My son!--my son!--
Would God that I could die for thee, my son!


"For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love there is a heart somewhere to receive it."

      Ivan Panin

January 22, 2007

“ How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”

-- these words from Hamlet comes to mind this morning, as I sit with the bad news that arrived yesterday evening. I feel flat, stale, tired, deflated. As last night erupted in a thunder storm of bad news with quick flowing tears, so has arrived this morning an unnatural calm born out of fatigue. Only little babies can cry for hours. A few minutes exhausts an adult.

Or so it seems to me as I sit down to write these words.

There was a phone call yesterday. There was bad news about my unborn baby daughter’s heart. A problem with the right ventricle. “They want her to see a specialist,” my wife cried on the phone as she explained what had been told to her.

I felt as if I have been kicked in the stomach. I don’t feel much better now.

So I sit here stewing with equal parts anger and sadness. The clear skies and nearly unadulterated happiness of normal parents has converted almost instantly to the adrenaline rush, shallow breathing, and tunnel vision which a crisis brings with it.

My baby daughter’s health is threatened.

I am left here thinking of all the immature and dysfunctional individuals in the world who have perfect babies without heart problems but don’t want or appreciate their little ones – the parents who became pregnant by accident and did not want to be parents, those who act irresponsibly and drink alcohol or abuse drugs, have no real means of support, etc. I realize I am jealous of them. I am jealous of their healthy babies.

I also am jealous of friends and acquaintances and their healthy babies, cognizant of the ignobility of these thoughts. I am jealous of the complete strangers who walk by me with healthy babies. It is an ugly thought which comes up unbidden.

My daughter has a problem with her heart. From long experience in hospitals I have learned to respect the heart, the engine of our bodies -- not much happens without a healthy heart. After years spent working in a trauma center, I came to the conclusion that I would much prefer to be shot in the head than in the chest. Stay away from the heart and lungs. Your head, on the other hand, is harder than you think.

An abnormality in a fetal heart, furthermore, is a very bad sign. Oh, my daughter! Will she make it to term? Is her fate already prescribed? Will she be born seriously ill? Will almost her first experience as she emerges from the womb into this world be doctors whisking her away for emergency surgery? Will she survive for more than a few days? Will she and we forever live in fear of what might happen tomorrow, next week, or next year – her untrustworthy heart?

In the first hours after I hear the unhappy news, in the mind-blowing panic of those first moments, I begin to bargain with God: I would give a few of my own fingers, and even some toes, to bargain for my daughter’s health back. For a heart that would power her through life, a sturdy engine to endure the blows the world will bestow! God knows we can hardly do well without as much.

I would give away my health for my daughter in a heartbeat. I am already well advanced in life - more than a bit beaten about and scarred up. I have been around the block more than a time or two, and I have seen enough people die with my own eyes to know the value of life. With half a push and a good cause, I would almost give it up voluntarily. So much is beyond my control, and I have long since made my peace with the fact that with death it will come when it will come. My daughter, on the other hand, is pristine, pure, a clean slate - with everything in front of her! She is thirty four weeks old. An infant. She has hardly even had a chance at life. She deserves a chance. I feel everything for her I don’t feel for myself.

Yet she is ill and I am healthy.

The chances of congenital heart defects are about 8 per 1,000 live births. 8 in 1,000! Did tiny Julia lose badly a roll of the dice? Has she just lost big in the genetic lottery of conception? Why Julia? Why us?

I don’t care if Julia is born “sick.” I don’t care if Julia and I become a fixture in doctor’s offices, or if I have to outfit her room with medical equipment and spend tens of thousands of dollars. As long as she is alive, Julia will never be “damaged goods.” I don’t care about problems. I don’t care – give me my daughter!


My son!--my son!--
Would God that I could die for thee, my son!

My wife Maria wanted to name her Julia and I have agreed. But now I think I will call her Jewel, a prized one bought at high cost and great pain.


But that she might endure heart surgeries at birth and afterwards is enough to break my heart; welcome to the world, then break the sternum, and let descend the surgeon’s scalpel:: “Oh, that heaven should practice stratagems on such a helpless creature such as myself!”

A seriously ill baby. Our Julia. Pain. Sickness. Worry. What is my love in the balance? The love of her mother?

Although we don’t remember it at all, to be born is one of the hardest things we will ever do in our lives. (And for a woman to give birth is perhaps not far behind!) Utterly dependent on others, the newborn cries and breathes oxygen with its lungs for the first time, as she encounters the harsh new world outside of the womb for a few confusing minutes before retreating back into sleep. Then the baby knows hunger and strange stomach pain from this new thing, food. Spindly arms and legs that tremble and shake as a baby’s immature brain tries to coordinate its body movements. Sleeping most of the time to try and grow, mature, and adapt. Everything novel and frightening. Rapid growth. Rapid change.

No wonder the poor creature cries so much!

And this is with healthy babies.

My Jewel. Her mother’s Jewel.

Give her to us.

I will do anything.

Postscript: After further tests by specialists, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Julia's heart. This incident, while short and sharp, had a happy ending. God be praised!


"He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune."
Francis Bacon
Of Marriage and Single Life