I wrote the following essay in 2006, almost two years after my daughter was born. I stumbled upon this essay recently and was amazed that this was only the beginning of the journey that God willed for us. Life, over the following six years, only seemed to get exponentially harder as we dealt with the health of our daughter and then our son; but, as stated in the essay, there is a beautiful incongruence between Christ’s birth and our pain. As we celebrate Christmas and reflect upon its meaning, I pray for your hearts to be filled with Hope.
I’ve always been one to hope—hoping for reasonable things, hoping for unreasonable things, hoping from everything like a silly parking space to hoping for healing of a dying relative. I have only been a mother for close to two years, and yet this new role has taught me more about hope in two years than I have learned in my entire life. I believe motherhood is a gradual, yet swift, spectacular and alarming lesson in hope.
It all began last January when my daughter, Lilly, was born. The baby girl I always dreamed of having finally arrived. She was beautiful. My mother called her a porcelain doll. Lilly, whose middle name happens to be Hope, with her soft skin and her big beautiful eyes, was born at 4 pounds 14 ounces. She was tiny. Half of her body fit into my husband’s hands, and though she was small, it didn’t occur to us that something could be wrong. Shortly after she was born the doctors told us that she was SGA, or small for gestational age. The pediatrician explained that Lilly could simply be a petite baby due to genetics or her lower birth weight, based on being a full term baby, could indicate problems in utero which could ultimately cause physical and neurological problems. My husband and I were unprepared for this news, and only after one day of being parents, our joy and hope suddenly turned into worry and concern.
The news of Lilly’s medical condition was soon lost in her failure to breastfeed and resulting weight loss. Due to her smaller size and despite numerous visits with a lactation consultant, Lilly would not nurse. Little did we know that feeding our daughter would become in many ways a nightmare. Two months later, Lilly’s feedings worsened, and we found ourselves literally jumping up and down and bouncing around to try to get this little baby to eat and gain weight. After Lilly’s hospitalization, we discovered that Lilly had severe reflux disease and a resulting feeding aversion, sleep apnea, food allergies, and anemia. These issues in and of themselves were not serious or life-threatening; however, they made daily life challenging, as eating, gaining weight and sleeping were all behaviors that we paid for in blood, sweat and tears. Once again, unprepared for the news, our hope continued to vacillate between highs and lows. My experience with the little girl of my dreams was very different than the reality I was living.
The first few months of motherhood provoked a heart full of hope and joy, and yet my heart was also filled with concern and sadness. The time after Lilly’s birth was challenging, but the story unfortunately, does not end there. Since she was born, Lilly has struggled to gain weight, her feedings have become a lesson in acrobats, and her constant illnesses have made it very difficult to go anywhere. Seeing a pediatrician, gastroenterologist, pulmonologist, and feeding specialist on a consistent, sometimes weekly and bi-weekly basis, was not what I had hoped for and anticipated.
The past two years have brought us much sadness, not only with Lilly, but also with tremendous hardship with relationships and the loss of loved ones. The hope and dreams we had for this season of our life have resulted in strain, illness, grief and loss. The reason I ponder such experiences at Christmas is because of the beautiful incongruence of my experience to Christ’s birth. The birth of my daughter started a season of life that I did not hope for and certainly did not anticipate, one where the dominant emotion was sorrow. Christ’s birth, on the contrary, is a remarkable and extraordinary beginning of true Hope. A hope for health and well-being. A hope for dreams fulfilled. A hope for healing. A hope for peace. A hope for reconciliation. A hope for a hearty appetite and excellent weight gain. A hope for perfection. When Christ was born, the heavens opened up and true Hope descended upon us. As I celebrate Christmas and Christ’s birth, I celebrate a beginning and an end. The beginning of Hope and an end to suffering. Right now I do not see an end to the hardships associated with Lilly, but I do see glimpses of the hope of Christ. When I look into my daughter’s eyes and she gives me a squeeze hug and says “I yuv you,” and when she looks at me longingly and says, “hold you, hold you,” I am overwhelmed with gratitude and thanksgiving to Christ who is my ultimate Hope. And so, this person who has been one to hope is still very hopeful.
As I mentioned in my preface, after initially stumbling upon this essay, I was moved by how these words capture only the beginning of a season. I was completely unaware that this was simply the commencement of a 6 year journey in caring for children with feeding issues. In preparation of Advent, I am mindful of how Hope is woven in the story of our struggle with the health of our children, in the same way Hope is laced in the birth and life of Christ. When Christ was born, Hope entered our world, permeating our lives like a mist that reaches the fullness of our joy and the crevices of our pain. The promise “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4) was born. Whether you are in the midst of a trial, or on the other end of your struggle, may His Hope be birthed in you.
One committed to processing truth, finding light in the darkness, savoring the simple, and living fully.