Perfectly Imperfect

09-22-08: Week 37


Two of my closest friends just delivered beautiful healthy babies. My good friend Holly gave birth to a precious girl (her fifth child) on September 8. A few days later, on September 12, Lauren, my closest friend here in Massachusetts, gave birth to a baby boy (her fourth child). When I heard the news, I felt such happiness on both occasions. I was thrilled to learn that both of my friends delivered healthy babies without any complications. And then a thought hit me. Will I be the one to experience problems? Will something be wrong with my baby? Has the good fortune run out?

For most of this pregnancy, I've tried to avoid worrisome thoughts. I know the chances are great that I'll have a healthy baby. Still, now that delivery day is drawing so near, I can't help but worry that my baby will be imperfect in some way. But if I've learned one thing as a parent, it's realizing that fear and worry comes with the territory. I've also learned that perfection is an unworthy pursuit.

When Elise was seven weeks old she came down with an unexplainable 104* fever. Other than the fever, she had no other symptoms of illness. We took her to the ER in a panic. We then spent the next hour and a half watching as the nurses tried unsuccessfully to insert a catheter and IV line into our tiny infant daughter. Elise screamed as the nurses apologetically poked and jabbed at her. I sobbed as I watched on helplessly. Nelson held Elise most of the time. I had to keep leaving the room because I was so distressed.

Finally they called in a nurse with pediatric experience and she was able to get both the IV and catheter inserted. Shortly after, the doctor's suspicions were confirmed. Elise had a Urinary Tract Infection. A few weeks later, after a series of tests, we learned that Elise had a congential condition called VUR or Vesicoureteral Reflux. Simply put, VUR is a condition where urine backs up into the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder during urination. More severe cases can case kidney damage.

For weeks after Elise's diagnosis, even though we had learned that she would have no serious health problems from her VUR, I walked around sobbing every time I held her in my arms. When I looked at her, I saw this tiny, precious girl who appeared to be perfect in every way. And yet, I knew the truth. She wasn't perfect. She had, according to the doctors, a defect. At the time of the diagnosis, we were planning her Christening. I had been looking forward to her special day since the moment she was born. But suddenly, I couldn't get excited. The diagnosis spoiled the excitement that normally goes along with welcoming a newborn into the world. I felt devastated that, even though her condition was not life threatening, something was wrong with her.

When her Christening day finally arrived, I dressed her in the gown my own grandmother hand embroidered back in 1968. It was the same gown worn by Julia, myself, my brother, and all of my cousins. It was a special moment, and I realized as I placed her delicate infant hands through the lace sleeves, that no defect, abnormality, or other imperfection could ever make me love Elise less. Her imperfection was just one of many I would learn to love, just as she would love me despite my many imperfections as a mother.

As I think back on those early weeks with Elise, I'm reminded what it feels like to have our worst fears realized--to learn that something is wrong with our child. I'm also reminded that it ultimately changes nothing in the way we love our children. If anything it makes us love them more fiercely. So as I get ready to meet my son, I'm reminding myself, that I will love him no matter what. Of course, I'm praying for ten fingers and toes and everything else healthy in between, but no matter what he'll be perfect, imperfections and all, just as he is.

Shelley Abreu is a freelance writer living on Cape Cod with her husband and two daughters. She admits to being a very imperfect mom, but her kids love her just the same.