catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 25 :: 2009.12.25 — 2010.01.07


High-risk pregnancy

One of my favorite Christmas stories took place in July.  It was a Saturday afternoon and I was ending another long week as chaplain-on-call at a large Dallas hospital.  On this particular Saturday, I was visiting on one of my favorite wards — the high-risk pregnancy ward. Most of the women who were there had to stay for quite a while which was unfortunate for them — in fact, they hated it — but it gave me the opportunity to get to know them, unlike on other wards where patients came and went more quickly.  I was talking with Marsha, one of the nurses, to see if there was anyone she thought might want a visit.

“Well, yes, I’m a little worried about Mrs. Gonzalez in Room 17.”

I asked if she were depressed or angry.                 

“Oh, no, not at all.  The problem is she’s too happy.”

“Too happy?”

“Yes.  She’s 41 years old.  She’s had two miscarriages and she went into labor yesterday very prematurely.”

“So what happened?” I asked, expecting the worst.

“Well, she had a baby boy.  It’s seriously underweight and it’s on machines down in neo-natal ICU, but it’s surviving.”

“So she’s happy because she’s got a baby?”

“She’s ecstatic.  She’s Puerto Rican and she can’t stop thanking everybody for delivering her baby.  Half the time I can’t understand her because she breaks off into Spanish and starts shouting Catholic prayers of thanks to God.”

“So, why are you concerned about her?”

“Because the baby is still very much at risk.  It only weighed two pounds at birth and she’s going to be devastated if it doesn’t make it.  She has no family here in Texas except her husband and he can’t come to see her very often because of his work.  I just wonder if you could make her see reality.  She’s a very religious person and, even though you’re not a priest, maybe she’ll listen to you.”

“Well,” I said, “She sounds like an interesting woman and I do need to practice my Spanish.  But I think I’ll do a little bit of listening first.”

“There’s one more thing, Alex.”  Marsha looked concerned again.  “She wants to name the baby after her doctor.”

“That sounds like a nice gesture.”

“The doctor’s name is Norman Shapiro.”

“Norman Shapiro Gonzalez, huh?”  Marsha nodded and we smiled at each other.

The woman I met in Room 17 was beautiful.  Benita Gonzalez had a warm presence and an indomitable smile.  There was glow about her as if she had just seen an angel and been told some incredibly good news. 

When she found out who I was she began to talk very excitedly in broken English about her miraculous experience.  She talked about leaving her family in Puerto Rico to travel with her husband to Texas and about the loneliness of being so far from home using a language in which she wasn’t very fluent.  She told me how much she had wanted a child, how much pressure she was under from her mother to have one, and how heartbroken she had been when the earlier pregnancies ended in miscarriage.  She spoke of her resignation to the fact that she would never have children and then her indescribable joy at finding out she was pregnant again.  And then there was the birth of her son.

By the end of the story she was speaking very rapidly in both languages.  “I’m just so happy!  ¡Gracias a Dios! ¡Dios me dio un hijo!  ¡Gracias a Dios!  I thank God for this wonderful gift which has brought meaning to my life!”

Her love and gratefulness for the child was contagious and I found myself drawn into her joy.  There was no “realistic” language that could dampen the incredible hope that she attached to the child.  Norman was a gift from God — a sign of God’s presence in her life — and whatever dangers he faced were irrelevant to that message.  Into a world of loneliness, alienation and purposelessness, God had brought new life and hope, and it took the form of a baby.

I prayed with Benita in my broken Spanish and in our prayer we acknowledged the challenges the future held — weeks in intensive care, the vulnerability the child would have to disease, the time and money that would have to be spent on the child’s health care — but we also celebrated an incredible gift.  Here in newborn flesh was God touching our lives once more with divine presence.  And in the weeks following I was pleased to see the child stabilize and grow stronger.

Every story doesn’t turn out this way.  The ward had its share of calamity and tragedy, too, and many who face similar desires for children don’t meet with such an unexpected miracle.  But the miracle was not in the circumstances of the birth, but in the joy of the mother and the message she received.

Every child carries with it the hope and promise of the future and reminds us of God’s continuing presence among us.  The fact that Jesus came as a baby is not incidental to the Christmas story — it is the Christmas story.  This Christmas I am praying for the eyes of Benita Gonzalez — eyes that can acknowledge the riskiness of the world we live in and yet see beyond the risk to what God is doing.

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