A Letter to My Son: On Your First Birthday
When I look at your handsome little face, into those beautiful blue-grey eyes of yours, at least a million things run through my mind. Most often, it’s ‘How did I ever get so lucky?’ But every once in a while, there’s a keen memory that comes to mind, and one I’m not very fond of. Sometimes, when you smile up at me with that semi-gummy, six-toothed grin of yours, I think of the day a doctor made it optional for us to bring you into the world.
You were just about 16 weeks along on your 40 week journey of forming and growing in my belly back then. We didn’t know yet what you’d be at all; not even if you’d be our son or daughter, or what we would name you. That day, they would give us a picture for your godmother, letting her know whether you’d be a little girl or boy so she could plan a big surprise to tell all our family and friends at once. We were so excited and full of joy walking into that appointment; we never imagined the anxiety and dread we’d walk out with.
I can remember, as if it were just yesterday, my heart sinking with every passing second as we waited in that dimly lit room, the black & white image of you on the TV screen the only source of light. The ultrasound tech had gotten far too quiet and spent more time than I’d liked capturing images of your brain. The doctor was taking too long to come in and tell us everything looked great. I was already twisting my hands, muttering to your dad who shrugged his shoulders, probably lost in his own worry at that time.
When the doctor finally came in, my anxieties were confirmed. She told us your brain wasn’t developing as it should, that part of it was lagging in growth. She spewed terrifying numbers, numbers like there was a 60% chance we’d lose you soon after we’d get to hold you for the first time, numbers like not a whole lot of other people in the state or even the country would understand what we were going through or would go through. Then more numbers, like how many weeks we had left to decide whether or not we wanted to bring you into the world at all. Somewhere in all those numbers, fear seeped into my heart and took hold, and I just nodded and tried not to cry. Because of all the numbers the doctor gave us, she didn’t offer any that would lead us to believe you had a good chance of being okay.
Despite all those scary numbers, Daddy and I knew there was never a chance we wouldn’t want you. From our dizzied states trying to process everything the doctor said, we had it together enough to quickly stand up for you and your life, and the fact that you’d be in whatever state God chose to send you in, past the 22 week deadline she gave us. Even as fear was gripping at us, it never took hold of all our hopes or love for you, baby.
That following weekend, on Sunday, June 19th, Father’s Day, we found out you’d be our precious baby boy, and we fell more in love with you. Even as I cried that morning, still puzzling over what Dandy-Walker Syndrome even was or what your life would look like, I was overcome with excitement and joy knowing I had a son on the way. From then on, every month we’d have an ultrasound and get to see you. I didn’t realize at the time that this wasn’t standard procedure, but rather a precaution to keep an eye on your condition and progress. What I did know was that every appointment was bittersweet; we would be so excited to have a look at how you’d grown, but so very anxious we’d have to have another sit down with that doctor, so worried she’d find something else to be concerned about.
At your next visit, the doctor asked us again whether we were sure we would want you. We still had no indication as to what your life would be like then. You could have lived minutes, days or just weeks. You could have developed a heart defect or hydrocephalus and needed major surgery as a newborn. You could’ve been born with a cleft lip & palate, or abnormal extremities. You could have had global gross motor delays, keeping you from sitting up, crawling or walking until well after your first birthday without the help of intensive physical therapy and assistive devices. There were a myriad of further defects, malformations, and disabilities to keep checking you for, things that could have gone wrong with you. Month by month, the doctors would look you over to check if any of these issues had developed.
As time went on, we had to take you to be seen by other doctors who specialized in certain types of medicine associated with your Dandy-Walker diagnosis. Throughout this process, we finally started to see God’s hands moving, stitching together the fabric of our new life as a family and finally weaving in the threads of peace, trust and rest once again through a series of divine “coincidences”. First, we were referred to a pediatric cardiologist, and lo and behold upon arriving at the group practice, the doctor we’d been assigned to, Dr. Mas, my own childhood cardiologist, greeted me. A wave of peace instantly washed over me, as she and her Physician’s Assistant of oh so many years held my hands and examined your heart, and told us just how very strongly it was beating and how beautifully it was developing. Then, another happy mistake, as the doctor’s office referred us to an adult neurologist rather than a pediatric neurosurgeon, a man who was so sincerely apologetic that he offered to help us in any way that he could free of charge for our time. We asked him whether he had adult Dandy-Walker patients, and what we could expect from you as a grown up. He assured us that its findings have become more prominent in recent years, with advances in technology detecting the malformation earlier than ever before with modern ultrasound imaging. He also told us that one needs only about 20% of their cerebellum to be a fully functioning adult, and that just about anyone could have Dandy-Walker unknowingly, and simply live life believing themselves nothing more than clumsy. What happy news, we thought, as we began to feel our hearts lifting that day; anyone could live with clumsy!
As you got closer and closer to 40 weeks, you passed every test with flying colors. No more red flags, no further concerns in your development. The same doctor who shook us up at 16 weeks checked up on us near the end of your prenatal journey, and recommended an MRI while you were still in my belly, part of what was beginning to feel like scare tactics. We quickly turned down the option; nothing it could tell us would change your birth, so it would wait until you were here with us.
Before we knew it, that day came, and at 9:37am on November 28th, 2016 we heard your sweet voice for the very first time. Everything changed in the matter of a few hours, and now it’s been a full year. Three hundred and sixty-five days have gone by faster than I could’ve imagined. But that anxiety managed to still make its way to the surface several times throughout this year. Each time a major developmental milestone was on the horizon, there in my mind was that doctor and her statistics.
And yet, there before my eyes, were you, passing every test again; not just passing, but acing. Almost as if assuring me you’d really be alright, you & God worked together to make sure you hit every milestone not just on time, but always a little early. Sitting at 5 months, crawling at 7 and walking at 9, you’ve always stayed just ahead of the curve enough to put your mama’s heart at ease. But I can’t give you all the credit.
Son, I want you to know that I wouldn’t be the mother I am to you today if it weren’t for Jesus. Had it been left up entirely to me, my life would surely look incredibly different. I might still be single or in school. You probably wouldn’t even exist were it not for the hand of Jesus in my life, in your dad’s, all the way back to your grandparents’ lives and even further than that, guiding our steps as we sought after Him on our walks through life. I would’ve been a wreck through my whole pregnancy with you, I probably would’ve made us both sick with my nerves, and I would’ve been a heck of a lot more miserable through your first year, making it even harder on you. But that doctor reiterating over and over again that your dad and I had a choice as to whether or not you should be born reiterated to me over and over again this one fact: Your life does not belong to me. It never has, and it never will.
Sweet baby boy, I made it through the difficult moments of my pregnancy and first year with you solely by standing firmly on the foundation that you are the Lord’s, and I am, too. I don’t have big dreams that go too far ahead of where you’re at. I’d hate to put you in a box, raising you to believe you should be any one way or any certain thing when you’re old enough to decide that for yourself. I don’t want you to be anything more than whatever you’d like to be and whatever God has written in His perfect plan for you. His will for your life has already surpassed my own expectations for you, just in these first twelve months of your life, so I will continue to live surrendered to the fact that you are His and His alone. My prayer as your mom is that God always bind me to this one truth, always, and that He forbid me from ever standing in between anything you two come up with together.
It goes without saying that you are more loved than your heart could imagine or your mind could fathom, not just by me, or your dad, or our friends and family. The Lord tells us himself in His word, that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9) So in that note, I don’t ask or expect much at all except that you love God, and love Him fiercely, Noah. Everything we have, He has given us, each other included. Everything we do, we do for Him, because of Jesus. And I promise as your mom to do my best to teach you that love, and to make it as easy and natural as it’s always been for your father and I to live for Him, so that you can do the same without batting an eyelash. We trust firmly and wholeheartedly that you are here with us today, as perfect and whole and complete as you are, because of Him. We don’t know what it is yet, or when He’ll do it, but we trust and know that God is going to do something great with your life, because you’re here and you’re able.
So happy birthday, Noah! We beat all the odds together. You beat all the odds, “for from Him, and through Him and for Him are all things.” (Romans 11:36) I love you so much, my precious son, and I can’t wait to see all the smiles you’ll keep bringing to the world, all the wonderful things you’ll continue to do, and all the love you’ll bring into the hearts of those around you, all in God’s perfect timing. You have all my love, forever and ever.