Forty years ago this month, we were blessed with a Christmas miracle. A doctor in Des Moines had diagnosed our infant son, David, with hydrocephalus. Within a few days, we traveled to Iowa City for surgery to place a stint to drain the fluid.
However, when we saw the team there, they were able to more accurately diagnose David's condition as sagittal craniosynostosis, a birth defect where the sutures (or soft spots) close prematurely. It is corrected by surgically opening the skull, allowing the brain to grow normally.
It was 16 days before Christmas, we also had a two-year-old son, Benji, and Iowa City was two hours from where we lived. The surgery and recovery would take several days.
But this was what was needed to allow David to develop. I enlisted the help of our parents and friends to care for Benji and I packed what was needed for David and me. Before we left, a group of friends and leaders in our church came to our home, anointed David with oil and prayed over him. Although our church was not in the habit of doing this, I felt perfectly covered and uplifted by prayer.
My husband, Gary, took us to Iowa City, but he needed to work, so he returned to our home. This was years before a Ronald McDonald house was built. I lived for ten days in David's small room, sleeping in a chair beside his bed. David shared the room with two other infants.
Gary came for the day of surgery. I prayed the same nightly prayer that I prayed for each of my infants, "God, hold him in Your arms when he is absent from mine."
They placed our baby on a huge gurney and wheeled him away. We were allowed to walk with him only as far as the elevator. As they moved into the elevator, I spotted one pink foot peeking out from the expanse of green surgical sheets.
"His foot will be cold!" But the elevator doors were shutting, and David was out of reach. Gary held me as I sobbed.
The surgery lasted most of the day. We got occasional updates from the nurses on his floor. "He's out of surgery." "He lost too much blood. They're giving him a transfusion." And finally, "He's in recovery."
At last, he returned to his room and my arms. He smiled when he saw me and tugged at my blouse. But I was forbidden to comfort him by nursing. So, I held my baby, prayed for him, and sang him songs.
David and I spent 10 days in the hospital. We took long walks along the hallways in a stroller the hospital provided. I wrote notes in Christmas cards. And Gary and little Benji visited on the weekends.
David was fitted with a helmet to protect his skull. He would wear what we called his "hat" until he was four and the sutures closed. On December 19th, we headed home at last.
I had six days to bake, shop, decorate and prepare for Christmas. But with joy in my heart, I did only what was necessary. Having a successful surgery and full recovery of David was a gift for our entire family.
Forty-one years later, David is a strong healthy man, but I will always remember the Christmas God gave us a miracle.
Susan Lawrence taught elementary school for 33 years before hanging up her chalkboard to write and speak. She writes novels for both adults and middle grade children. Susan lives in Iowa with her husband and short-legged Lab, Molly. She has 3 children and 7 grandchildren who love to hear her stories.