This post: An inspirational Christmas short story – for Amy, on her 19th birthday; with all my love.
Once upon a Christmas, I became a mother.
My baby girl wasn’t due to arrive until January, but she was in quite a hurry to get here. Come to think of it, she’s still in a hurry.
I was in a hurry too.
At twenty-two years old and thirty-seven weeks pregnant, I was ready to pack away my maternity clothes, and exchange the belly band for the stash of tiny bibs and diapers.
I’d spent months picking out a name, decorating the nursery, collecting a baby wardrobe, and reading books on parenting. I couldn’t imagine what else could be lacking in my life as a mother.
Except, of course, the baby.
A week before Christmas, I went to see my OBGYN for a routine check-up. I ended up in the delivery room in queue for the next epidural. I called my mom with the good news, “The baby is coming early!”
It’s TOO early, my mom warned.
She obviously didn’t remember what it felt like to be thirty-seven weeks pregnant. I was ready for this!
What could be better than getting a baby for Christmas?
My husband stayed by my side as the hours passed and the contractions brought our baby closer to being born.
Fourteen hours later– at 4:39 AM- our doctor placed a tiny girl with cobalt eyes and a head full of thick, black hair into my arms. I’d been awake for over twenty-four hours, but had never felt so alive in my life.
I drank in every detail of her beautiful face, in awe of the miracle my body had produced.
I glanced up at my husband and met the same look of wonder in his eyes. Our love mutually reached to embrace a new part of us.
“For the first time in my life, I understand how much our parents must love us,” I whispered.
We named our black-haired baby girl Amy Renae, the name carefully chosen many months before. My heart brimmed with hopes and expectations of what my new life as a mother would look and feel like.
I had no idea what to expect, but I felt ready.
Now that Amy was born, I could hardly wait to get home.
Much to everyone’s surprise, I felt up to attending our Christmas candlelight service at church on Sunday.
I was exhausted, but it was worth it to show off our new baby girl.
Despite my high energy levels (adrenaline), I harbored a secret concern: my milk hadn’t come in yet. I kept referring to my books and thinking, Any day now it will happen.
But it wasn’t happening, and my baby wasn’t showing much interest in eating.
Our third night at home, I walked the floors with her all night.
The next day, I noticed she was growing lethargic and her skin was yellow.
My mother-in-law said it was jaundice. I remembered reading something about jaundice in my books.
I called a pediatrician and was told there were no available appointments before Christmas. I begged to see the doctor. The receptionist said to go ahead and come, but I would have to wait.
My mom came and sat with me in the waiting room for hours.
The only thing I could think of was that maybe I was out of my mind for bringing my newborn into a room full of sick people. I kept a blanket over Amy’s carrier while we waited. Every time I peeked at her, she was asleep. I tried to ascertain whether or not she was actually very yellow, or if I had just imagined it.
The doctor finally called us, and I was relieved to escape the waiting room. However, the doctor’s concern soon chilled my heart. Our baby had lost a pound of weight since birth and she was rather dehydrated. A nurse came and tried to help wake the baby.
When the nurse held Amy and cried, I felt myself grow weak.
I expected a quick fix from the doctor, but instead he hospitalized my baby.
Suddenly, the long days and nights of the past few days overwhelmed me.
I stood in the hospital lobby and sobbed into the telephone as I told my husband that Amy had been admitted into the hospital.
A little girl walking past with her mother stared at me. I didn’t care. All I could do was cry.
Spending five days in the hospital watching my newborn lie in an incubator was not how I expected to spend my first week as a mother.
I couldn’t hold my baby, except for a few hours a day. I sat in a chair and watched her heave quick, short breaths, fastened to an IV. And sleeping, always sleeping, in an incubator.
The doctor talked about biliruben counts and dehydration. The nurses brushed off my questions. Breastfeeding was nearly impossible, but I kept trying. My husband worked all day and then came and spent the night with me in the hospital.
I cried all day, and woke every two hours at night to pump my milk and check the baby.
I had never experienced such frustration, disappointment, and fear.
At noon on Christmas day, a nurse brought dinner into my hospital room on a faded pink tray. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gooey gravy, canned cranberry sauce.
And a little plastic, blue ornament tucked beside the plate.
I brushed the ornament aside with irritation. It was ugly, but it did match my mood.
I clung to what I could savor of the season. Late Christmas night, I sat in the hallway outside my hospital room and scribbled in my journal. Getting the intensely difficult emotions out of my heart, and onto paper, was at least a small comfort.
Five days felt like five weeks, but we brought our baby home from the hospital for the second- and thankfully the last- time two days after Christmas.
As my husband drove our white Oldsmobile down Wellington Street toward our home, I looked forlornly at the brightly lit houses around us. We missed Christmas, I thought. The world had gone right on without us, and I felt it.
Back at home, I kept a meticulous journal of every time my baby nursed, how long she nursed, and every time she had a dirty or wet diaper. I pumped and prayed and persevered.
My husband commented how determined and patient I was with the baby.
My mother said I had great inner strength.
I just cried and wished I felt like I was “enough.”
Motherhood had turned out to be so much more difficult than I ever imagined.
The weeks passed.
Despite myself, I tucked the ugly blue Christmas ornament into a box of decorations in January. Honestly, I wondered if I would ever want to see it again.
Years came and went.
More babies came. Another girl. A boy. And another boy.
And yes, when Amy was almost ten years old, one more baby boy was on the way.
No more Christmases in the hospital, thank goodness!
But lots of long days and sleepless nights. Lots of hours walking the floors and praying for sick little ones.
Lots of time to think about this journey of motherhood and what it’s really all about.
Lots of worrying, Am I enough?
Many seasons later, I walked into a children’s hospital a few weeks before Christmas.
It had been ages since I found myself in a hospital around the holidays, and the halls, doorways, and walls were decked with tinsel, wreaths, and lights.
My friend’s two-year old was in the cancer ward, and that was my destination. I smiled at bald toddlers, skinny children, and weary parents in the hallways, praying my eyes offered more hope than I felt.
I was five months pregnant, but it wasn’t nausea that made me feel sick that day.
My husband and I peered tentatively into my friend’s hospital room. She invited us in. I hugged her while my husband shook hands with her husband. My eyes sought out the little boy who played nearby with his toy trains.
With a pang, I realized his beautiful blond curls would likely be gone within a matter of a few weeks. I shut out the thought and focused on my conversation with his mother.
We chatted lightly for a few minutes. I tried to think of safe questions to ask, and to listen when she shared. My husband stood to leave, and I followed his cue.
Ever the pastor, he prayed with our friends before we hugged them and left.
Hot tears stung my eyes as I followed my husband out of the hospital into the cold, brightly lit courtyard. Outside looked like some kind of Winter Wonderland. It’s great that they try to keep things cheerful and festive for the children, I thought.
But it felt very much like a big, ugly blue Christmas ornament:
Unwanted, unexpected, and completely unfitting for the season of the year- and any season of life, for that matter.
At home that evening, I sat in the solitude of my living room, engulfed by emotion and the soft glow of our family’s Christmas tree. I felt guilty, coming home to my houseful of healthy kids.
Instinctively, my eyes sought a blue glimmer. Tucked between my children’s festive ornaments and my more fragile ones, hung the ugly bulb.
The cheap, blue bulb I never could bring myself to throw away.
It lent an odd look to my Victorian-style tree. But for ten years, I had carefully packed it away with my Christmas decor – as if it were worth a million dollars. And maybe it was.
The ensuing years changed us.
My friend’s little boy beat the cancer.
My daughter grew from a fragile newborn to a vivacious girl – and then woman, and then soldier – with a sharp mind and fierce energy.
In fact, no one would ever imagine her lying listless in a hospital incubator.
But I remember. And I still see her fragile parts.
And, yes, I still sit up at night and grapple with the familiar feelings of fear. I consult my pile of parenting books and still come up with unanswered questions.
People see how busy I am and tell me that I must be a great mom.
My husband says I have great inner strength.
I cry and wish I felt like I was “enough.”
These days, the worries of new motherhood have faded. My thoughts run more along the lines of, Is she taking care of herself? and, Is she safe? and, Have I really equipped her for adulthood?
Like so many mornings, I woke before my kids and spent some quiet time down stairs with just my thoughts and the Lord. The ambience of soft lights has always comforted me, especially at the holiday season.
This morning, thoughts of Amy’s blue Christmas bulb flew into my head, and I glanced at the tree to see if the kids had hung it up again this year. Immediately my eyes found it.
As blue as ever, shining brightly against the white boughs of our Christmas tree. For me, it a tangible reminder that life and health are precious gifts. That sitting at the dinner table with friends and loved ones isn’t something to take for granted. And it isn’t something I necessarily deserve.
You see, the years have changed me too.
From an inexperienced, overly idealistic mother, to a woman who craves meaning over perfection and looks for value in the ugly blue ornaments of life.
In fact, this one has become a memorial: To what both Amy and I have overcome so far on this journey of ours.
And to remind me that the best gifts in life often come packaged in misfit, unexpected, and even unwanted packages.
If we’re wise, we’ll go ahead and open those packages and allow our Heavenly Father to handle the process of untangling the pieces.
Our job is simply to accept both the gift and the grace: Grace to live and love well, even in the middle of disappointed expectations, gripping fear, and the ugly blue Christmas bulbs of life.
If life has handed you an ugly blue Christmas bulb this year, please don’t throw it away. It may not be what you expected. And you may feel like you’ll never want to look at it again.
But, believe me:
Someday, it will be beautiful.