I want to thank you all for your kind wishes expressed here over the last week. It does mean a lot to us to know that so many people are thinking of us and praying for us.
Now, while all your thoughts and comments are welcome, I must admit I've been feeling a little weird while reading them.
What do I mean? Well, many of the comments we've received--not only on this blog, but through emails and in person--have expressed something along the lines of, "I'm sorry to hear the news. I know your heart must be breaking. Our family prayed for you, and we were weeping when we were doing it. We want you to know that we admire the strength you're showing, as we have no idea how we'd get through it if it happened to us...."
Again, these expressions of sympathy, and your prayers, are highly welcome. But the reason I feel so weird hearing these comments, is that Tonya and I aren't feeling particularly distraught.
And this is odd! I never would have expected that Tonya and I would have reacted the way we have, but we've had a very even-keel kind of week. We did a whole lot of Christmas stuff (Oh, Merry Belated Christmas, by the way), and otherwise took everything one day at a time (the way we said we were going to do), and we are actually doing well. Had you told us a week ago that we'd still be functioning after hearing this news--let alone that we'd be thriving--I would have thought you to be nuts. But here we are a week after first having heard the bad news, and the world has not ended, and we're still standing. We're even laughing from time to time.
It all feels so normal. What's going on?
Well, Tonya and I have been thinking about this quite a bit. Is it because the news hasn't really hit us yet? Is it because we just don't know what's in store for us?
Well, I don't actually think that's it. It may well be that we don't understand the pain that's waiting for us all too soon; after all, this has never happened to us before, and we don't know what to expect. However, I suspect that even if we did understand fully what's about to happen, we'd still be doing pretty well about now. Then what's going on?
I think a couple of things are going on. Here are a few, in no particular order.
For one, when you have a big thing on your mind, often times it tends to crowd out the little things. I like the way Tonya put it last Monday (shortly after we had gotten the preliminary diagnosis of Trisomy 13). She had been doing some Christmas shopping that morning, and said she was calmer, more serene, than pretty much every other Christmas shopper whose path she crossed. They were concerned about getting just the right present for everyone on the list, and getting done all the thousand little things that had to get done (and there's so little time left!) and getting that last parking spot!
And Tonya, who had spent the weekend contemplating something much more serious, didn't care one bit about that last parking spot. Lady, if you need it that badly, you're welcome to it with my blessing...
Somehow, when the health of your baby is at stake, everything else tends to fade into the background. Your mind gets refocused on the important things. And so much of what causes our day-to-day stress, in the grand sweep of the cosmos, are unimportant things. You let those unimportant things go, even when it's because of some kind of personal tragedy, and the stress tends to go with it.
So I think that's part of it. But another part of it is that those who haven't had these things happen to them really don't understand just how much strength they already have; you don't know until you're in a crisis what internal resources are available to you, or how you'd react.
A couple of years ago, my younger brother and his wife had a baby girl born with a severe chromosomal abnormality that took her life after nine days. I remember that during those nine days, I felt absolutely terrible for my brother and his family. I kept thinking about everything from the medical bills they were running up, to the parental dreams that must have been dashed when the extent of the deformities became known.
But now that this is happening to Tonya and me, my thought process is totally different: it's much closer to, "What do we have to do today?" It's practical stuff; it's "Here's the plan: we do X and Y now, and we're good. We'll worry about Z when we get there. You got the plan? Good! Let's go do it." Frankly, I felt worse when my little brother was the one with the crisis, than I do now that I'm the one with the crisis.
None of this is said to imply that we don't care about our littlest one. None of this is to say that we don't have grieving in our near future. But it goes back to what Jesus said about not borrowing trouble from tomorrow, because today has enough trouble as it is. Somehow, knowing that there's trouble down the road doesn't detract from the good that one can experience now, and it may in fact enhance it.
Another thought came to mind on this subject, regarding how we mere mortals experience "good" and "bad".
I've known a fair number of missionaries in my life, and nearly all of them that have spent time in Africa will tell you that the people of sub-Saharan Africa are some of the happiest people they have ever met--much more so than Americans. They come back from their travels absolutely astounded by how so many of these people, who have nothing--no goods, no medical care, no food, rags for clothes--still greet everyone they know with a hearty smile, still sing (out loud! In public!) whenever they feel like it, which is frequently.
Now, let such an African have what he considers to be a "good day." If you somehow were to capture all his experiences during the day, and then make a typical American go through exactly the same things, I suspect the American would declare it to be a very bad day. The African notes the fact that he ended the day with a full belly; the American notes the fact that there was no indoor plumbing, and that he had to drink fetid surface water that half the village had been bathing in.
What we consider to be "good" and "bad" (really, it should be "pleasant" and "unpleasant") depends a great deal on what our expectations are, and what we are accustomed to. One person can consider it a "bad" day when the soufflé falls in the oven; another considers it a "good" day when no armies come tromping through the grain field, and no relatives wind up summarily shot.
I suspect that people just naturally have an internal scale for measuring when a day is good or bad. The thing is, though, these scales can be re-calibrated by external events. If a person has way too many good days in a row, we cease to consider them good, and start to think of them as so-so; in order to get that good-day experience, we'd have to have a day that we would formerly have called spectacular. And this works the other way, too: if we have too many bad days in a row, we begin not to see them as particularly bad; they can become tolerable, even pleasant, as we become accustomed to them.
So where am I going with all this? Well, Tonya and I have been aware now for over a week that we're expecting a baby girl who probably won't live--and if she does live, she may never be conscious. So we had a couple of bad days there. Now what? Well, to borrow a term from finance, the news has now been discounted; to use my former metaphor, the scale has been recalibrated. The knowledge that would have produced a Bad Day a week ago now produces (by itself) merely a Normal Day, which can become a Good Day depeding on what other events occur.
That make sense?
One thing we haven't been doing is sitting around being miserable the whole time. Again, I like a point Tonya made recently: it's hard for a healthy person to stay depressed morning to evening, day after day. Unless someone is clinically depressed (and I mean that in the literal sense) or is intentionally focusing on and reinforcing the bad feelings (and I think a lot of this happens in pop psych therapy, by the way, but I won't go into that just here), we typically don't stay down for more than a day or three before something causes us to perk up and notice that the sky hasn't completely fallen. More likely is that we get recalibrated, then we start to shift from "Woe is Me!" to "What do I have to get done today?" and we move on.
Now, after saying all that, I want to let it be known that all this is speculation on my part, based on Tonya's and my current experiences. It may well be that we're just weird and that most other people handle things differently. We aren't that far into the whole world of Trisomy 13 and developmental abnormalities yet; we may well have some surprises in store for us. And there may be people reading this blog who are thinking, "this guy has no idea what he's talking about." They may be right! I certainly have no intention of offending anyone who is going through a genuinely tough time right now--I'm just throwing my own observations and speculations (given our current circumstances) up on a canvas for all to see. Take it for what it's worth.
For all those who've prayed for us to find strength, we again give you our hearty thanks. It may well be that we've handled everthing thus far as well as we have because God heard and granted your prayers.
It's just that I'm suspecting that God answered these prayers, in part, (cheesy metaphor alert!) by invoking some software that comes pre-installed in all of us, but which lies dormant most of the time. If you'd asked me two weeks ago how Tonya and I would have handled this crisis, I would have predicted we wouldn't have a clue, and I would have considered it a scary question. Now the answer is much more like, "Eh... the same way we handle anything else. Whatever."
And the thing is, I'm not saying this to brag; rather, I'm saying this because for everyone who's looking at our situation and saying, "I have no idea where you guys find the strength to get through the day," I strongly suspect that you have the same reserve of strength lurking somewhere in there, put there by the Creator. It's just waiting for the right crisis.
(Though I hope you'll forgive the term "the right crisis." And I pray that no one reading this ever has to go through our kind of crisis.)