Give Me a Child Or I Shall Die

by Nancy Grubbs

This is our story. It is true and it is definitely not the norm. We have lived through a time of God's grace and mercy despite difficult odds and our vast weaknesses and imperfections.

The VOICE whispered in my ear, "Go home, there's a message about a baby."

I had just left a client and was trying to decide whether to run errands or go home when this interior voice I could not ignore made the decision for me. As I entered my home the answering machine light was blinking and the message was from our social worker, she said she might have found a child for us. She would be out of the office until 2:00, I should call back then. I glanced at the clock as it digitally informed me I still had one hour to wait.

Like any panic stricken neurotic woman would do, I began housecleaning to try and take up the time. At 1:45 the "voice" said to call the social worker. I called and she breathlessly answered the phone, she had just walked into her office. Quickly she gave me the details: baby boy, oxygen-deprived, drug-exposed, Apgar score 1, and the birth parent history. We had been selected because we were Catholic. The birth mother and the 13 year old sibling of this little boy had chosen us to be his adoptive parents. The birth father was absent. After all the technical information I asked her if he had a name, no, he didn't. What did he look like? "Don't let this persuade you," she said, "but, he's beautiful." What color is his hair? "It's Red."

That's it, I said to myself, this is our child.

But my husband was not as sure. The child's medical condition was frightening. We had pursued a special needs adoption, but this child might have some severe problems. Most likely he would have cerebral palsy and possibly some kind of brain damage. Birth mom had been found by her roommate in a pool of blood from undetected placenta previa due to nonexistent pre-natal care. They had finally hailed a neighbor to race them to the hospital where the roommate insisted to the staff that this baby needed to come out right away.

He did. He was finally resuscitated on the fourth attempt. I was so grateful that I always prayed for the guardian angel of our special child to watch over him or her, wherever they were. The roommate must have been prompted by that angel at 3 am to go into her friends room. If she hadn't, they both might have died.

My husband is an incredible man, a cradle Catholic, born into a wonderful family. His life had been led in a very orderly fashion, setting and achieving carefully thought out goals in record time. That is, until he met me. Then his life took on an adventure-like quality as we came together and all the goals came apart.

Our faith experience began with my conversion into the Church as a former anti-Catholic evangelical Christian. I came into the Church with a multitude of questions and the assumption that I would simply convert for the sake of the future family we were sure to have. After all, that was next on my list after the marriage. But my list also became obsolete as God led me through the desert experience of infertility. For a control freak like me, it was the ultimate knee-bending experience. I was on my face at my Father's feet begging for mercy each day of that struggle.

And now we were having the opportunity to jump off another cliff and have faith that He would be there to catch us in His loving arms, and possibly lead us into another desert experience.

The decision was made for me by the color of the child's hair. I had always told my red-headed husband that if we ever had a red-haired child I would simply send it back. It was a joke between us and my husband always said that God would give us a red-haired child just because of my comments. Here was the child.

Then we found that he did have a name. His birth mother had named him Matthew James. Matthew, "Gift of the Lord". My husband still writhed with the decision.

We saw the pediatrician who had been present at the birth and she described what we would most likely see as the end result of this type of birth. He might never walk, she said. We talked to the neurologist who evaluated Matthew and he said we should keep him in foster care for a few months to observe how he was doing. He had spent 2 weeks in Neonatal Intensive Care and now he was in a loving foster home where he was doing extremely well. Still my husband waited for God to send the "sign," the two-by-four that would hit him between the eyes and tell him that this was or was not our child. David prayed for a white bird to land in the tree he had been staring out the window. He sat looking at the tree and waited. No bird. Our family prayed.

My husband's grandmother called from the east coast where they were vacationing. "What's going on back there," she asked. "I had a dream that Nancy was wearing a maternity blouse and was just beaming!"

Now it was time to go and see the child at the foster mother's home. We arrived and held this child. I couldn't give myself permission to fall in love with this child if my husband couldn't do the same. I gave Matthew to my husband and as he held him, Matthew lunged upwards, arms outstretched He was reaching for his daddy.

The next day the birth mother relinquished her rights. The birth father miraculously arrived in town and relinquished his rights. All the anxiety about the waiting period was over. They both gave extensive medical and personal histories.

The next day after that we came to take Matthew home. We of course made several stops along the way to show off our new son. The house was a very busy place for three weeks as friends and family came by to share our joy.

Matthew quickly adjusted to the routine and thrived to the point that we started calling him "moonface" because of the weight he was putting on. He lost all his red hair and he became a very chubby bald baby who would evoke comments from little old ladies like "He certainly doesn't miss a meal does he?"

Matthew went with me to the TV studios where he sat off camera while I was being interviewed for the local "pro-life position" on several abortion related issues affecting the nation at the time. He posed for a news show on embryo experimentation and was even recognized by his foster mom on the news despite his "altered" appearance.

Life went on and he developed pretty much on schedule. I know because I checked off every item in the developmental section of the baby books as they passed. At six months the neurologist and I breathed a sigh of relief and he shook his head as if he were in disbelief over the results. We were informed of a hearing loss after a nurse tracked us down through the system and wanted to update his hearing test. His birth test revealed a child who was almost deaf. This report never made it into the records we received and we would not have known if she had not doggedly searched for us. His new test revealed a mild to moderate loss and he was fitted for hearing aids which he promptly pulled out and stuck into his mouth.

About this time I began to get the "feeling" that there was another child on the way. I proceeded to empty my office in preparation of that child. I felt it would be a girl and was even searching for a bunk bed to put in the new child's room. I slowed my ministry work down to almost nothing and my business was on auto-pilot as I waited for the next turn of events.

It came in the hurried phone-call from another adoptive mom who was calling to see if we knew anyone who might be interested in two girls. Their grandparents were trying to place them in a Christian home. They had been severely neglected and the grandparents had them removed but couldn't care for them. Did we know anyone?

One week later 11 month old Kaera and two year old Rebecca arrived. Matthew was 7 months and was screaming all the time with what I thought was simple separation anxiety, so I held him or kept him in a sling sack. Kaera was in fear of what seemed like all life forms and had what we thought were damaged vocal cords from screaming. She screamed most of the time and the rest of the time she dismantled everything in her path. At 11 months she could take the child-proof locks off the doors and could climb anything. At 12 months she climbed out of her crib.

Rebecca looked and acted like a feral child. Her hair was a mass of uncontrollable curls surrounding a cherubic face which belied nothing of the character of the child beneath. She was an uncontrollable rage. She screamed and tantrummed her way through every day. She pushed every limit and broke every rule. She was exhausting all by herself.

Time passed, things settled down a bit. The girls were finally re-baptized after 18 months when the adoptions were finalized. They had originally been "baptized" over fire in a Wiccan ceremony as infants. They now fell in love with Jesus. The screaming stopped and the sibling rivalry began. We learned to work with these unique personalities and to appreciate God's plan in the types of children He chose for us.

We had received a prophecy about our son from a seminary student in Rome who we were helping to support. He had prayed to Our Lady and she had told him that Matthew was indeed a very special child and that he would need to be prayed for and fought for very hard. It's funny when you receive a gift of prophecy like that you often imagine something other than what God sees for you. I felt sure that Matthew would become a priest of God, a servant of the church.

Last year we learned that the praying and the fighting would be to find out what it was that Matthew suffered from and how to get the proper care. We thought it was the drug-exposure and the oxygen deprivation that made him scream so much. That he would eventually develop normal skills, just later. He finally crawled at thirteen months and then walked at eighteen months. Then we were led to Sensory Integration Disorder and we began extensive occupational therapy work hourly each day for months to help Matthew's senses perceive things in a more orderly fashion, and this helped a bit. We were led into the possibility of Pervasive Developmental Disorders and then Autism was diagnosed. We began intensive therapy and at 2 years of age he was in therapy 27 hours a week. As he neared three years old it became clear that there was more again to all of this. He was also retarded. He might never mentally age beyond 7 autistic years of age. He would probably never speak. The list went on. Each step God led us to with tenderness and mercy as He prepared the way for the new diagnosis. Each battle that needed to be fought we were armed with the necessary research and information to address the school system, the professionals and the myriad of other people who are involved in the life of a "special needs child."

Each day we look at this child, these children, and see what God has wrought through our desire to serve Him, to be obedient, to be open to life despite our weakness, our fear and our daily failures. Our children turn heads wherever they go they are so beautifully made and we can claim God's handiwork only and not our own. We are often told how patient we must be and we laugh because it is because of my lack of patience that God has placed so many opportunities to practice before us. People will say that we are special to be doing what we have done and we often feel lonely and very ordinary as we struggle to get through each day with little sleep due to Matthew's sleep disorder or struggle with envy as we look around us at all the families who don't know how blessed they are with such a "normal" family history.

But in our weakness, He strengthens us through the words and actions of others. He has surrounded us with much love and blessing and He has surrounded our children with His angels to protect and guide them. Our children's story is testimony to all of the preciousness of each child's life to our God and how intricately He works to perfect His plan despite free will and downturns Satan will use to try and ruin or destroy the soul of an innocent child.

When I went into pro-life work a few years back, I was very much on the philosophically anti-abortion end of the ministry. Today it means so much more as we have been privy to the much larger picture of the salvation of souls, and the day to day concerns of raising a child who may never be a "productive" member of our society. Yet how important these children were to God who so intricately wove unique circumstances for these children to come into in order to attain all that they could possibly attain in this life and prepare them for the next despite our own personal weaknesses. I see now that pro-life work starts at saving babies but saving souls is the real heart of the matter.

Thanks be to God

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