The Heartache of a Sick Baby’s First Christmas

There Would Be No Diagnosis Before Baby’s First Christmas

The December days were quickly disappearing. I’d gone for 76 hours with only five hours of sleep. It was my second baby’s first Christmas, and I couldn’t find anything to lift my spirits. Christmas had always been my favorite time of the year, but this year I was too broke and too exhausted to find my Christmas spirit.

christmas-1978 Baby's First Christmas
Baby’s First Christmas – Fever Topping 105 Degrees

Our baby boy, Billy, had just returned home from another trip to the Emergency Room in Des Moines, IA.

These emergencies were happening nearly every week. I couldn’t help but chastise myself for not seeing any symptoms before we’d suddenly notice Billy’s cheeks were red and his eyes were rolling up in his head as he’d finally collapse.

It was winter, and yet we put him down for naps with only a diaper and light weight shirt. We lived in fear that his temperature would spike while he was sleeping.

Guardian Angel, Where Are You?

I always told myself my Guardian Angel was napping when I suffered abuse as a child. Was my son’s Guardian Angel napping during “Baby’s First Christmas” too?

Our oldest son, TR, felt abandoned since the arrival of the baby. The newest addition to the family was sick almost constantly.

My son’s doctors would scratch their chins and tell us, “Well, we know it’s not Roseola, but we haven’t figured out yet what’s going on here.”

What mattered to my two-year-old was that no one had time to play with him now. No matter how hard I tried to give them both the attention they needed, my feelings of guilt grew larger each day.

We were either taking care of the baby or so exhausted we collapsed on the sofa if there was a moment to spare.

Far too many days, I’d watch as TR quietly put on his coat and went outside to play in the snow with the neighbor kids. My oldest child seemed to sense that his brother’s needs were greater than his own. He was two going on twelve.

Could things get any worse?

What a mess our lives had become. When we’d moved to Des Moines, the kid’s dad had a great job.

The problems surfaced when the original owner retired, and his son-in-law took over the business. Profits began to crash on a monthly basis. I have to give them some credit for what they did that Christmas. Instead of firing people, they started a process of methodically cutting wages for everyone. The country had dipped into a recession, and people everywhere were losing jobs. At least we were working.

On fall weekends, I managed to get some extra income by putting out a “Garage Sale” on Douglas Avenue when Billy went down for his nap. For roughly two hours, I sold off all my childhood memories, family antiques, and precious wedding gifts. The money I collected mostly covered food for all of us.

There were far too many nights when I’d lie and tell my husband I wasn’t hungry as I placed food in front of the children and him. I couldn’t bring myself to admit there wasn’t enough food to go around. No one noticed I was exhausted and undernourished. How much longer could I keep going?

The Baby Is Sick And No One Can Help Us!

Will Baby’s First Christmas Be His Last Because the Angels Are Sleeping?

Billy was born two months premature. The first time they handed him to me, I held him in one hand; he was so tiny. It was a struggle to get him to take the bottle.

He would drink about two ounces of formula, but he kept falling asleep. It took a full two hours to get a measly two ounces down him; he’d sleep another two hours and then wake, screaming from hunger. One hour cat naps were my schedule 24-7.

I’d taken the required six weeks off after he was born, but eight months later, I was caving in from being a mother and the Executive Secretary to the Manager of Bellas Hess Department Stores in Des Moines.

There’s Something Wrong!

By summer, the baby suddenly spiked high fevers and had numerous ear infections. We found ourselves in the emergency room at least once each week. I know how many of you feel who struggle with inferior or no insurance. We struggled with inadequate coverage and mounting bills we couldn’t pay. Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines didn’t turn us away, but they worked to collect what we owed them.

All I could think of were my grandmother’s words about never “Going on the dole” during the depression. She made a fly spray on her kitchen stove and drove around the countryside, selling it to farmers rather than to go on the dole.

We qualified for food stamps and other assistance, but It wasn’t an option for me. The bills continued to climb.

Preparing for Christmas

My mom came to visit for Thanksgiving, and she brought a bag of Christmas bows and a roll of wrapping paper. There were no presents under the tree. I’d tossed a few bows on the tree skirt to look festive, but I wondered if I’d be able to get any presents to be able to use them.

It was impossible not to laugh when I saw Billy pull some bows out from under the tree. He giggled as he began to play with them.

I just couldn’t give up on my dream to have a great Christmas with the boys.

Two days before Christmas I received my paycheck. Our combined incomes covered the house payment, utilities, and a limited amount of food. This year we were given a $25 Christmas bonus and a turkey. I was determined to find a way to give the boys a grand Christmas. When I clocked out at 5 PM, I began shopping my employer’s (Bellas Hess Department Store) aisles.

Everything in the toy department was too expensive. The boys didn’t need clothes. I could still cut up old donated clothing and make their outfits as they outgrew things.

The Cheapest Gifts in the Store

It’s funny how I remember passing the party aisle twice that day. The third time I turned and walked down the row. That’s when I spotted the party favors. There were bags of little cars that looked like hot wheels, and novelty toys galore for children’s birthday parties. My $25 purchased a huggable teddy bear for the baby and a total of 50 individually wrapped trinkets for TR. Looking back, I still think that was TR’s best Christmas.

He wasn’t old enough to understand how inexpensive all his gifts were. All he cared about was the fact that he was busy for over an hour unwrapping one gift at a time. Each of those party favor bags held between 5 and 12 toys, and we wrapped each toy individually.

After the boys had been in bed that Christmas night, I sat looking at the old nativity set in the corner and offered up a prayer.

A Christmas Prayer

I remembered one of the bible quotes we memorized in Sunday School.

Hadn’t God promised to give all of us rest when we labor and our burden is so heavy we can’t stand up straight? That’s what I learned as a kid.

I didn’t even take my clothes off that night. My body collapsed on the bed. I knew I’d hear the baby’s cry within an hour. That meant I’d spend another two hours coaxing my precious baby to drink some formula before the process became so exhausting he’d fall asleep again.

I began to pray:

Lord, I’m so tired I can’t even think of the words the Minister uses on Sunday that sound so good. I’m exhausted, and I need some rest. You gave us these precious children, and I just can’t believe you want to take the baby back. If I’m supposed to learn a lesson here, then make me the one who’s sick, not Billy.

A tear slipped down my cheek.

TR needs more of my time, but between the job, the house, and the baby, I can’t seem to find more than a few minutes each day to devote to him. Please give me more hours so I can play with my first-born like I did the first two years of his life. I miss him so much!

Lord, Roger needs your help. The job was a dream job when we first came to Des Moines, but everything’s a nightmare now. The new owner is running the company into the ground. We need to move on. Can’t you find Roger another job that will pay enough so we can at least buy groceries?

A Prayer Interrupted

I heard the first stirrings from the baby’s room. Tonight would be another evening when I’d have no chance to catch some sleep. I quickly jumped out of bed and headed for Billy’s crib.

And Lord, I need you to do something to save my child. He’s going to die if they can’t figure out what’s wrong with him. I can’t take it when they tell me they don’t know whether he’ll make it to morning. You might as well tear my heart out rather than let them put that precious baby in ice to bring down his fever again in the hospital. What did I ever do that makes you want to punish me? I’m sorry if it seems like I’m whining and begging, but I need you to hear me this Christmas. I need solutions! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I picked up the screaming baby and held him close as I raced to the kitchen to get another bottle.

Answers to a Christmas Prayer

The Spirit of Christmas Was Alive For Baby’s First Christmas
My prayer may have been interrupted, but the answers were unmistakable:
  • I finally called the Minister the following spring to come to the house to talk to Roger. He was getting more and more depressed, but he seemed helpless to do anything about it. The minister prayed with us for nearly an hour. Finally, he looked up at Roger and asked, “Are you ready to ‘Let Go and Let God?’ Roger hesitated. The minister asked the question again. This time, Roger’s answer was “Yes!” Before his affirmation was complete, the phone rang. A former co-worker was on the line. She was calling to inform Roger of a job in Lakeville, Minnesota. Within a week, he had driven to Minnesota and interviewed for the job. A week later we received the call that he had the position.
Sometimes the answers are better than anything you can imagine:
  • The doctors diagnosed me with “Total physical exhaustion.” Until the move to Minnesota, I ended up hiring a neighbor to share my job with me. We took turns watching over our combined four children. Without the cost of child care, my take-home pay ended up being more than it was when I worked full-time. I was able to go to bed and not be hungry any longer.
We finally get the answers we need:
  • Within a week of moving into the new house in Lakeville, Minnesota, Billy had another massive attack. I rushed him to the closest medical facility and within a week we had our answer: Billy had “Bubble Baby Disease.” His highly compromised immune system caused his “attacks.” The new doc tested his bone marrow and determined we could do something to trigger his immune system. They began a regime of shots containing an increasing amount of bacteria each week. By the time Billy was five, his immune system had started working.

So, You See, My Christmas Prayers Found Answers The Year of My Baby’s First Christmas.

Some of the answers came a few months later, but they did come. It’s amazing to me how I continue to question things when so many prayers found answers throughout my life. Sometimes I need to understand that things don’t necessarily arrive in my time-frame. Have you felt like that?

May Your Christmas Be As Blessed As My Baby’s First Christmas!

Be Safe – Be Kind – Christmas Blessings, Pass it On!

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