Six years ago today was a good day. I woke up looking like this:
By the end of the day I looked like this:
Little Liam, as he used to call himself, entered the world with quiet fanfare. Beautiful, alert, a little on the large side, and adored by his big brothers. All was as it should be.
When Liam was five days old I took this picture.
I love the look on big brother’s face. Pure love. But I can hardly look at the photo now without tearing up. When I took that picture I was crying. When I took that picture I was unsure if that was the last photo I would ever have of those two boys together. Smile, Sweetie ‘click’, and then we headed out to the door to the closest emergency room.
My baby was sick.
When Liam was born my husband and I were totally prepared. This was baby number three and we were full of the arrogance—earned arrogance—of parents who had done this before. We pretty much had the after labor pizza ordered before I was even done pushing.
Head…breath…shoulders…breath…tush, legs, feet…Voila! The doctor barely arrived in time to catch the baby.
Liam came out wide awake and had that familiar what-the-hell-is-going-on look that all babies have after they emerge from the warmth of the womb. At almost ten pounds he was the largest of my three, but only by a couple of ounces, and he snuggled into my breast immediately and nursed with ease. The next day we all went home, prepared to find our new center as a family of five.
We didn’t know what lay ahead. We didn’t know that five days later we would be speeding down the freeway with tears on our cheeks.
As they loaded Liam into the ambulance I remember thinking how silly it all was. We could drive him. Why all the fuss. And then I realized the sirens were on. We weren’t just going to the hospital with the special unit, we were going with haste, like there was no time to lose, like it was a matter of life or death.
When you arrive at a busy children’s hospital emergency room in an ambulance with a five-day old baby in distress you get pushed to the front of the line ahead of the six-year olds with pneumonia and the three-year olds with high fevers.
I didn’t t have time to worry about them. This was about my baby, my baby who was now in a coma.
As I adjusted to the frenetic energy of the ER the doctors took Liam from my arms. They stuck needles in his back. He didn’t wince. He was silent. He was limp.
If you had asked before all this happened if I could be kept from my baby I would have said something about my cold dead hands and joked about the doctors and nurses needing to restrain me. But the reality was I was weak. The nurses directed me to a cold stool in the corner of the room. I was still bleeding from giving birth and I hadn’t slept in days. They force-fed me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and gave me juice. “You need to stay fed and hydrated. You need to pump. This is what you can do for your baby. Let the doctors work.” They weren’t being cold or dismissive. They were protecting my child by protecting me. My husband held my hand. No one fed him. Only the lactating seemed to get any attention.
I thought of his last photo, the one with his brother. Was that all I would have? Was that all my children would know of their baby brother?
I was angry and sad and full of the urge to fight, but I was weaponless. Whatever was wrong with my baby was part of him. Not even the doctors could give us answers. We were relegated to the wait and see plan. All week long we scrutinized monitors, reacted to alarms, watched as nurses struggled to find new places to take blood from Liam’s tiny body. We measured everything that went in and everything that came out. We saw countless specialists who each had a theory, though none of them had proof of anything.
We waited. We watched.
It took two years to find an actual diagnosis but by then he was strong and growing and whatever label they wanted to attach to him hardly mattered anymore. He was and is our alert and beautiful boy. And we have lots and lots of pictures of his amazing life so far.
Happy 6th birthday, my dear Liam.
K.M. (Kelly) O’Sullivan, the Slightly Askew Woman, is a writer, blogger, and unapologetic feminist mother living in the Midwest with her husband, their three boys, and the cats. Kelly writes about parenting, politics, feminism, body image, equality, sexism, and more. Read more from Kelly at www.kmosullivan.com and connect with her on Facebook (www.fb.com/SlightlyAskewWoman) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KellyMOSullivan).