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It Feels Like Christmas

alec vanderboom

Life feels totally different.

Today I took Baby Tess into a follow up appointment with her regular pediatrician. This is the doctor who called me at home three hours after her formal work day ended to urge me to take my listless, non-eating baby immediately to the ER. Three weeks later we're both laughing that Tessie's six page hospital discharge summary can end with the simple instructions "refer for a hearing screening at one year and take Vitamin D drops."

It is unbelievable to get a newborn back after 2 life-saving surgeries with those simple instructions. I wish all parents could end their long NICU vigils with such healthy babies.

I ran into a funny friend at the baby's first Mass yesterday. She mentioned my "troubles" and kept dropping her voice in a conspiratorial whisper outside of church. I kept correcting her embarrassed, shameful tone by waving my healthy pink baby in front of her face. "Yes, all of that sickness was very scary- but you're missing the point. She's healed! Baby Tess is totally fine! God worked some miracles and we are all so thankful. Today's the day of great happiness and rejoicing."

I've gotten some of the "you guys should never have had to deal with all of that." I think that's all baloney. God is going to hand out some sick kids to the world. Some of them are going to fall into the laps of his beloved, faithful Catholics. In fact, considering that we're ones having the most kids and shunning the whole ugly "lets kill the sick and the lame inside the Mother's womb" rather than risk breaking our hearts inside the Cardiac Catheterization Waiting Room--it's going to look like the faithful Catholics get more sick kids than the rest of the secular world.

Who is better equipped to handle a long vigil in the NICU than two Carmelites in love?

In fact, now that the scary journey is all over, I'm borrowing one of my friend Kaitlyn's phrases "that's all I had to do?" A c-section, some tears in the NICU, one scary hour waiting for my baby's heart to get cleared of a "foreign obstruction"? That's all I had to do to bring home a beloved third daughter who smiles so clearly at only 4 weeks old?

The double trial purified all of us. I was just slipping back into normal reality when the heart crisis hit. My job was to babysit 4 kids under the age of 8 in a small hospital room for 9 hours on Wednesday. It didn't go smoothly. I got stressed handing out butterscotch pudding cups and lollipops and trying to find the right Sponge Bob episodes in the hospital's impossible to use DVD player while trying to feed a newborn who remained inept at nursing.

I called my husband at 6 AM on Thursday morning and dreaded a repeat performance of the Benjamin kids in the hospital drama for 36 more hours.

Then he told me that a foreign object was now lodged in my daughter's heart, and no one was sure how to fix it.

That second time back on the cross cleared everything else out. I didn't complain about my tired eyes or my messy house or the fridge that only contained rotten milk and granola bars.

I knew my baby's NICU journey was going to end when God wanted it to end.

Baby Tess' "happy ending" was solely in God's hands. She was either coming home or not. (I knew God well enough to know that his "happy ending" might be taking a sweet girl up to heaven at 25 days old and leaving her family the grace to cope with missing her.)

I know now that each of my kids is a gift from heaven. I get to be their babysitter on earth. My pride and my stress got all burned away. Now, I'm just left with the joy and the honor of being a regular Mom again.

I realize now that being a Catholic is hard. It does involve suffering. Everyday I wake up and I know that I'm going to be spending some time in the "Heart Catheterization Lab Waiting Room." It's a place I don't want to be, doing something that I don't want to be doing. Jesus sends me there as his friend -- because it's good for healing my own damaged heart.

Once you accept the mandatory suffering part, life as a stay-at-home Catholic wife and mother is pretty good. It's not boring. It's not mundane. It's not unimportant.

Right now, it feels like Christmas in the Benjamin house.