in my barrel
The ultrasound technician put the cold, round probe to my stomach. Immediately a little profile appeared on the screen, and then a foot, kicking me. I giggled and watched this little person inside my stomach, bumping the top of its little space—bumping me. Those bumps are usually only felt, but that afternoon I was watching them as I was feeling them.
When I see my baby or hear its magical heartbeat, I imagine a personality for this child. And honestly, I think baby is a bit ornery. Or maybe just mischievous, with a well-timed sense of humor, like its dad. At another appointment, the nurse put the doppler to my stomach to listen to baby’s heartbeat and there was one strong kick exactly where the plastic touched my stomach and then baby moved to the other side. The doppler followed close behind, only to be kicked again and the sound of the heartbeat was masked by the constant static of the baby moving back and forth.
We get to see our baby every two weeks, and I will never complain about seeing the cute profile and watching the hands and feet grow and baby’s little mouth moving. But it’s not supposed to be this way. In fact, I thought I would see the baby once—one ultrasound—just to be sure everything looked good, and then not again until we meet little Lacy on this side of the womb.
At our routine, scheduled ultrasound some weeks ago, the doctors found a mass of extra tissue and cysts in one of our baby’s lungs that isn’t supposed to be there. It’s the sort of thing that happens around five weeks, that time when I first noticed I was exhausted; that week when I woke up the first morning after a positive test and realized my life had changed.
This condition isn’t life-threatening; as long as the mass doesn’t grow and fluid doesn’t build up, it won’t threaten baby’s growth in the womb and it shouldn’t effect the pregnancy. Most likely, baby will carry full-term, be okay breathing air on its own, but it will need surgery probably within the first six months to remove the mass and repair the lung.
So much of me has felt hesitant to talk about these complications, or to think that there is something wrong with my baby because I know how many more serious and life-threatening and even life-taking conditions this child could have instead. Perhaps some of that is sincere gratitude that of all the problems my baby could have, this one is manageable and not too scary. But I think some of it is a fear to accept the lot given to me; a self-consciousness that my little Niagara Falls of uncertainty is smaller or less significant than those people I know who have lost children or who have children with more serious conditions.
It’s an odd thing, being self-conscious about my suffering, about my lot in life; that I am afraid to share this burden because I don’t want to make a big deal out of nothing. But it’s not nothing. My one-in-35,000 baby does have a defect that will require surgery that not many babies go through in their first six months of life. What I thought would be a routine ultrasound ended in a meeting with a specialist who used a lot of big words that I barely understood. We go to the hospital every two weeks so that the doctors can keep an eye on the mass, to be sure that everything is stable and safe. That isn’t nothing.
Perhaps I am afraid to be moved by something. Perhaps I am afraid to be so taken by this child that the thought of surgery and of a lung defect is still only that—a thought, an idea; not a deep-down, felt sort of thing. My practical, realistic personality is a part of who I am, but part of it is also a guard that I place around myself, to keep out any chance of pain and disappointment. I don’t want to let things mean too much, I don’t want to be moved too deeply because I am afraid that it will be for naught.
But if we refuse to welcome the world and the realities of its brokenness and pain and suffering, perhaps we are also refusing the blinding glory and beauty that come in their midst. Without the agony and bitter bloodiness of Calvary, the empty tomb and the beautiful holes in His hand and in His side wouldn’t exist. So too there is no flowering of one’s own soul without first the struggles of pain and our own earthly existence.
This little baby with its lungs and fingers, toes and eyebrows, its button nose and its cute forehead, is teaching me to love things more than my guard will allow. To love the blue sky and the naked trees, the silhouette of a steeple against the sunset and the sound of a bird singing even when the frost sparkles on the ground. This child is teaching me to better love those around me, to care more deeply, to allow passion and true, genuine feeling to grow as I learn to treasure my husband and my baby and those things that have the greatest capacity to hurt us.
Because the truest Love is that which is wounded again and again, as nails pounding into hands, all the while loving with a perfect and pure and good love. For the sake of the world Love came and suffered and died so that we, too, could know love. And if pain and suffering and grief are the means to me knowing Love more fully and giving love more deeply, then may I love this baby and this husband and this world more truly with each grief and joy and with each fear and wonder.