A Perfect Pairing

June 8, 2010
Jennifer Frank, MD

As I was leaving the hospital today after discharging a newborn home with her 18-year-old mother, I worried over them. Would this young, new mom be capable of providing all of the material, emotional, and physical care her new daughter would need? I then remembered another baby that seemed poorly matched with his parents and how I was proven wrong.

As I was leaving the hospital today after discharging a newborn home with her 18-year-old mother, I worried over them. Would this young, new mom be capable of providing all of the material, emotional, and physical care her new daughter would need? I then remembered another baby that seemed poorly matched with his parents and how I was proven wrong.

A few years ago, I delivered a little boy who ended up having a rocky postnatal course. He had several abnormal physical features, underdeveloped lungs, a head that was too large, bone abnormalities, and developmental problems. He had some sort of as-yet unknown and unnamed syndrome. His parents were young, poor, and uneducated. I doubt they understood much of the technical medical jargon that was thrown at them from all directions. They faithfully brought him to the geneticist, the developmental pediatrician, the neurologist, the pediatric orthopedic surgeon, and their family doctor.

For some reason, this little guy captured my heart. He was so innocent and vulnerable. His features were delicate and his developmental delay meant that he acted like a newborn much longer than he should have. He was, and I don’t use this term lightly, angelic. I felt overwhelmed with the strains on this family, who often had to balance the need for gas versus the need for food. I wondered what God was doing placing a baby with such weighty demands with parents who were themselves so needy.

As the months passed, my tiny patient failed to grow or develop normally and all of the specialists had no answers or solutions. I gently probed his parents. How were they doing with this? Were they able to reconcile the future they had pictured for him with the future that now appeared inevitable?

During one of these visits, watching his mother care for him, stroke his head, gently cradle him, I realized with shame that my little patient was absolutely in the right family. And here, I have to be careful that I describe it correctly – not with haughty arrogance but with the right blend of awe and humility that I experienced that day.

See, if he was my son, I would have been able to provide so much for him in terms of medical evaluation and treatment, family support, therapists, and the like. However, I also would have been disappointed in his disabilities, endlessly worried about what the next week, month, or year would hold for him. His mother loved him perfectly. She accepted him and his limitations as one whole and complete package. She didn’t worry about his future, possibly because she had developed the habit of living in the present that continually eludes me.

As they got ready to go home that day, I was reassured that he was perfectly paired with the right parents.