The Two Towers
I’ve always wondered about doublemindedness. What it can feel like to have your whole mind be entirely in one place, but then also entirely in another. Girls can do it. I’m not sure how, but they practically live that way. Boys? Well, if a cloud moves left instead of right then we forget what we were talking about.
Those were the dreams running through my head as I slept in the backseat of my parent’s Honda Pilot. We had been awake for about two days at this point, so I relished the chance to curl up in the back seat for our hour and a half drive to the hospital in Winston-Salem.
I had just left Meg—weeping her eyes out—with about ten nurses, her parents, and her best friend Britty (thank GOD we have such good families) to chase down Shepherd, who had left ten minutes earlier (traveling in style) and who would already be there surrounded by medical professionals by the time we got there. My wife in one tower, my daughter in another. And I was physically, emotionally, and mentally somewhere in the middle.
I’m not even sure I can explain how that feels. My wife, my love, my favorite person in this entire world, had just gone through the most intense, powerful, miraculous moment of her life. She had just had a baby. AND had surgery. She was bleeding, exhausted, scared, crying, and everything in me wanted to stay with her. To fight for her and take care of her. One-hundred-percent of my husband instincts were screaming “What are you doing?! Where are you going?! You’re supposed to, now more than ever before, be and do everything she needs right now. It’s what you live for!”
But I left. I had to. And it broke my heart to do it.
Now, grant you, if I had stayed with her and left Shepherd alone, then Meg would have murdered me and gone to Winston-Salem herself and then none of you would get to hear this fine story, but I still felt like my heart was being torn in two. Because… that’s right… I had two girls now. And there was one who wasn’t even a full 24 hours old yet who needed me like no one ever has.
When we got to Winston-Salem I ran right up to the sixth floor of the enormous Brenner Children’s Hospital (just picture Disney world, only instead of Diagon Alley, it’s a thousand hospital buildings). I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing, where I would sleep, or how Meg was, but all of that would have to wait until after I found her. And when I did. It was the best and worst thing I’ve ever seen.
I was admitted into the NICU (only parents were allowed in, and evidentially I was one of those now). So I walked alone past the nurse’s station, past the row of medical baby bubbles. And there, in the back corner of the place, was a blonde girl with blue eyes. She was covered with tubes and trying so hard to breathe. It sent a twist through my stomach, seeing the look of wild confusion on her face. Watching her PANT for air. The monitor said she was breathing 140 times per minute, and she was doing it non-stop, for a full day. Just think about how exhausting that is.
The nurses let me have my moment with her, where I kissed her and stroked her hair, and then they came to thoroughly explain to me exactly what was going on. I’m pretty sure that good nurses are sent from heaven. They were incredible. They were kind, optimistic, and lived in a world of empathy that I could feel washing over me. They even gave me two pages worth of medical jargon that I could memorize so that I would know what was going on when the doctors did their rounds. What a thoughtful thing.
Here was the gist of the diagnosis: the lungs are one of the last things to develop in the womb. In those final stages, they begin to release a chemical called surfactant which lubricates the interior of the lungs and makes them pliable enough to live in the world of air (God’s a genius). Shepherd hadn’t quite got to the stage where this chemical was released in high doses and so her lung wasn’t flexible enough to re-inflate once it had collapsed. They were going to fill her lungs with a synthetic surfactant (essentially drown her) and breathe for her using a CPAP machine until her lungs were developed enough to breathe on their own. It could take a week, it could take a month. We’d just have to see.
Guys, I swear, the Holy Spirit gives you grace for every situation. As I looked down at my daughter, tubes everywhere, I felt a natural resiliency. An easy strength. It’s so easy to be strong when your wife or your daughter needs you. You don’t even have to try. You know that losing it would be disastrous, and so you don’t. You stay solid. You let everything bounce off of you. They need that, and so you become that for them. And it happens so naturally that it’s not even hard. Because Jesus does it for you.
I’m not sure what happens to people who don’t know the Holy Spirit, but for us Christians, that’s what happens. He fills you up.
And fill me up He did. Optimism outweighed fear as I took a fresh look at my panting baby girl. I stroked her hair, whispering to her, and saw the first thing that made all of my father instincts turn on. One single, giant tear slipped out from her eye as she looked at me. It was so… precious. Such a treasure. I found myself wanting to keep it. To keep all of her tears. To scoop them up and put them in a treasure chest so that she would always know that I was watching her. That she never shed tears alone. That every single one of them was caught and accounted for.
(That’s how your Dad in heaven sees you, by the way.)
From that point on, it was a blur. All I remember is a series of small victories. Shepherd got her lung re-inflated and stopped panting (one victory). Then a few days later she got her breathing tube removed (2 victories). Then a few days later this tube was gone, and few days later that tube was gone. With every tube removed it was like she was one step closer to being whole. Meg got discharged after two days of lockdown because she sent the hospital into code blue with what they told me was a seizure but was actually a fainting spell (I may never forgive them for scaring the crap out of me like that). I can’t even imagine what she went though having to be in another city that whole time, but her getting to Winston-Salem was the greatest victory of all. When the two towers became one, I was one very happy head of household.
Meg and I stayed with Shepherd the whole time, all day every day, sleeping and eating at the Ronald MacDonald house across the street (which was such a profound blessing that it deserves its own story) and eventually, after every tube was removed, and every breathing test was passed, we got to take our little girl out into the sunshine for the second time in her life.
We got to, finally, and for the first time as a family, go home.
And as an added bonus… heres what I saw when I walked into the NICU one day and they were treating Shepherd for jaundice. I laughed so hard I woke up another baby.She looks like Rafiki from The Lion King.
Meg & Andrew Gray
Andrew and Meg met in college, fell in love, got married, and are now the parents of a beautiful baby girl named Shepherd. Their somewhat rocky journey into parenthood is a story of triumph and faith. Andrew is a passionate adventurer and Meg is the consummate artist, but both of them just love Jesus. They’re blessed enough to live in the stunning Appalachian Mountains in Boone, NC.
You can find Andrew’s rather seldomly updated blog here.