Having sick babies can either unite or destroy a marriage. Going through this situation on my own would have been unbearable but, in my darkest hours I had my best friend to stand by my side. The rest of this post is written by my hubs who hands down is the hardest working, best man I know.
Even though my boys have progressed miraculously well- I don’t mean to be dramatic and I used that word very deliberately. Just last month we had a doctor tell us that Luke was a miracle. Not sure that it’s a term they teach in medical school, but when you’ve had doctors tell you to turn off the machine and now to see a happy 20 month old who goes where he wants and smiles so big every time he sees me that I sometimes make up excuses to leave my office just to see him, it’s hard to find another word. But to my point, even though they are doing amazing things, I can’t deny that some things- a lot of things- are harder for them than they should have to be. In moments of weakness or on days when I see my boys struggle to do things that my friends’ kids do with ease, the old thought that “it’s not fair” creeps in.
Fair is something I’ve wrestled with a lot since my family has been put through what we’ve been through. Is is fair that my pregnant wife spent a month and a half on bed rest, yelled at people smoking across the parking lot and wouldn’t even eat a turkey sandwich because she read some article somewhere that it was bad for the babies, and still had our boys 12 weeks early? Is it fair that we maxed out every credit card we have and relied on the generosity of family and friends to keep our heads above water (just barely) when things were at their financial worst as medical bills piled up? Was it fair that the first 68 days as a family were spent in the hospital- two different hospitals in two different states for a while? We went to church. We payed our taxes. We went to college. We got married before we got pregnant. We did everything “right,” while I watch shows on tv about unwed teenage mothers living off government assistance who drank or smoked while pregnant, or aren’t even quite sure who the father is… But then I have to stop. Who said life was fair? Nobody.
The was no guarantee and there is so little in this world that we can control. In fact, the only thing we can control is the way that we react to what the world sends your way.
When Luke and Christine were in Oakland, I stayed behind in Reno with Jake. I stayed with Jake for a few reasons, not the least of which is that he needed Daddy to come see him everyday so he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was loved. Also, I had to work, more medical bills were arriving every day, and our savings had depleted quickly. In all honesty, what that little baby didn’t know and probably never will, was that dad needed him far more than he needed me. I’ve never told anyone this story.
When Christine couldn’t work because she was placed on bed rest, we still needed money and what I was making wasn’t cutting it. I called in a few favors and got a job bar tending. Obviously, I still needed my “real” job, so the only shift that worked was from midnight to 8 AM. I tended bar 3 or 4 nights a week. I went to work at my day job at 8 AM, left there at 5 and drove straight to the hospital and stayed there with Jake to feed him and hold him until about 11 when I left to go to the bar. I worked at the bar 3 nights in a row, so on bar tending nights I didn’t sleep for at least 72 hours in a row. I worked, went to the hospital and went to the bar – oh, and drank so much Red Bull that I have no doubt my liver has permanent damage. I have a master degree and I was pouring beer to drunks at 3 AM who ordered me around while I hoped that they give me a decent tip- or at least didn’t skip out on their tab when I went to the kitchen to grab someone else’s food. I had never been so humbled. Between the jobs, the bills, and especially my boys in the hospital, it was the lowest time of my life. I was closer to my breaking point than anyone probably knows. The fact that I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel still baffles me. I’m not proud of this, but I’d find myself in the hospital parking lot with no recollection of how I got there. I sat parked in that parking garage one night trying to find the courage to keep things together before I went in to see my 3 pound baby boy, but I was on the verge of a complete breakdown. I was angry, heartbroken, tired, but mostly I was defeated. I am not an emotional guy, but as I sat there with tears streaming down my face, I cursed God and I told him that I couldn’t go any further- not one more step. If this was a game, I wasn’t playing anymore. I allowed myself a moment, I wiped my face and I went to see Jake where that tiny smile helped me hold things together one more day.
People like to say that God only gives what you can handle. That’s bullshit- he’ll give you a lot more than that. So is life fair? No, it’s not. But it’s not all bad either. On that night when I went to hold Jake I fell asleep holding him after whispering the lyrics to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in his ear. The nurse put a blanket over the both of us and let me sleep for a few hours. They woke me when it was time for my bar tending shift to start. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had hit rock bottom. They say the good part about rock bottom is that there is only one place to go. The problem with it is that, like trying to time the stock market, it’s hard to see the bottom when you’re there. Within the week, we received word that Luke was coming back to Reno and we’d be reunited as a family. We got word that our new house was going to close and without a day to spare. I also received a job offer that would change my professional life forever. It was a huge raise and I could work from home. Within a year at that company I would be promoted and we could actually afford to have Christine stay home with the boys. And most importantly, the good news started flowing for the boys. They were gaining weight and eating from a bottle. They’d be home soon and my days as a bartender were numbered.
I was a little harsh when I said it was bullshit that God only gives what you can handle. That’s true- but the catch is that you’ll get far more than you think you can handle. On my darkest day, there was no light- none that I could see anyway, but it was there. There was the glimmer in the eyes of my two boys who through their fight, inspired me to never give up, because they sure as hell weren’t going to. They make me proud every day and I am humbled by their strength. So again, is life fair? Unfortunately, the answer still has to be no, but never give up and never give in. It’s hard to see it when you’re in the moment, but those dark times make days spent in the light feel just a little warmer. You’ll find beauty that you never noticed. You’ll cherish the little things. You’ll discover empathy. You’ll find your true friends and you’ll find strength in them and family, but you also have to find it on your own. I just followed the lead of the two strongest people I’ll ever know.