03 November 2003

A day to celebrate and remember

Five years ago today our daughter Theresa was born. She should not have been born for another three months, and her original due date had been set at 10 February 1999. Because she was born so early, she spent her first slightly more than ten weeks in hospital. This is from my personal journal, dated thursday, 5 November 1998:

Where to start? Our world has been turned upside down in the past two days. Theresa was born two days ago, 3 November, at 8.28 pm EST. Needless to say, she is very early. Nancy began having contractions around 11 am that day, but she thought they were only Braxton-Hix contractions. By 4.30 they were getting worse. I returned from campus at that time. Nancy phoned the doctor and then the hospital. We drove down there, fully expecting to be back that evening. But once they had hooked Nancy up to the monitors and looked her over, it became clear that she was indeed in labour. To say that we were stunned would be an understatement. It’s a good thing we got there when we did. The next little while was filled with doctors and nurses rushing about. The labour was painful at times, but it was fairly brief. As soon as Theresa was born, they worked over her for a few minutes and then whisked her over to the neonatal unit, where she is now and will likely remain until sometime around her due date.

While it was all happening, it seemed as though I were seeing it happen to someone else. It felt like watching a movie or a television programme. I did feel faint at one point after the baby was born and had to sit on the floor. I felt a little panicky when she didn’t cry at first, but she finally let out a brief yelp.

Theresa is so small. She weighed in at 941 grams, which is about two pounds. She looks so fragile. She’s in an incubator hooked up to all sorts of monitoring equipment. She has tubes in her nose, but she’s breathing room air rather than oxygen, which is good. She’s being fed intravenously through her navel. We both were able to hold her last evening after she was bathed.

The contrast between what we were feeling on that momentous day five years ago and the celebrations that will take place today could hardly be greater. Most births are greeted with unmitigated joy, in recognition that God has brought a new life into the world. For Nancy and me, however, while we will always celebrate this day, the actual event itself was fraught with anxiety and fear, which is not the way things normally occur.

Each year since then, however, we have gone to great efforts to reclaim the day, which by now, like all birthdays, has become one of joyful celebration of the young life God saw fit to give us. As I wrote some days ago, Theresa does not yet understand the significance of her early birth. Right now, in fact, she is tending to confuse her birthday with Halloween and dressing up in costume. We gave her one of her gifts already yesterday: an umbrella, which seemed appropriate given the rainy weather. She thus undoubtedly thinks of her birthday as a four-day celebration, climaxing in two parties today, one this morning at the campus child care centre where she spends three mornings a week, and this evening with three of her friends at home.

In my spare moments I am working our experience into a book that I hope will be of benefit especially to other parents who have gone or are going through a similar experience. In the meantime, what this day has come to symbolize for us more than anything is the unexpectedness of God's grace, which comes to us in ways that we cannot always understand, but which nevertheless manifests his love and care for us.

Happy birthday, Theresa!

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