Wednesday, June 09, 2010
My name is Gretchen Brooke -- Chapter one in my life story
This is chapter one in my life story, which I'm linking up at Mommy's Piggy Tales, where we're writing 15 parts to our story.
As I began to think about how to write this first chapter of my life, I was overcome with sadness thinking about my mom. Looking at the tiny pictures of frail, newborn Gretchen makes my heart long for and hurt for my mother. I was a baby my parents waited and waited and prayed for, and yet when I finally came, there was sorrow mixed with the joy. Let me tell you what happened.
My mom and dad prayed for a child for 7 years of their marriage, and the Lord answered their prayers by giving them my brother, through adoption. When he was only 9 months old, my mom found out she was pregnant with me! Here is a picture of her pregnant with me and posed with my brother Nathan and Aunt Pat. From what mom told me, her first pregnancy was fairly easy, though coffee made her a bit nauseous (I know because it made me sick with Susie, and Mom told me how she once had to turn away from a coffee commercial!). I arrived exactly a month before my due date, after 30-some hours of labor (in the midst of Pete Rose's hitting streak in 1978, my dad has told me). The pages and pages of paper documenting Mom's contractions my dad referred to as "wallpaper for the baby's room" because there were so many! Finally, the doctor did a c-section, and I was born, 6 lbs, 2 ounces (amazingly, my daughter Susie was 6 lbs 2.7 ounces!!).
I'm not sure how quickly my condition was discovered, but pretty soon they could see I was born with a congenital heart defect -- a narrowing and lengthening of the aortic valve, and I was struggling for life. At 4 days, I underwent open heart surgery -- a clipping and mending of the valve, something that is almost never done anymore. As a child my mom told me stories about the tiny baby I was, fighting for life. The nurses called me "spider monkey" because I was long and skinny -- and spirited. They had to tie down my hands so I didn't pull the needles out of my head, and I would kick and kick and kick the one leg that was free -- dressed only in a diaper and one sock. Oh, I am so thankful I have these memories of Mom telling me these stories! How frightened my poor mother must have been! I can only imagine the fear related to watching your tiny baby go through something that drastic. On this day last year, my sister in law went through something similar as her newborn had exploratory brain surgery. I spent the day clutching my newborn Susie and praying through my tears, my mind fathoming how Kari could be feeling for her child to have such a surgery. That was my taste of my mom's experience -- not the same, I know, but even that close was incredibly intense!
I chose one of my favorite pictures of my mom holding me to post on here. Because of the situation surrounding my birth, there are very few pictures of me as a newborn, and even fewer of my mom with me. But this picture is dated 8-1-1978, which would have been the day after my surgery. Mom is feeding me a bottle, but I know she was a dedicated nurser, so I imagine this was breastmilk that she had pumped (though I'm not sure). How glad she must have been to be able to hold her new baby! She herself would have been recovering from her surgery (I know how that felt!), and probably dealing with the hormones and the real emotions as well.
Though I can't quite relate with the depth of her experience, I can relate with some of how she felt -- she was 31 when she had me, and I was about to turn 31 when I had Sus. She had been married for over 8 years, and I celebrated my 8th anniversary in the hospital with a newborn in my arms. She had prayed for a child, and I did the same, for many years. I know how much my mother cherished her children, and I feel the exact same way about my wee girl.
My parents chose the name Gretchen Brooke for me (and my last name was Benzing -- amazingly enough, my pediatric cardiologist was named George Benzing! We were distant relatives). If I were a boy, I would have been Nicholas (they kept that name on deck for the next 3 girls as well, but never got the chance to use it!). Gretchen was chosen because I have an ancestor in Germany whose name was Margretta, and Gretchen is a form of that name. I think my mom must have just liked it. Brooke was after a dear friend of my mother's, Brooke Riddle. She had taught in public school with Mom, and was a godly Christian woman who knew how to open her home and make everyone feel right at home. Mom made sure I knew why I was named after Brooke -- she did have an extraordinary gift for hospitality. . . and still does to this day! I always loved Brooke Riddle, and loved my name as well.
The last picture I'm sharing is of the day I finally came home from the hospital. I'm laying my Aunt Sandy's lap, and my Aunt Kay is sitting on the couch next to her, holding my cousin Rachel. I just love the way Mom is crouching by the couch talking to Sandy about me. It reminds me of those early days with Sus, and sitting on the couch with my sister Abby, enjoying the tiny newborn in every possible aspect!
I received excellent care at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and continued to have good reports from Dr. Benzing throughout my life. My heart defect never slowed me down participating in sports in childhood, or in my adult life, carrying a baby to term and going through labor. What a mighty God we serve who can not only heal a frail tiny baby, but strengthen the hearts of their parents to trust in Him as they helplessly stand by and watch. I saw this last year with my nephew Sawyer, and know it was true for my parents as well.