Monday, January 30, 2012

The Lesson Of A Dying Baby Boy

"Your daughter is so beautiful! How old is she?"

My wife and I were at the grocery store, where I ran into the lady who was the nurse at the school where I used to work. She had delivered what seems to be the mandatory greeting for anyone with a baby.

"Thank you," I responded. "She's seven months old."

That's when a voice from behind me interrupted the now-familiar dialogue.

"Seven months? Do you mind if I look at her? My son is seven months and I would like to know what that's supposed to look like."

I turned to find a young woman holding a baby, but I was immediately taken aback. The baby boy was limp in her arms, though his eyes were wide open, and tubes ran from a device in his mother's shopping cart into her child in various places.

"He wasn't supposed to live this long . . ."

. . . and I lost the rest of what she said as I stepped aside to let her admire my perfect, beautiful little girl, who was breathing completely on her own and totally tube-free.

I was speechless for only a moment, and thankfully my wife swooped in to make a fuss over the woman's little boy and tell her how cute he was.

Cute might have been a stretch, but his eyes were certainly bright and wondrous. I gave him a smile and he seemed to smile back, despite the fact that his mouth was taped up and unable to move. It was his eyes, I think. His eyes smiled back at me.

And then the exchange was over. My former colleague returned to her shopping and my wife and I walked away from the young woman with the struggling baby boy.

We looked at each other and tears came to our eyes. That could have been our daughter, our Riley. That could have been our perfect little angel, born with whatever ailed that little boy.

When we found out my wife was pregnant people would always ask me what I wanted it to be, a girl or a boy. My response was always the same: "Healthy." You see, my sister had a baby with extreme medical needs, and while he lived much longer than any doctor predicted, he didn't ever walk . . .or talk . . .or even openly smile. My sister had an amazing relationship with little Andrew and she mourned his death as she would any of her other four healthy children, but deep down inside I couldn't help but wonder if I would be able to cope half as well as she did.

I just wanted a healthy baby, regardless of sex.

I have had a baby girl for seven months, and every second of every day I have been grateful that she is healthy. I stop myself constantly to just look into her beautiful blue eyes and admire how perfect she is. Seeing that little boy in the grocery store, that little boy who is living on borrowed time at seven months, only made me appreciate Riley more. If ever there was a life lesson in the Power of Now, in taking nothing for granted, it was that young mother and her little bundle of joy.

I don't think I will ever take Riley for granted . . .even for a second . . .life is just too precious. And the miracle that is a perfect birth is not one I will ever take lightly.

That said, I will also never forget the way that young woman looked, the same way that my sister looked with her baby. The mother didn't see the tubes at all, only the beautiful face of her baby boy looking up at her, trying to soak every second of his borrowed time.

(Since I don't know the name of that boy I met in the grocery store, I will dedicate this post to my nephew, Andrew Carl Heusinger, whom I affectionately called "Boxes.")


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