I have had the pleasure of knowing Nick Parish since university days. His writing at that time was limited to the CU newsletters (which were surprisingly entertaining, as I recall). He is someone who always makes me see God afresh, genuinely cares for others and writes with a whimsical self-deprecating sense of humour. This combination is relatively rare, and as a result I never miss any of his blog posts. Over to Nick:
The birth of your first-born is generally supposed to be a happy time. Those pictures of mothers holding their freshly-born babies, looking exhausted but elated. Well, with the exception of the exhaustion, this was not our experience.
The pregnancy was pretty straightforward (my wife would agree on this point, I hasten to add!) and so we sort of drifted towards birth with a reasonably relaxed air. However, the due date came and went, and the baby stayed resolutely where he was. Two weeks on, the time for an induction came. This was attempted on a Tuesday night, then again the following day. By Thursday, they were telling us a C-section was the likely course of action, because the baby’s heart rate was too high and Anna’s temperature was up.
This was not really part of our plan, and things were beginning to feel a little worrying, to say the least. Thankfully, the consultant was calm and purposeful, and made the decision mid-morning to go ahead with the Caesarean. I was told I could go in and watch from a quiet corner, so long as I stayed out the way and promised not to faint.
The next hitch was a failed epidural, which led to a general anaesthetic. The anaesthetist was equally reassuring, and Anna was soon knocked out. The next stage went amazingly quickly. A few slices, followed by wrestling with the placenta (sorry if you’re squeamish) followed by a baby – a boy. My first impression is that he’s very shiny. He comes out at 11.58 (midday, thankfully!)
Almost as soon as he’s on his side table, it seems something isn’t right. Here’s what I wrote about it a couple of days later:
“I’m not entirely encouraged to hear the midwife say, ‘come on sweetheart’, as she starts tapping his feet. She throws a glance my way and gives me a grin. I’m not convinced. They page the paediatric registrar, who arrives within a couple of minutes. They all seem to be working very hard, then Joshua’s taken to another room. I’m escorted to the corridor and the midwife dashes past saying, ‘Well done Dad’.”
We called him ‘Joshua’ deliberately – it means, ‘God is my salvation’. It was one of the top names on our list in the run-up to the birth. (So was ‘Grace’, but it turns out he wasn’t a girl…) I’m given a cup of tea and largely left to my own devices for a while. I give my parents a ring and tell them that he’s been born, but has been taken straight to Special Care.
Joshua’s in one room, surrounded by a swarm of people, Anna’s in another slowly coming round from the anaesthetic. I’m in a corridor in the middle, the only one who is with it enough to know that something’s wrong. I envy their morphine.
In due course, it turns out that the first problem was that he didn’t start breathing. For those familiar with the Apgar test, he scored 2/10 at one minute and 2/10 at five minutes. This is a ‘critically low’ score and a sign that the baby needs some pretty serious attention. Over the next few hours, Anna comes round, but is not well herself, and Joshua is carefully stabilised to prepare him for an neonatal ambulance ride to London, where he’ll be cared for at Chertsey’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Our local hospital only has a Special Care Unit, and therefore can’t give him the level of care he needs to progress. Both sets of parents arrive and before Joshua is taken away, he is brought through to Anna’s room so that she can see him before his journey. It’s not exactly a jubilant gathering. Mum prays for him and all of us.
We decide that I’ll go up to London the next day, so that I can be with Joshua. We have a host of family and friends who are around to look after Anna. It doesn’t seem quite right to leave Joshua on his own. My parents take me back to our house (if you want people to give you strange looks, try walking through hospital, holding hands with your mum, with tears dripping down your face). I ring our housegroup, which happens to be gathered that night. The news wrecks their evening, but at least it gets them praying.
The next day, I’m driven up to Chertsey by my father-in-law. We go straight to see Joshua, who’s got tubes/wires in both hands and feet, one in his belly-button and a tube down his throat. The bleeping of the machines is something it takes a while to get used to. On the plus side, because he was so late (and already a whopper at term) he’s got weight on his side. In fact, he weighs more than the other five babies in NICU put together.
Over the course of the next few days, he makes brilliant progress and is gradually brought off the drugs and ventilator. His condition steadily improves. On the Sunday, I drive back South to pick up Anna, who has been discharged and can therefore come to meet her little boy properly at last. He is transferred back to our local hospital a few days later. On Christmas day, 11 days after his birth, we’re allowed to take him to my parents’ house for a couple of hours. The next day, he is discharged and we’re allowed to bring him home.
The support we received from friends and family and the countless messages people sent were overwhelming. But where was God in all this?
There were a number of things that felt like droplets of Grace.
Old family friends live a matter of minutes from Chertsey hospital. They open their home to us while Joshua is in hospital in London. On their dresser are photos of their teenage grandsons. Two boys who spent the first days of their life in the NICU that Joshua is in. Two healthy boys who are now charging through their teenage years. A great reassurance.
I begin reading Joshua when I get to Chertsey. I soon come across a sentence that I have prayed for Joshua (and, latterly, with Joshua) every night of his life. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”. While this is not a place I like being, I am assured that I am not alone.
I’m greeted in NICU by a young medical student who’s a friend of one of our youth group (who is, himself, a trainee doctor and has since become Joshua’s godfather) She is very friendly and supportive. A reminder that God works through people, whether or not we know them, and whether or not they know Him.
That first night, as I was crying myself to sleep, I had a taste of grief for the loss of a child, as that was, at the time, a very real possibility. While I couldn’t fully describe this hideous feeling, and it’s certainly not something I would wish on anyone, perhaps it has given me a greater appreciation of God’s sacrifice. I’ve got a perfectly healthy boy now, but that night, maybe God gave me a sense of sorrow that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. An understanding that I’d otherwise lack. Maybe, too, a willingness to throw myself at his mercy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being sanctimonious or glib about it, and, a lot of the time, I think I’d rather be blissfully ignorant of that particular aspect of the crucifixion and its effect on the relationships in the Trinity.
But there it is, God, in almost taking something away, gave me something else in return. Grieving for the potential loss of my son, I realise that this is what God went through. Except He went all the way. That’s a sacrifice I’ll never quite get my head around.
Nick is a stay at home Dad who’s slowly learning that this fact doesn’t need to be justified by adding things like, ‘I’m writing a book’, and ‘I’m a Special Constable with Derbyshire Police’ (though both these facts are true…) He is heavily outnumbered by girls during term time, living in a boarding school in the Midlands. He grew up (ish) in Pakistan, returning to England at the age of 14. Though he’s happy to think of both places at home, he keeps reminding himself that he’ll never really be home this side of eternity. He is married to Anna, who runs the boarding house in which they live, and they have two boys, Joshua and Luke. Check out his blog and catch him on Twitter.
Over to you:
- Has suffering ever given you more of a glimpse at God’s character as a result?