Very tough lessons
For this first time parent
I cannot describe the emotions that I felt at the sight of the birth of my first child. Romulus (“Baby Rome”) was born less than a week ago; a hefty name for such a tiny boy. He was born with a condition known as a coarctation of the aorta. Coarctation of the aorta is essentially a “narrowing” or “pinching” of a major artery leaving the heart. Other than that heart condition, he is generally healthy with a couple of minor things waiting on further examination. Coarctation isn't something that puts a baby in immediate danger so we have spent the last five days with him in the NICU. I'm writing this from a waiting room as he has his first (hopefully last) surgery. I am not a doctor. I'm not writing this to discuss his condition or talk about anything technical. I'm only writing this as an anxious father. I'm twenty-three years old. I don't have all the answers, but this journey has taught me so much. And left me with many questions. I just want to share this moment in time. To capture all of this stress and fear. To package it all up for posterity.
His mother and I were overjoyed when we found out she was pregnant. We did what most first time parents do. We read a lot of things about babies and asked a lot of questions. We dreamed of what our baby would look like and who baby would become. We took bets on what the sex would be. (I won.) After our twenty week ultrasound we were elated. All of our excitement was embodied on that little screen. We took announcement pictures and posted them on our social accounts telling the world that our greatest joy was, in fact, a boy. And then we got the call. Our baby boy had some things that alarmed the ultrasound tech and they wanted to see us as soon as possible. We crossed our fingers and barely slept until our next appointment.
There was some swelling that concerned them and we were referred to a large regional hospital. Fast forward through multiple visits, ultrasounds, blood tests, and stressful consultations. Through it all we began with insurmountable odds until we arrived at the likely conclusion of a congenital heart condition rather than another serious condition or syndrome. We felt little relief, but were more hopeful.
Fast forward again through a few follow up visits and maternity appointments until we reach the induction date. Labor was long. Pushing was short. Baby boy was here and I rushed up with him to the NICU while his mother (still as beautiful as always) was taken care of by a large staff of medical personnel. And here we are. Waiting to hear the voice of a nurse telling us that he's made it through and that we can see him soon.
And that is the story of our son so far. Our beautiful baby boy. His story has just begun and we are excited about his big future.
I believe that equally important for anyone that reads this is our story as parents. I have, by no means, mastered parenting; after all, I haven’t even done this a week. But this entire road has taught me a ton of things about myself and life in general. I have variously felt powerless and secure. Anxious and relieved. Faithful and alone. Below are some of the lessons that reach out to me as perhaps the most important on this path we’ve been taken down.
I have learned that time is relative to the amount of anxiety you feel. Time has a tendency to creep along during the difficult times and waiting periods. And zip along when things go easy. Try and relax, moms and dads. Watch a new show on Netflix. Work on a project that keeps you focused and happy. I know it’s hard, but it really does help if you let it. Another coping mechanism that I have learned is to try and “zoom out” and examine things from a distant perspective. For example, the one thing that works well with me is to imagine a timeline of my son’s life. All of his major milestones and his future achievements. His 80+ years on this earth. And then look at how small this 1 month of his life is; all of this testing and surgery will end and he will have his entire life. And I, as a father, get to enjoy it all. I just have to make it through this little blip.
I have learned that pain, unlike time, is not relative, it just hurts. Our son shares a room with a baby with a more difficult medical journey ahead. But they both have their fights. We always hear that “there is always someone that is less fortunate than ourselves” to “be content” or “to count ourselves lucky” because of this. No. I’m not lucky because someone else is less lucky. Every person that has lived or will live has had and will have a struggle. We should not compare struggles. We should learn to understand each other’s struggles. And help if we can.
Recently I have found myself asking if tough things happen to good people? Or if tough things make good people? I think that I could count myself as a good person for the most part before Baby Rome was here. But my perspective on life as a whole changed faster than I could’ve imagined after he was born. I feel much more compassionate and empathetic. It is difficult to judge another, even on their worst day, when you experience tough things. You begin to look at people that are rude as hurt. People that are angry as afraid. It becomes difficult to paint someone as bad at first glance rather than assume that they’re simply having a bad day. And I have noticed this trait, this impenetrable empathy, most among those who have weathered incredible storms. Many of whom I have interacted with a lot lately in Rome’s hospital stay. I never understood how much I didn’t fully understand humility or joy or graciousness. And I still totally don’t, but all of these scary moments have taught me so much more about them.
As I finish writing about these snippets of this long road, we received the announcement that our precious son has finished surgery and has done really well. We’ll be with him soon. Our families are extremely eager to see him and we are all waiting impatiently for his full recovery. Hearing the good news that we hoped for has helped me catch the breath that I didn’t know I was holding. And all I want to say to any nervous parents is that time can heal. No matter what. I have lost a lot of hair at twenty-three. I have cried in anger and fear. And joy. And relief. Cling to those you love and believe what you need. You can make it through mom or dad.
I can't express enough the gratitude that I and all of our extended family feel for all of the work that the many medical professionals have done for our Romulus. You have worked wonders on our little wonder. And to the Ronald McDonald House charity from McDonald's: You are so incredible. I do not know how many other anxious parents you have housed over the years, but for this anxious parent, I'm so appreciative.