Over the last few months, I’ve written three posts that chronicle how we have been coping with all the unwanted changes in our life brought on by the war in Ukraine. While these months have been difficult, the overall tone of my writing is positive. In fact, my husband thinks that the second of those three posts is the most inspiring thing I’ve ever written. But today I want to start to tell the other side of the story. Yes, I firmly believe we are going to make it, and I know we have a future and a hope, but that doesn’t mean the here and now isn’t agonizing.
I have always suspected that children are far more resilient than most adults give them credit for. My experience of navigating early tragedy supported this theory (my mom died when I was 5), and now I’ve had a chance to observe my own children coping with loss and grave difficulty.
Our life was a beautiful dream. Every time I walked the streets around the converted old mansion that housed our apartment in downtown Kyiv, I found myself thanking God that we got to live in this charming district, filled with historic buildings and dotted with trendy cafes, interesting restaurants, and all sorts of shops. We had a close-knit church family who all lived within walking distance and a wider community of friends who were in and out of our home on a regular basis. To top it all off, our new landlords had told us that we could stay in their apartment for at least 5 years, and we planned to do precisely that. We had moved 14 times since getting married 18 years earlier, and now, we were finally settled. I couldn’t have been more pleased or content.
Someone recently asked me why I’d stopped writing. In light of what has been happening in Ukraine, the country that I’ve called home for almost two decades, I had trouble comprehending why an explanation was even necessary. But since I didn’t want to embarrass my friend by stating what felt painfully obvious to me (“…my life turned completely upside down on February 24, 2022, and I’m still trying to figure out which way is up…”), I just said (truthfully) that I’d been really busy.
Relationships give life meaning. The relationships we build with our children can enrich us in ways that no other relationships do. I am experiencing this on several different levels with my preschool-through-teenage children. And while I don’t have any grown children, I’ve witnessed first-hand just how rich the parent-child relationship can be after the child grows into adulthood. In my opinion, one of the most fulfilling aspects of parenting is getting to know your children.
Back when our eldest was our only child, I didn’t realize just how early a child’s personality begins to manifest. Because I didn’t expect to be able to get to know my baby’s personality until he could at least speak, I don’t think I paid too much attention to behaviors that could have given me a clue that Samuel was a methodical, logical, and analytical person. I just accepted all his behaviors as normal for a child of his age—that is, until his little brother came along when Samuel was 22 months old. That’s when I realized that even babies have personality traits.
I recently read an article about falling birth rates. The author cited many factors that keep modern people from wanting to have as many children as past generations, and one common reason is that prospective parents just don’t “feel ready.” In fact, the author went on to share a statistic that for a growing number of couples, the only reason they had a child was because of an unplanned pregnancy.
While my husband and I are obviously not part of this modern trend towards having fewer children or having no children at all, we still wrestled with uncertainty and fears before starting to have children.
Years ago, when my 13-year-old was only 3, I was trying to get him to pick up his toys, and he was ignoring me. Or maybe he was just getting distracted. Or it could have been a little bit of both. I didn’t really know. Finally, exasperated, I said in the sternest voice I could muster, “Come here, young man!”
We had a very encouraging sign on Andrew’s second day in the NICU, which was his fourth day on intravenous antibiotics. On that day, he finally opened his eyes! Seeing his sweet brown eyes for the very first time moved me almost to tears. He was eight days old.
That first day at the new hospital was physically exhausting. The most walking I had done since giving birth six days earlier was to go from our car in the hospital parking lot to the NICU after Andrew was transferred, and even that had felt like a stretch. But that was only the beginning.
Because Andrew was so weak and lethargic, the hospital set me up with an electric pump and had me express milk to feed him from a bottle. Sometime during that first day or night, one of the monitors in the room started beeping loudly, and within seconds, a nurse appeared in the doorway and said that the baby’s blood oxygen level had dropped too low and told me to rouse him.