Bear with me as I again reflect on the horrible pain parents endure when their newborn pride-and-joy –
- becomes horribly unwell, unable to keep down any nourishment,
- loses instead of gaining weight and condition,
- causes them to find (as many do) that their usually trusty doctor n be terribly condescending and dismissive (“typically anxious new parents,” and “try another formula”), only to be told by another voice in the medical machine, “I’m sorry but your baby is close to death, you should have brought him / her in much earlier… you’ll have to submit your baby for surgery.”
A few days ago my family marked the centenary of my father’s birth, and I dug up some of the 1945-vintage documents he left me, including (1) his receipt for paying somebody to announce my birth to the town notables, and (2) a short letter he wrote to his parents on the day after my birth. Both are clear evidence of the extreme joy, excitement and pride my parents felt after many years of waiting to start a family.
What happened immediately after that has been wiped off the record: I have no documents, no letters and no stories about my pyloric stenosis (PS). It must have been only a day or so after these carefully conserved sheets of paper were written that I started to throw back everything my frightened mother gave me. Ten days after my birth their tiny frail baby was tied down on a large operating table in a nearby city hospital.
After many years I can well understand that my parents did all they could to delete the PS page of my story from their lives. But their doing this did not help me to come to terms with my story, nor my understanding and managing the distress of PTSD that resulted.
What has helped me understand and accept my parents’ pain has been what others have written about the intensity of what they endured with their baby’s sudden and violent sickness followed by surgery.
One such account was written early in 2013 by a British father who like my father is a church pastor and who like my parents went through PS quite unexpectedly and with their first child, also a boy. Under a powerful title, When your son goes under the knife – a dad’s experience, Roy Summers wrote –
It is one thing to be in hospital for a personal operation as an adult, but quite a different experience as a parent of a child. As a general rule my family of six have enjoyed remarkably good health, for which we thank God. We had an early scare with our firstborn, who had pyloric stenosis as a baby and was only a shade away from death; but apart from the normal scrapes of family life the Lord has granted good health.
Roy Summers then reflected on what he has learnt from a more recent experience, when another of his sons suffered a ruptured appendix and complications after the operation. I recommend going to Roy Summers’ post and reading it in full, as I regard it as portraying a thoroughly human response to inner pain and beautifully integrated with Christian faith and pastoral care. I would like to pass on the main headings to whet the reader’s interest in what Roy and his wife Yvonne learnt.
- The last kiss?
- Trust – placed Where?
- Why was the first operation not “successful”?
- How often and passionately do we pray the more important prayers?
- Why didn’t God answer a little boy’s prayers?
- Thank you for the medicine
Roy goes a long way beyond merely writing (as many such parents do), “This was the worst experience I have ever had!” I am grateful to him for this.
Although many of the details of this father’s experience and reflections are related to his son’s appendicitis and peritonitis operation and are therefore somewhat different from those he would have had when his first son had PS, the emotions, questions, Christian response and character-shaping issues are exactly the same.