The Christmas Smile, Part 2 …

The mother and father returned home after seeing the doctor and were more focused than ever upon having their child.

Of course, the news that their child would have a cleft lip and cleft palate made them feel sad … for a little while.

“Honey, I don’t know what I did wrong,” the mother said.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” the father responded. “Like I told you before, you have been doing everything simply well and I don’t know what caused this. What I do know, though, is that we are going to get through this together. I love you with all of my heart, baby, and we’re going to get through this together.”

The wife looked at her husband, put her right hand around his neck and pulled him in close for a kiss.

On this night, they would sleep in peace. They shared a cup of tea together before bed, then went up to their second-floor bedroom and decided to call it a night.

The next morning, the wife woke up early and felt her baby move. She put her hands on her belly, looked down and quietly said, “I’m here for you, honey. Everything is OK and I love you a whole lot.”

These instances would occur over the next few monthys, too, and they coulple would be busy getting allo f the information they could about craniofacilal issues. They spent hours researching online and talking with people and their local hospital about what they could do pto prepare thir home for the impending arrival.

What they did not know, fully, is how much their child might be damaged healthwise with the craniofacial anomalies and any additional physical issues the child may have.

One Sunday morning, they prepared to go to church. It was not something they did every Sunday, yet this day felt like one where they wanted to get some spiritual healing.

As they took off for church, the husband reached over and felt his wife’s belly. “She’s growing, isn’t she?” he told his wife, speaking (of course) about the baby.

“Yes, she is growing and I’m going to have to have this baby pretty soon or I’m going to get bigger than ever!” the wife said. Both of them laughed and enjoyed the humor. This was a time where they both grew closer.

Getting to the church was one thing. Finding a place to sit was another as they had come on Declaration Sunday, a day where members of the congregation made declarations about their lives, their families, their finances and their hearts for God.

Both of them loved God in their own way as both had grown up in a home where their parents went to church regularly. Going to church was not new to them; just going regularly wasn’t in their plans for their lives.

When they found a place to sit, they looked over and saw their neighbor down the street sitting in the pew behind them.

“Hi there, how are you?” the husband asked the neighbor.

“Oh, doing well, thanks. How’s the mother and baby doing? That’s the big question,” the neighbor asked.

“Well, the baby and I are fine. We’ve had a couple of hiccups along the way but all is good, thanks,” the mother said. They had not told anyone about the news they had received from the doctor. They had not even told their own family members.

It was just too much for them right now, and they were trying to wrap their heads around what to say, when to say it and how to tell their loved ones.

The neighbor moved down her pew, sitting right behind the couple.

“I heard you said that you have had a couple of hiccups with the baby, is that right?”

“Yes, but it’s nothing serious. We can handle it just fine,” the mother said as her voice began to break a little.

“What’s going on here? We have talked in the past about how much you both were looking forward to having a baby and now you are. Is there something that you are afraid to tell me?” the neighbor asked.

The husband leaned over the pew and looked the neighbor in the eyes. “I know you mean well, but this week we received some tough news about our baby daughter and, quite frankly, it’s been hard to get through the past couple of days.

“Do you really want to know?” the husband asked the neighbor.

“Yes, I want to know because I care about you both and want to help,” she said. “It’s only from a spriit of wanting to help and not from being nosy. I know you both like your privacy. I apologize for getting into your business too much. I’ll just move back down the pew and let you all be.”

“No, wait,” the mother said. “If you want to know what’s going on, then come on down to the house this afternoon for coffee and we can talk there.”

“No, I can’t … I’ve already …”

“We insist that you do,” the husband said. “We really do want to talk with another person that we can, at least, trust some. Be at our house around 3 p.m., OK?”

“Alright, if you insist then I will. See you then,” the neighbor said and moved back down the pew.

The service went smoothly for the couple as they listened to a sermon on the depths of God’s love for all people. The minister said in his sermon, “We are all beloved children of God. Each and every one of us. How we treat ourselves is as much a reflection of God’s love as how we treaet others. It’s the Golden Rule sort-of-thing. Yet I admit that there are times that I don’t always appear golden. Even though on Sundays you may see me in a golden light,” he said as the congregation laughed.

“It does not matter of you are young or old. It does not matter if you are suffering with an addiction or physical ailment. It does not matter if you are going throught the deepest, hardest trials of your life. Know without a doubt that God’s love will sustain and uphold you during all the times of your pain.”

When the minister said the words “physical ailment,” the mother started tearing up. They streamed down her cheeks. She looked over at her husband, who gave her a couple of tissues that were nearby. Both of them felt like the words that they heard this Sunday morning were for them both … and their baby daughter.

The service ended and they got up to leave. Once they were up, both of them knew it was better if they got a head start ahead of the crowded sanctuary.

As they were leaving, they shook hands with the minister. “Hey, it is so good to see you both. How is the expectant mother doing?” he said.

“Doing OK, pastor. Hanging in there,” she said.

“Yep, we’re just taking it a day at a time,” the husband said.

“Well good. Please let me know if there is anything that I can do to support you all during this precious time. It looks like you may be delivering in a couple of months, yes? I will keep you both – all three of you, I should say – in my prayers.”

“Thanks pastor, we appreciate it,” the husband said and they began walking toward their car. It was a bright sunshine-filled day. Blue skies stretching as far as the eye can see. For this minute, they both felt quite blessed and grateful for their lives. They also felt incredibly wonderful about the fact that their child would soon be born.

Of course, they also knew that there were preparations to be made and that would take a lot of time.

Lots of time.

They got back home and changed out of their Sunday best into some comfortable clothes. Lunch alreayd had been prepared before going to church, so they both got plates, put their food on there and sat down at their kitchen table.

There was a silence at the table that felt strange to both.

“Honey, what are you thinking about?” the wife asked.

“I’m thinking about how much I love you and our baby,” he said. “And, to be honest, I’m also thinking about how we are going to make it through these next months.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean about doctor’s visits, surgeries, whatever needs to be done to take care of our child. It is on my mind and it concerns me. I don’t mind telling you this because, I believe, you know that I want you to have that baby just as much as you want to have it. I just don’t know what our future holds with our darling child.”

“Hmm,” the mother said. “So what do you want to do about it?”

“What?”

“I mean, what do you want to do about the baby? Do you want me to have it or not?”

The husband sat straight up in his chair and looked startled.

“What are you talking about?”

“I mean it sounds like to me that you want me to get an abortion and terminate this pregnancy.”

“Where did you get that idea from?”

“Well, you are so concerned about how we are going to be able to take care of the baby. Maybe it was better that I never had a child in the first place!”

The mother got up from the table, started crying and went into their downstairs den area and closed the door behind her.

For his part, the husband just sat there for a couple of minutes. He could not believe what he had just heard come out of his wife’s mouth.

He stopped eating his lunch, put down his fork, and just put his head in his own hands. The pressure of work and waiting for this child, along with learning all that he could about craniofacial care, began to wear thin on him. He’d kept up a brave front in front of his beautiful wife, and he loved her dearly. There was not an ounce of doubt about that within him.

After taking his and her lunch plates over to the sink and putting them in there, he walked toward the den and knocked on the door. He could hear his wife whimpering and just disconsolate.

“Honey, can I come in and see you?” he asked.

“OK,” she muttered.

He opened the door and found his wife sitting in one of the den area’s rocking chairs. She was gently going back and forth, much like she had done in recent nights when the baby would not let her get much sleep.

She looked at him and said, “Are you coming in here to tell me off?”

“No, I am not,” he said, getting on his right knee next to her. “No. I am here to tell you a couple of things. Now you may not believe me yet what I am saying to you now, and looking right into your eyes, is my truth. I love you so, so much, and there is nothing in this world that I would not rather have you be than getting ready to give birth to our child. We both have wanted a baby for a long time and now we’re going to have one.

“Look, I’m not going to take back what I said at the kitchen table but before you start getting angry with me again let me talk for a couple of minutes. Then I will listen to you like I always do my best to do. Honey, I know that the news about our baby having a cleft lip and cleft palate was shocking. It was shocking to you and it was to me, too. I know that you desperately want to have that child and are willing to take care of whatever needs to be done. I know that. I feel the same way as you do. I don’t want you to terminate the pregnancy. Where in the world did you get that idea? I was simply sharing with you what I’ve been going through … and I know you have been going through much more than I have. Trust me, I am aware of it. What I do want to say is that I am sorry that I have not been more forthcoming with you about my own frustrations. I’ve been keeping them to myself because I don’t want to burden you with them. Does that make any sense, baby?”

The wife looked at him and a small smile began coming across her face.

She looked into his eyes, his dark, piercing brown eyes that she fell in love with the first time that she saw them. She reached out with her left hand and touched her husband’s forehead, then right cheek, and held her hand there.

“I know that you would never do anything to hurt me or the baby, my dear,” she said. “Never have I seen a man so attentive to his wife. I’ve seen a lot of my girlfriends’ husbands be attentive, for sure. Yet you have been so much more attentive ever since we heard that diagnosis from the doctor. I feel sad that I broke down at lunch. I have been feeling a lot of stress myself, and just hearing you talk at that time hit me the wrong way emotionally. I know you want to have this baby just as much as I do. I love you. I really do love you and care about you so much. I watch you from the distance, looking online and studying about how to take care of our baby. Even after you have put in a full day at the office, you are there reading information and making phone calls to some of the resources that you’ve discovered.”

“What phone calls? I haven’t made any phone calls,” the husband said, trying to not let on that he had been doing so.

“I know you have been calling people. I know it is from a place of love and concern. Look, honey, I’ve been around you for a few years, y’know, and I can tell when you are really focused on something important. I know that having this baby is important to you. I know you would not want me to terminate the pregnancy. Like I said, I got caught up in my own emotions and I just lost it. I’m sorry, honey. Please forgive me.”

They both just stayed there for a bit and embraced in a long hug. The Christmas tree in the den had its lights on and twinkled in the background.

Great things were about to happen in their lives. They just didn’t realize how great they would be.

The doorbell rang.

“Hello, it’s me,” the neighbor down the street said. “Can I come in?”

“Sure,” the wife said. “My husband and I have been waiting for you.”

The neighbor, a woman in her 60s, came in and was dressed in warm clothes as the weather outside had turned cold.

“Come on in and have a cup of coffee,” the husband said, giving the neighbor a fresh-brewed cup.

“Oh boy, thanks a lot,” she said. “I don’t get out too much and mingle with neighbors these days. I used to do it a lot more, yet these legs just aren’t working as much and as well as they used to do so.”

All three of them sat in the living room and enjoyed their coffee. A bit of chit-chat took place and the neighbor finally got around to having the courage to ask about the baby.

“I’m really glad that I saw you both at church and was able to catch up over the past few minutes with both of you. Now about your baby … tell me what’s going on.”

“Well, OK,” the mother said. “We learned a few weeks ago that our baby girl was going to be born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. The news shook me and my husband up pretty good. In fact, we haven’t even told our parents yet because we don’t want to get them all upset.”

“Quite frankly, we’re scared of what they might say,” the husband said. “We really don’t want to have their opinions dictate what actions we should take around our child.”

The neighbor looked at them, put her coffee cup down on the coffee table, got up and went to look out a window. Now the mother and father were startled by her action.

“Did we say something wrong?” the mother asked. “I mean, you did want to know what was going on with our baby, didn’t you?”

The neighbor kept looking outside the window. She began sobbing uncontrollably. The couple looked at each other, and the husband got up and put his arms around the neighbor’s shoulders. She leaned into him and started crying.

The husband and wife looked at one another with started looks on their faces. After a minute or so, the neighbor was able to compose herself enough to ask the husband if he would just lead her back to the couch. Once down there, the husband moved to her side and his wife managed to get from the rocking chair and sit down on the other side of the neighbor. Now all three were on the couch at one time.

“Please tell us what you are crying about,” the wife said.

The neighbor looked at her and said, “My child was born with Crouzon’s Syndrome and a bilateral cleft lip and palate. It was during a time that no one really knew what to do about children with his problems.”

“Him?” the husband asked.

“Yes. Thomas was his first name. My husband and I were quite young … in our 20s … and we were expecting a healthy baby to be born. There were no ultrasounds in our day, so we did not know what to expect. We just really expected a healthy baby to be born because I know that I did everything my doctor said do. I exercised. I ate along the way that my doctor asked me to do. My husband would go walking with me every night and we grew closer together.

“When Thomas was born, we looked at him and just were so happy to have a baby. I held him and just marveled at his beauty. My husband looked, too, and we smiled at one another. The doctor was able to get Robert to cry and get air out of him, yet there were no regular baby sounds. I mean there was no consistent crying taking place. We thought there was something really wrong with our child, like he was dead or something. Maybe deaf or not quite all there. I’m sorry, the words are coming out of me rather garbled and … well …”

The wife said, “Oh no, please go on. Please tell us about Robert. My husband and I want to know. It will do us good and probably do you good, too. It’s OK.”

The neighbor managed to sit up on the edge of the couch and finished the story.

“My husband and I were looking at the doctor and asking ‘What is happening here?’ The doctor looked at Robert and asked if he could have the baby so that he could be put in an ICU area for babies. They had built one at the hospital for newborns who had certain difficulties. I looked at Robert, holding him in my arms, kissed his little forehead and let the doctor have him. Little did I realize that I’d never hold my baby again.”

The husband and wife looked at the neighbor, then looked at one another.

“After my baby was in the ICU area for a couple of days, the doctor came into my room … it was a Sunday afternoon … and my husband was there with me. He opened the door and closed it behind him. I remember he pulled up a stool and sat in front of us. He was a kind soul, not really wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. He knew that being a doctor was a tough life, too. I looked at him and said, ‘Doctor, you don’t look very happy.’ He said, ‘Well that’s because I’m really sad right now. I just went to check on your baby and his health situation. I hate to tell you both this, but your baby died this afternoon.’”

“My husband looked at him and said, ‘Doc, what do you mean about our baby boy? You said he had a couple of problems, yes, but we knew he was in good hands with you.’

“’And he was in great hands with our nurses and myself, sir,’ the doctor said. ‘We were really pulling for Thomas to come out of a coma and show us signs of life.’

“’Doctor, you mean my baby was in a coma and you didn’t tell me! What kind of doctor are you?’” the neighbor said she told the doctor this.

She broke down again. She wasn’t able to tell the rest of her story. It was too painful for her.

The husband and wife both wrapped their arms around this woman … a woman both of them had seen and felt like she was so brave. Little did they know what the neighbor did for them that day would be a great gift.

To be continued …

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