Last time I stressed abit about the initial delivery of our daughter and the shock of finding out that she’d be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a week. Naturally, this segued into a potent cocktail of conflicting attitudes.
On the one hand, Steph and I were both filled with the boundless joy we expected as new parents – even if it took almost twenty-four hours before Stephanie was actually allowed to go visit Lulabelle properly. On the other hand, there was so much anger, pain, and disappointment that came with it.
Stephanie got the worse end of it. Aside from the physical pain, she was plagued by the thought that she had done something wrong. If the pregnancy had gone perfectly up until delivery, then maybe she had made a mistake or an unwise choice at the last minute that doomed our baby.
This isn’t the case, of course. It was just one of those crazy things that happens sometimes.Twenty-four hours into her stay at the NICU, Lulabelle’s health improved dramatically. Her oxygen and respiratory rate were in good shape – even though she was occasionally breathing more rapidly than they would have liked – and her blood pressure was steadily coming up to a healthy level. The doctors were able to rule out a number of causes and now suspected that she got some kind of infection that caused the initial spike in heart rate. Where it came from was anybody’s guess and it’s definitely not the kind of thing you can blame somebody for.
Still, when things go wrong, it’s hard not to look for blame. I think this is probably how rage-believers are made. You’ve probably met one of these types before: they’re the cranky fake-atheists who rail against God and keep complaining about all the bad things He does. They nominally reject faith, but since they’re more concerned with character assassination than matters of theology, they’re basically affirming God’s existence every bit as much as a pastor.
Me, I don’t have the capacity to hate God or gods or any supernatural forces. It’s too much effort to both will myself to believe that one exists and hate it. No, I just like to project my disappointment out into the nebulous ether. It's an overwhelming sense of injustice against the universe as a whole.
Why is it that Steph and I had the disaster? We’re good people who want to be good parents. If there’s a Department of Tragic Life Events that doles out misery to couples each day, shouldn’t they be saving misfortune for the shitty people who are fine with being shitty parents? And how the hell are we going to pay for all of this? Our insurance isn’t that great and we make only a modest annual income.
So after looking at Lulabelle hanging out in her bassinet and wrapped up in medical tubing, wires, and probes, I felt an overwhelming sadness and anger boiling beneath the surface of my overwhelming pride and joy.
Funny thing about disasters, though. They tend to look a lot worse in isolation.
The first night after I trudged away from Lula’s room, I peeked across the hall at another baby’s room where a cluster of nurses stood frustrated and sour-faced around another infant patient. Between the beeping alarms, medical chatter, and overall dour atmosphere, it was clear this little one wasn’t doing too well. Certainly not as well as Lula.
A couple nights later, Lulabelle was thriving and thrashing, and the poor girl in the other room still seemed to be struggling. And anytime I felt like throwing a fit and moaning, “Why me?” at a cold and uncaring universe, I had to stop and remind myself: it’s not really that bad. Even though they eventually told us Lula would have to stay in the NICU for 14 days to run a comprehensive course of antibiotics, the bigger problem was simply that I’m impatient and didn’t want to wait that long for her to come home.
When you pull back and look at it in context, what really happened? Lula got a freak bug of some kind and some expert medical staff took proper and necessary precautions to make sure she was fit and healthy. Then she stayed in a sterile ward for a couple of weeks and got medicine. That’s… actually not really that bad. That's the definition of a success story, isn't it?
So maybe we got hit with an unexpected expense. Maybe I’m a little bit bitter because, through circumstances totally beyond my control, my insurance was actually switching over to a new plan right about in the middle of Lula’s treatment and I’m still totally confused about who’s covering it and how much. Maybe I’m just cranky that we even still have to deal with health insurance in general, since the system is so arbitrary and nonsensical. Maybe I’m just dreading that I have to go back to work because it feels like abandoning your newborn child for eleven hours a day to go hang out in an office forty-five miles away is a completely unnatural thing that human beings would never have thought to do in all of our existence until some genius decided that it’s what Americans wanted.
But how much do I really have to complain about? I have a healthy daughter and literally dozens of people worked tirelessly to make her healthy.
Nah, I’m still gonna complain. Just not right now. I've got a daughter to look after!
I do still catch myself feeling that the situation is unjust, but then I have to stop and think about it differently. Maybe the Department of Tragic Life Events knew that they had a quota for infections to give out on November 17, and they were trying to figure out how to do it with the least impact on the world. If they gave that infection to some shitty parent’s kid, then the shitty parent would probably just say, “Whatevs, I got places to be,” and they’d let the poor kid suffer and/or die. On the other hand, if they gave it to Lula, we’d do everything in our power to get her past it and move on. So maybe the Dept. of TLE did a good thing.
Maybe that’s the real answer, then. Why do bad things happen to good people? Because good people can turn them into good things.