When my son DJ made his world debut it was with gusto. Born two months premature he was a 3-pound wriggling, screaming, purplish mass that belied all the serene birth scenes people often describe. Having never been one to dress up the facts my first words were, “He looks like an alien.”
DJ was quickly weighed, swaddled and rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Soon a distressed doctor arrived with the grim news that DJ may not make it through the night. When neither Steve nor I responded the doctor, apparently thinking we were in shock, asked us if we understood what he was telling us. This scene repeated itself throughout the night until finally we told the doctor we understood and respected him but we believed our God had a different plan. Boy, anytime you want to shake up a medical emergency insert God in the middle of it. The responses are greatly varied. We were fortunate that DJ was born when this doctor was on duty because he too was a Christian.
In the NICU the sickest babies are always the ones closest to the nurses station, so DJ was the first baby visible to anyone coming in. DJ’s health was unpredictable at best. We never knew how we’d find him, but a couple of good days had lulled us into a sense of semi-comfort. It took nothing more than pushing open the NICU double doors one day to remind us just how false that comfort was.
Three nurses were gathered around DJ’s clear incubator. They were alternatly checking the many wires and tubings that covered his little form and flipping buttons on the machines that surrounded him. DJ, with his mouth open, was squirming with all the sickly energy he could muster. His entire body was red from his distress, but with a tube down his throat his wails were cruelly muted.
As parents our instinct is to protect our children. If we can’t protect them from pain, our next response is to comfort them through it. I could do neither. DJ was so medically fragile that we had not yet even been allowed to touch him, let alone actually hold him.
So, there I stood, unable to do anything but watch this hellish nightmare unfold. I forced myself to remain rooted in place denying me the maternal instinct to run to my baby, knock all the nurses out of the way, snatch my precious, beautiful little “alien” from the mangle of tubes that engulfed him and let him know that Mommy was near. But I couldn’t.
The NICU is always filled with the sounds of soft chatter and the clicks and beeps of life-saving equipment. But in this moment, seeing but not hearing my baby’s gut wrenching anguish just shut me down. It was like my mind decided that if I couldn’t hear my baby, I wasn’t going to hear anything else. The entire world, or least the portion I occupied, became frighteningly silent.
Silent tears spilled from my eyes. In my white-knuckled grip was a blanket I was bringging DJ that my mom had made, since she felt guilty about not getting to the hospital as much as she wanted. We couldn’t put anything inside the incubator with DJ but we could drape the blanket on the outside of it. I thought if DJ was sleeping under the canopy of the blanket she made for him, mom would have a little peace of mind. I had no idea that it would be me that found comfort in the blanket.
In the throes of this maternal nightmare my empty arms ached to be filled. I pulled the blanket to me and gently swayed. With my hands buried in its folds I used it to absorb my tears and cover my mouth to prevent the screams that bubble up in my throat. Without warning my ears once again picked up the faint stirrings of sound. It wasn’t the typical NICU sounds though. It was music. Christmas music.
The soft sound of Amy Grant singing, Breath of Heaven broke through the mind-numbing silence that had engulfed me. The lyrics, “I am waiting in a silent prayer. I am frightened by the load I bear. In a world as cold as stone must I walk this path alone?”, became the water my parched soul desperately needed. My spirit hungrily devoured the soothing melody, with the words “Help me be strong, help me be, help me” becoming my silent plea to a God, whose plan was terribly confusing and painful. Then it happened.
“Breath of Heaven, hold me together. Be forever near me, breath of Heaven. Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness pour over me Your holiness, for You are holy. Breath of Heaven”. As the haunting melody played DJ began to calm. As he too, found comfort in the music, the alarming machines around quieted., signaling the crisis was over.
Those days of DJ relying on a machine to breath for him are long gone. The years from then to now have been marked with unspeakable joy and also great turmoil. Yet, even at the height of the worst days softly singing that song to him manged to still his soul. Thirteen years later we look back and know that DJ’s life wasn’t saved in one day by a single breath of heaven. But like us all, DJ’s life is sustained by the many breaths of heaven that have filled his days since.
DJ & big brother Dalton on DJ’s 13th birthday
- Understanding the NICU (enfamil.com)
- Equipment in the NICU (enfamil.com)
- Preparing to Go Home (enfamil.com)
- Breath of Heaven (heartnsoulblog.wordpress.com)
- NICU: Part II (tvfury.wordpress.com)