You may have already read what I expect when I have a baby. Our third child was actually the first to foil these expectations. She was born with a birth defect. There was a squiggle of skin where her right ear should be and no opening to an ear canal.
Well. That definitely wasn’t in the plan.
The truth is, it was never a big deal to begin with. Surprising? Sure. Unexpected? Definitely. Like the title says, this happens to other people, not us. With no warning, we were given residency in a land which before we’d only visited, free to leave whenever we liked. It caught us off-guard.
And yeah, we experienced some anxiety during that first week or two while we waited for answers. But when she was born, she was ours, an exquisite pink-and-white, perfect baby girl. No malformed ear or any other problem could change that.
Besides, we have known children who have serious problems. There are babies born so early and so tiny that they spend most of their early years catching up and keeping their parents in a perpetual state of anxiety; children, who in terms of their physical and mental capacity, will be six months old for the rest of their lives; children who see the inside of the ER more times in one month than any of my kids see their pediatrician in one year.
Within a few days of her birth we had names: microtia and aural atresia. We would learn a great deal about these conditions over the next two weeks. Until then we had a lot of questions. Could she hear in the ear that looked normal or would she be deaf? Would our family have to learn sign language? Was this an indicator of more serious problems? What about all the inside parts of her body that we couldn’t see? Were they okay?
Right away our newborn seemed determined to prove that her insides were in fine working order. She nursed with enthusiasm. We changed many diapers containing a healthy variety of the sort of stuff one finds in a newborn diaper.
And just imagine our delight when, approximately twelve hours after she was born, I dropped a fork onto my tray, creating a clamor in our silent hospital room. Our baby jerked her body, terrified at the sound, and began wailing. Hurrah! I frightened our newborn with a loud sound! I immediately called my husband to share the good news.
Two weeks later, advanced screening confirmed that her normal ear was in fine working order and the inner ear on the right side was perfectly sound. We learned that opening the ear canal and reconstructing the outer ear would require a couple of outpatient surgeries when she was older. That was it. No biggie, right?
Right! A slight physical deformity? We can handle that. Better, we can thank God for her robust health, for her very existence which daily blesses our lives. And we can capitalize on our own small experience in the land of others so that our memories of that early anxiety and the times we’ve intercepted puzzled looks or awkward questions about our daughter’s appearance adds to our compassion for those who suffer much greater things.
Frequently revising my expectations,