This is part 6 of our high-risk pregnancy journey about finding beauty in pain and my experience living at the Ronald McDonald House. Our unborn son has a lower urinary tract obstruction- posterior urethral valve. Read parts 1,2, 3, 4 and 5.
It was some of the harder two days in my 30-year life span. My husband and I packed the car and headed to a larger city four hours away from our new home. We had made the drive many times before for doctor’s appointments, only this time, we knew I wouldn’t be making the drive back. I was moving to my third town in seven months, the timeline of my return still unknown.
We checked into the Ronald McDonald House for the second time in our lives, only this time for a different son we’ve yet to meet. The industrial carpet reminded me of walking the halls of my high school. The small-checkered tile in the bathroom resembled a locker room. How could this be home for the next 6 weeks, 2 months, maybe longer? We had dinner reservations at a fancy place for my 30th birthday, but I couldn’t get the tears to stop flowing, so we cancelled.
For two days, I let myself stay in that place. I let myself feel the full depth of sadness of our situation—me away from the ones who call me ‘mommy’ so that they can maintain some normalcy, while I get the best care for the brother who will one day call me by the same name.
As the scenery became more familiar, the rawness started to ware off. I finally emerged from my room and into the shared living space, where my eyes were opened to the dozens of people also calling this place their temporary home. At first I saw them, families with children with bald heads, scars, feeding tubes, visible disabilities and invisible illnesses. Slowly, I’ve started listening to them.
The family of a 14 year-old with hypo plastic-left heart syndrome who has lived here for months at a time since their son’s birth shared their homemade tortillas with me. I rode the hospital shuttle with parents of a child not much older than my oldest who received four heart surgeries in the past 10 months, I ate a meal with a pregnant military mom who had to leave her overseas base to receive fetal surgery for her new daughter with spina bifida.
Everyone here is in the middle of one of their life’s hardest chapters. For some, these chapters are a reoccurring theme in their stories. And yet, you may think that being surrounded by these sufferings would be depressing or burdensome, but there is joy here.
After dinner one night, my mother-in-law and I were feeling a bit unsettled, needing new people to talk to, needing a change of scene from our room. We hovered around a table with mostly Spanish-speaking families, when I saw the most beautiful and heart-wrenching scene of my life: three kids having a tea party with a new tea set one of them had just won at bingo.
Only this tea party looked different from any I had ever seen before. The host was a stunning girl that you wouldn’t know was awaiting a heart transplant. She served the imaginary drink to a boy with a facial disfigurement and physical disability that I couldn’t identify. Next to him was a girl with no hair who had just won a Disney princess dress that she quickly adorned—I had watched her get off the shuttle at the cancer center hours earlier.
They giggled, they were kind, they were accepting of each other. They didn’t see the differences among them. There was pure joy in their small escape.
A few nights after, one of the local businesses sponsoring dinner brought in a DJ. The same little girl fighting cancer was still in her princess dress. She danced around her friend in a wheelchair, he smiled the entire time.
I observed their parents. I’m sure they have their quiet moments of overwhelming hurt, maybe nights filled with uncertainty and tears. But as they talked and laughed around the dinner table, I saw them lifting each other up.
I thought about how overwhelming this house would be if I hadn’t already had my son, Anderson, who has Down syndrome. Because he has been a part of our lives for more than two years, we have been more exposed to the disability and medically complex world. The world that’s always existed, but we could keep away at a safe distance before his arrival.
The illness here, the hardships here would have consumed me if it were not for Anderson. Now, as I wait for another son who will have medical issues of his own, I fit in here.
Of course, I wish our first son would never have needed open-heart surgery. Of course I wish this son’s urinary tract and kidney issues were all part of a bad dream. But because I have been here before, because I am surrounded by dozens of children here at the Ronald McDonald House who serve as constant reminders, I also know the extreme beauty that exists among the ashes.
I don’t think evil occurs so that we become the people we are intended to be. Nor do I think that suffering exists, so that the good times shine more brightly. However, I think these things can be byproducts of the inevitable pain we experience in this world.
I wish I didn’t belong here, but because I’ve been here before and because I am here again, I am not who I once was. I have been moved to action in ways I wouldn’t have been without the experience of my own sufferings.
I can’t predict the children’s future who shared tea together, but I think it’s a safe bet that they won’t be afraid of those who are different. I bet their parents will teach them to never take a moment of life for granted. I bet they become people who refuse to sit on the sidelines when someone needs help, even if they too are in need of rescuing.
Things are about the same, but the doctors are worried that I may have developed a liver issue that’s common towards the end of pregnancy. Unfortunately, it’s pretty serious and they’ve upped my appointments to 3 times a week. I should find out next week if I in fact have this condition, but because I’m displaying the symptoms, I get the feeling they are going to treat me as if I have it no matter what the blood work says…we’l see. I’m 36 weeks pregnant now. For more frequent medical updates, follow us on Facebook.