It was like some sort of premonition. Do mothers have this primal instinct which can detect when something is just not quite right with their babies? I have often wondered about this, especially when reflecting back on the earliest days with our firstborn son, Joshua.

We were only weeks away from our first year-long furlough in the U.S. We had already moved out of our house, stored our things at a friend’s place, and were house-sitting for other friends who were overseas. It was a quiet, peaceful time, getting to know our son and enjoying finally being parents after so many years of childlessness. I was deeply happy and content, and yet a creeping unease, a sense of foreboding overshadowed my joy, threatening to disturb it. I always liked the song You Are My Sunshine and used to sing it to Joshua a lot. But every time I got to the line which says “…please don’t take my sunshine away”, I would start weeping and clutch him to me tightly as if some unseen hand was stretched out to snatch him from me. What on earth could possibly be threatening to take my little sunshine away? Everything appeared quite normal to us.

Fast forward 2 months and we are in the U.S., staying awhile with my parents. By this time, it was obvious that our son was not gaining weight as he should be. We took him to a local paediatrician, who labelled him as “failing to thrive” and admitted him in the hospital for a half day of tests. The results, he said, revealed nothing abnormal, so he concluded I was not feeding him sufficiently and advised me to be constantly pushing formula in him. I followed his directions, but Joshua started vomiting it all up again. I knew he had been feeding well and now we were overdoing it and his little body could not tolerate that much milk. But who questions the professional? Certainly not first-time parents!

Fast forward again and we are in Kansas City in the office of our pastor, and his wife, an RN, was with us. She held our baby, making the customary ooohs and aaahs, and “Isn’t he cute” comments, but with a look of grave concern in her eyes. We were advised to please find a paediatrician right away and have him checked out because he was still at birth weight – at 3 months. They gave us the contacts of a paediatrician of good reputation. That was the beginning of quite a roller coaster ride for us in this journey of parenthood.

At the paediatrician’s office, after a rather brief examination of our son, we were told to go straight across the street to Children’s Mercy Hospital, to paediatric cardiology to have tests done. We had given him the previously sealed copy of the test results the Virginia doctor had given us. I was already nervous because in the car on our way to this doctor’s office, my curiosity had overcome me, and I had opened the sealed envelope of test results and read them. Most of it was medical jargon I did not understand, but I did understand that one test had revealed something abnormal in the cardiac region and that the hospital advised more tests. I knew what cardiac meant. I knew what abnormal was. And I knew that the Virginia paediatrician had not told us the truth when he said that everything was normal. Now I was scared. This new paediatrician was giving us the medical equivalent of the Monopoly game’s “Go directly to jail (hospital)! Do not pass go. Do not collect $200”. So, we were on our way across the street.

Our fears were confirmed when we were told by the paediatric cardiologist that our son had multiple congenital heart defects and that his life was indeed in danger and had been since birth. (“Oh, please don’t take my Sunshine away!”)  I felt my own heart breaking as I tried to take in everything the doctor was telling us. We did not get to take our son home that night, as he was admitted immediately for further tests and to stabilize him in preparation for the first of 2 major surgeries he would need. His chances of surviving were 50/50. I was devastated.

In the car on the way home that night, I kept looking back at the empty car seat and wailing. Poor Chip. Not only was he dealing with his own grief, but he had to listen to me in mine. At one point, probably hoping to shore up our collective faith, he pointed out that I needn’t be grieving as if he were gone. Josh was still alive and at that point, there was still hope. I knew he was right, but I was struggling with finding and grasping tightly to that hope. Was God, after finally answering our prayers for a child, going take that child away now? I was desperately hoping not. I kept thinking that surely, it would have been better to remain childless than to have to give him up now! Only time would tell me what was in store.

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