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Twenty-three years ago today to be exact. Every detail is etched on my brain. It was one of those times when God can take an atheist and force him down on his knees for prayer.
Earlier in the evening of the previous night my wife felt the twinge of contractions. Just 29 weeks along in her third pregnancy she knew immediately that something was wrong. This was not a case of Braxton Hicks, the normal and safe contraction and relaxation of the uterus that can happen in the latter stages of a woman’s pregnancy. This was labor.
We hurried out into the cold night air of February and sped as fast as we could to the emergency room. A quick ultrasound revealed a placental abruption, a rare occurrence where the placenta – the baby’s lifeline with its mother – begins to tear away from the uterine wall. The nurse looked at us and said, “We’re having a baby tonight.” And before we could even process those words my wife was being wheeled into the operating room.
The first time I saw my second son he was flying down the corridor in a plastic see-through box. He was dark purple in color. If my heart had already sank to the bottom of my feet, that sight sent it plunging three floors down to the hospital basement. And that’s when I fell to my knees.
In nature, this child was not “viable” in any sense of the word. Perhaps just a few decades previously there would have been no hope, no matter how much the boy was wanted and loved. By now, in the mid-1990s, miracles were happening in Neonatal Intensive Care Units all over the world. The next time I saw him he was still in a box, but clothed, gauze taped over his eyes to protect them from the high oxygen atmosphere they created for him, and tubes running everywhere. I wanted to pick him up and hold him close but that was something to be denied us for several weeks.
All told, he would spend six weeks in NICU. Over the course of one weekend he stopped breathing 67 times and each time a nurse would nudge him, sometimes rub his little chest as a reminder, and getting him going again. Slowly he added to those 3 pounds 6 ounces he came into the world with and eventually they sent him home, albeit with wires and a monitor that would send us into a frenzy at least once a night.
For awhile we kept in contact with some of the other parents we met there. It became difficult when it was obvious that we dodged some bullets they took direct hits with. By the time they reached their first birthdays, one of his mates was wearing pop-bottle glasses while our boy was exhibiting no signs of anything unusual surrounding the circumstances of his birth. Why were we so damn lucky?
Last night I sent him early birthday greetings via text message. He’s 700 miles away, toiling through that first crap job in the theater after graduating from college last May. But I’m grateful for that, too. Grateful for the mere fact that that crap job is being done by a young man that probably shouldn’t exist to do it.
Twenty-three years ago, on what was arguably the most terrifying night of my life, I became ardently pro-life. And the weeks and months and years that passed after it only solidified my view. Who pronounces on the “worth” or “convenience” of a life at that moment? I might have been monetarily richer had he not survived that night, but I would be infinitely poorer in my soul and in my heart.
Happy Birthday, baby boy. You made the most terrifying night of my life one of the best gifts I could have ever received.Published in