From the moment Dr. Johnson set him on my chest I knew something was terribly wrong. It was more than his unnatural charcoal hue, more than the nurse whipping the oxygen mask off my face to place it over his. Forever engrained in my mind is the sight of his mouth opened in a noiseless cry, an abnormal screech was all his little body could manage.
Before I could even reach out to touch his hand he was snatched from me.
“Dad, follow me,” the nurse said as she ran with my child through the door.
I was left alone in a room full of people. Left to think terrible thoughts, to agonize not only for my child but also for my husband. Dr. Johnson continued to work on me, keeping up a lively bit of chatter with the nurses.
I prayed. Oh God, please don’t let him die. He’s my baby. I need him. My daughter deserves a brother. My husband deserves a son. Please God, don’t take him from me. The words played through my mind like a cruel storyline in which the actress must practice the part repeatedly until she gets it right. If I say it enough, if I speak with just the right inflection, this gigantic lump of terror sitting heavily on my heart would dissolve.
My doctor left to see what was happening. I watched each tick of the clock until he returned: four minutes and fifty-three seconds.
“It’s not good,” he said, and my branch of hope bent under the weight of his words. Snippets of “a tube down his throat” and “he’s not pinking up” blended with the erratic beating of my heart. “I’ll go check on him again.”
I nodded just to make him go away. The nurses continued to clean the room, yet not one of them could possibly scrub hard enough to remove the spot of fear that had settled over me.
I pretended a smile as my mother came in and motioned to a chair where she could sit. There we waited, mother and daughter, each struggling to make sense of a world that had suddenly gone very awry. Every once in a while someone would pop in to give an update, never really giving the gift of hope but neither fully eliminating it.
Neither Mom nor I spoke. Though never going through something like this before, she understood my need for silence. Perhaps we were experiencing similar thoughts, similar prayers.
All at once a voice spoke inside my head, instantly comforting. Everything is going to be okay. it said. Relief washed through me! My baby would live. In a few days I could take him home, show him to his sister, place him to sleep in his crib, sing him to sleep at night. He would be okay.
No, said the voice again, so remarkably clear. No, but everything is going to be okay.
The doctor walked in pushing an empty wheelchair. “It’s time,” he said.
Before long I was in the NICU clutching my husband’s hand, watching as people bustled around what could have been a doll. I saw the tube emerging from his mouth, wires taped to his still grayish skin.
A wrinkled gentleman in a starched white coat knelt next to me. “Mrs. Walker, I’m so sorry, but this little guy’s not going to make it.”
The words stabbed, willing me to bleed from every pore. I nodded my understanding, unable to say a word. The machines were turned off, the wires and tube removed, and his body was wrapped in a small blanket covered in brightly painted handprints. The doctor laid him in my arms and all at once my husband, my father, and my brother circled around us to pray over this child.
Peace swelled through me, quelling the fear of what would happen, stalling the pain for just a moment. I thought to myself, if God could give up His son for the greater good, than how could I refuse when He asked for mine?
As the prayer ended a chorus of ‘amen’ echoed throughout the quiet room. Not a person moved for several seconds until the leading doctor drew near, placed his stethoscope over his heart and declared young David had passed on.
He lived only one hour and twelve minutes, but his spirit continues to inspire us.
Dedicated to my son, who would have been seven this year. Mom loves you.
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