There is a popular story in the Bible about David and Goliath. Even those who are not church-goers may have heard of this epic underdog story. It goes like this. There are two armies facing off against each other: The Philistines and the Israelites. Each takes up camp on opposite sides of a steep valley. The Philistines have a major bully on their side named Goliath who came out everyday for 40 days to mock the Israelites and challenge them to a fight to the death. Now Goliath was a giant of a man. 9 foot 9 inches tall in fact. Everyone feared him. The whole Israelite army, even the tallest man from the Israelite camp (who by the way was the King of Israel, named Saul) was scared of the giant Philistine. Well, actually, not everyone was fearful. There was a boy, named David, who wasn’t afraid of Goliath so after some persuading, David convinced King Saul to let him fight Goliath.
Picture this: there is Goliath. A surly giant. A champion. A man who wears a full set of armour with all of its accoutrement including a helmet, chest plate, and even protection for his legs ---- all of which weighed an incredible amount. He bears a javelin on his back, a spear and sword in hand. On the other side is a young man named David, wearing a tunic equipped with a sling and some rocks he found in a stream. They try to fit David with a helmet, some armour and a sword but he found it too cumbersome. So...David brought a sling to a sword fight!
Goliath wasn’t one of those men who would take pity on a boy who was in way over his head. Nope, Goliath was infuriated that David was just a boy and had been sent to fight him. So Goliath went in for the kill. Young David ran to the battle line, grabbed out a smooth stone from his bag, put it in his sling and skillfully swung it around and released it at just the right time so the rock went whizzing toward Goliath and cracked him in the forehead. The stone had found a place where the armour could not protect. Face first, Goliath fell to the ground. David ran up and used Goliath’s own sword to cut off his head to claim victory.
This story was my motivation for my son. We would face what would seem like insurmountable odds, giant-sized obstacles and Goliath-like moments but we had a tiny warrior who needed to meet all these hurdles at the battle line where he could find victory over the NICU.
Something that you might be surprised to learn is that my husband, Reuben, and I are were not quick to name our boys. Mya and Kiana were named at birth. Joshua took a while and the same could be said of baby number 4. To be fair, we didn’t know whether we were having a boy or a girl ahead of time and we also thought we would have more time to come to an agreement. So after he was born, he remained Baby Onyango in bed 4 for quite a while. Following many days of discussion we named him David, after David and Goliath. We knew he had a big battle that God was going to help him win.
By November 4th, I had been discharged from the hospital and my parents had arrived with three smiling faces I'd been dying to see: Mya, Kiana and Joshua. The hugs and kisses were the best part of a very long few days. We visited David and the kids were shocked at his size. Josh wanted David to come home with us. All of the kids were excited to see him and evidently had already fallen in love with their new brother. Having all the kids in the same room warmed my heart. Yet, there were trials in those days. We juggled getting the kids in to see their brother with finding time for parent-only visits with David. Our three older children spent an inordinate amount of time on couches in the family lounge outside the NICU. We did our best with an impossible situation.
When you become a parent there is no handbook. Everything is trial and error, learning from others, and doing your best. On a good day, parenting is hard. There is no preparation for parenting through trauma. I don’t know if we made parenting mistakes during those days. We took our children into see their critically ill brother when the NICU was so busy that it overwhelmed them. There were times when we were visibly nervous which made the kids upset. We cried in the family lounge in front of our kids and strangers. Cry might be a euphemism for falling apart. Our sadness was met with the knowing eyes of other NICU families and it made me realize we weren't the first nor would we be the last to buckle under the ceaseless pressure.
One day before shift change this pressure became overwhelming. We had a Goliath moment. It happened when we met with a doctor who had the bedside manner of a post. She said, "Are you aware of what kind of child you may be taking home? You need to know because I don't have to take him home. The nurses don't have to take him home. You do." She went on to explain some possible problems we may face. She then listed all his disadvantages in this exact manner: "Born at 24 weeks - disadvantage. Small at birth - disadvantage. Problems with blood pressure, blood sugar and respiration - disadvantage. Being born with an infection - disadvantage. His only advantage is that he's half black."
I wanted to laugh at her measly advantage. Instead, I cried. Reuben and I escaped for a snack. I said, "That's the only advantage? She doesn't know us. She doesn't know our family and how we can get through this. She doesn't know we believe in a God who performs miracles." Reuben said he was thinking the same thing, "We have made our decisions. We aren't going to just call it quits. She needs to do her job and let God do His."
On November 6th we were confronted with another Goliath in our story: the distance of our hometown from the hospital. Logistically, we could only have one parent living near the hospital as the kids were in school and Reuben was working. This meant that when Reuben came to visit with the kids we had shorter visits with David because when you have a 3 year old boy accompanying you into a NICU, he can only remain quiet for so long!
It also meant that we visited David separately a lot. And it meant goodbyes. On this day, I said my goodbyes which started out well until I began to cry. Mya and Kiana then followed suit. I think I kissed and hugged my kids more that weekend than in their entire lives up to that point. That's sad. I promised myself I was going to hug and kiss them way more. It's so worth it.
Saying goodbye to Reuben was equally as hard. I cannot imagine how excruciating it was for him to leave us behind. Having one of the sickest babies in a place for sick babies is tough as it is but to be so far away must have been torture.
I felt truly blessed to be the one who got to stay and watch our son grow. It was hard though too, and it had its drawbacks. I often felt alone. I would walk to and from the hospital in the rain by myself. I’d have most meals by myself. My lodging was quite dreary. I also felt scared. Scared that things would take a nosedive. That the other shoe would drop. You never fully get used to the machines and the repetitive sounds they make. You feel bizarre looking at a flashing and beeping screen just willing the number to go up or down, pleading with your eyes as if you have some control over it. I also felt guilty. Guilty that I got to stay at the hospital when my husband was only getting updates by phone. Guilty that my other three kids were at home without their mom. Yet, I think if you knew me during that time you wouldn’t have described me in any of those ways. I think you would have said I was hopeful. Sometimes guardedly so but optimistic nonetheless. At least that’s what stood out to me when I read back through my journal. There were a lot of Goliath like moments during our stay but I had my David and he was going to prevail.