Mary Pull-Me-Down
My last day in the hospital preceded Stross’ first shunt surgery (to drain fluid from his brain caused by hydrocephalus). One well-intentioned nun brought great anxiety to my mother who, in response, secretly baptized Stross herself.

10.            A Bad Day
A hospital visit by my sister and her husband magnified my feelings of impending doom. When she related details of her “bad day,” I lashed out with a reminder that her day paled in comparison to mine: I’d just signed permission forms for Stross’ neurosurgery to treat his hydrocephalus.

11.            Breathe Please
The night before Stross’ surgery, Mark and I shared an emotionally intimate moment as he helped me settle in at home. An unruly breast pump tested his devotion. The next day my mother joined us as we kept watch over Stross, who had agonizing moments of apnea during his recovery.

12.            All I Ever Wanted
While Stross was in the hospital, Mark and I only went home for sleep. One song played repeatedly in our car’s CD player during our travel times, becoming the soundtrack to our experience. Through its lyrics, we were reminded God had supplied us with all we’d ever wanted.

13.            A Miracle in Hand?
Because doctors believed Stross’ defects had genetic origins, we lived in a state of anxiety. Then, a report from the Mayo Clinic citing a normal chromosome analysis allowed for cautious optimism. Previously, we’d regularly examined Stross’ body looking at the abnormal indicators doctors had identified. Now, we wondered if we’d received an answer to prayer.