They wheeled me down the hospital corridors the evening after my C-section. I was going to the bay area where our newborn son was being prepared for transfer to the Children’s Hospital across town. I had seen him for a second after delivery. Red and angry-faced, he was held above the sheet that blocked our view of my internal organs. And then he was taken the way our daughter had been, to be measured and cleaned and weighed and wrapped, then returned to my side. Only this time, my baby didn’t come back. The doctors and nurses finished their work on me, my arms cold and extended, cross-like.
In the recovery room, I said, “He doesn’t look like a ‘Davis’ to me.” That’s what we had agreed the day before to call him—Davis—after months of joking about calling him Elvis. We looked at the photo Brandon had snapped on his phone of our newborn boy. “He has brown eyes and sideburns.”
“We’re really going to name him Elvis, aren’t we?” I smiled sleepily. Brandon’s smile was tentative.
“He’s not doing well, is he?” I think I said, or maybe Brandon said it, or maybe I just knew, intuitively, the way a mom is supposed to know. They had taken him to the hospital’s NICU for further assessment. We’d learn later the words for what he faced—pulmonary hypertension, respiratory distress syndrome—but in those moments I only knew there was no cocooned bundle of newborn by my side.
When I saw my mom and dad and in-laws next to the platoon of transporters and nurses who surrounded the incubator where my son was intubated and sedated, waiting for his route across town, his body fighting against the tubes and wires, reality rushed in. Tears, hot and fast. He was sick. Really sick. He-could-die sick.
Still too sore from the C-section to stand, I stared table-level at Elvis Elijah Davis Wells, his angry face gone, machines beeping and monitoring and breathing for him as he remained silent. Could I touch him? Was I allowed before they rolled him away, careful to keep him stable? Or were air and my fingertips across his skin, or mere motion, enough to send his body into chaos? Did I touch him? I don’t remember. He rolled away. The hospital permitted me to leave a day early, as long as I could stand up, to be with him in the other place, the place where time paused for an eternity as we waited and prayed for him to get better.
I didn’t know if he would make it. Out of twenty beds in the nursery, ordered by degree of illness, Elvis was camped out next to infants without organs. In Bed #1.
People everywhere prayed. We prayed, though our prayers were silent sobs, long streams of tears—Oh God Oh God Oh God—just groans, really. No words to tell God what we needed, the Holy Spirit praying on our behalf.
Between the hospital and home one bright and hot day in August, before I entered the artificially sunny halls of the hospital, before he moved to the next row of beds, before the tubes and wires were removed, I heard a Casting Crowns song for the hundredth time, anew:
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away*
I didn’t know if he would live. And if he didn’t, I still knew these words at soul-level. I heard his whisper in the bright light of that day as I turned off the interstate toward my sedated son: “I’m with you.”
Yea, though I walk
through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me. (Ps. 23:4)
A day or two into the NICU, life still precarious in his incubator, I felt okay. Exhausted, but okay. It would be okay. Somehow it would be okay. Whatever happened, it would be okay.
Seven years later, I’d hear that sentiment echoed in my dying friend’s poetry; I’d learn of Julian of Norwich’s words, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Eight years later, all is well—Elvis is a healthy, smart, and mostly happy second grader. Other present needs and fears bring me to my knees, crying out Oh God Oh God Oh God. I can hear that distant prayer and remember “All shall be well.” For You are with me. You are with me. God is with us. God with us. Even through the valley of the shadow of death.
HALL, JOHN MARK / HERMS, BERNIE
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.