Smiling at the din, my mind wanders and I think of this blog, about writing, and why I started blogging in the first place. It was to ease me back into writing, find the courage to share part of myself with the general public, as a way to introduce parts of my book. Yes, the book. An idea incepted on a rainy day TWO YEARS ago this March (time, why do thou goeth by so fast?), now housed on my Mac desktop in a tidy little file, 267 pages of my heart . Memories, both good and truly bad, inspiration, symbols. Symbols which became letters which became a torrent of words.
I have been writing a lot about fear in this blog. Fear, inspiration, challenges, persevering. Kicking fear to the curb and seeing what growth takes its place.
So. I am jumping head first, much as Aedan just did into the chilly pool, without fear or a second thought. Here I take a big step and share with the few of you reading my blog (bless you) the prologue to my book: a memoir about Liam, when he became deathly sick as a baby, and how this trauma first derailed and eventually strengthened me. How our family blossomed through such a defining second chance moment.
"Second Chance Life": Prologue
It was our second visit to this doctor's office, about a week apart from each other. The first time, Liam had weighed in at 10 lbs, a gain of four ounces in a few weeks. We felt relieved and encouraged that nursing him more religiously and augmenting with formula was starting to work.
It was March, 2004 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was four months and two weeks old. At birth, he was a strapping 8 lbs 12 ounces. At two months, he weighed a slight 9 ‘ 8. At four months, he weighed the same: 9 ‘ 8, something our original pediatrician hadn’t been overtly concerned about.
We were new parents, alone in Arizona without any family. We took our doctor's word on the situation. Wanting a logical answer to Liam's size, we listened to the safe explanation that some babies had growth spurts and then “stopped growing for a while” due to nursing or other issues. We clung to the hopeful notion that these babies, like ours, get back on track, in time, with parental diligence and love.
I was relatively smart, had earned both a BA and an MA in English, was the second of nine kids, had been around babies my entire life. On a logical place inside I knew that babies should outgrow their newborn clothes within the first month. I sensed that something was wrong, that a baby born that big should not lose his appetite after five minutes of nursing, that he should not sleep as much as he did. I should not be able to count every single one of his ribs while bathing him. Somewhere inside I knew, but either refused to accept it or was unable to understand. Blind faith is a powerful force to reckon with.
This second visit to Dr. Shaw’s office was different. This one occurred after a week of traumatic and alarming events had us panicked and at a loss. We had taken Liam in for a second blood draw, to see if the previous level that had checked his electrolytes was still accurate. The first had been hemolized, showing an inflated and inaccurate number due to air in the vial. This new pediatrician suggested that we test his levels again, ASAP.
At this visit, when we were called as soon as possible in to hear results, the nurse carefully weighed him. With my heart racing, I read the numbers on the scale: he had dropped back to 9 lbs 8 ounces. Suddenly I saw before me what others saw, what I had been glimpsing and then pushing out of my consciousness: a very sick baby. He was beautiful and he was mine, but there was something seriously wrong.
The doctor sat us down after I put Liam’s size 0-3 month onesie carefully back on. My heart bled as I cradled this sweet dark-headed feather to my chest. Dr. Shaw showed us the results of Liam’s potassium: a terrifying 1.8. Normal, functioning levels are between 3.5-5.0.
I’ll never forget the doctor’s eyes as he looked at each of us seriously before speaking.
“We have two options here. Option 1 is keep doing what you are doing. Alternate nursing with formula, and check back here for twice weekly blood draws and weigh-ins to see if he starts to gain. The other option is to drive him right now to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. I know the head of the nephrology department, and they will admit him as soon as I make the call.”
Brendan and I looked at each other, all blinders of denial lifted, raw emotion revealed. I watched my heart break right there through Brendan’s two eyes staring back at me in disbelief. There was no question in either of our minds, not for a second.
By speaking to us that plainly, Dr. Shaw helped to save our baby’s life. This powerful realization on that horrible day in a brightly lit, sterile doctor’s office has become the reason why I write this book today.
Liam could have died.
It took me years to admit to myself, then another few years to whisper aloud, a few more to hint at to other people, and now here I am writing these words down, ten years later: my baby could have died in my arms, in his sleep, next to me in his co-sleeper or fastened to my chest. Had he continued on the path we forged—a path infused with blind love, devotion, and the purest, though most misguided intentions-he may not have made it to six months.
That beautiful day in late March, as if in a fog, we nodded slowly after hearing our options. The room went silent.
“Where do we go?” Brendan whispered, elbows on his knees, hands open in a gesture of supplication. At these words, the office whipped into action, and suddenly we had a new purpose. Our only purpose, from that moment on, would be to heal our baby.
We wrote down directions to the hospital, merged onto the 101 from the 51, and drove our Isuzu Trooper into Phoenix, silent as the grave. My arm reached around to hold onto Liam’s frail ankle the whole 20 minutes. My eyes focused on Brendan’s strong forearm, noticing how my heart beat matched the pulsing of a vein in his wrist. We were connected through a current of love and worry for the small boy strapped in securely behind us in his blue car seat.
It was both the fastest and slowest drive of my life.