Care for tiny ones

Throughout my career as a pastor, I met a few new babies in the hospital. When my timing was just right, I could stop by to visit a new baby and the parents before they headed home with their lives forever changed by the miracle of birth. In the small town where we lived serving our first congregations as ordained pastors the common practice was for the new mother and infant to stay in the hospital one or two nightspot rest after the birth. The hospital served a nice dinner for the parents on the eve of discharge. Because it was a small town, news traveled quickly and often I had the opportunity to stop by and visit the new family. Sometimes I got to hold that brand new baby. Throughout my career, hospital stays for a birth without complications shortened. Before long most of the time mother and baby were home before news of the birth reached me. Because the practice of infant baptism is common in the congregations I served, I got to meet a lot of the new babies early in their lives, however, and I was trusted to hold a lot of them during the sacrament.

Occasionally, I would be summoned to the hospital when there were complications with a birth. Sometimes there was concern that the tiny one might not survive. Sometimes the parents wanted to have the infant baptized right away. Believing that the sacraments do not belong to me as a pastor, but rather are signs of God’s grace, I made it a practice to never refuse a baptism. When asked, I performed the ritual. Sometimes the stories had very happy endings and we were able to plan a public prayer service to celebrate the birth in church at a later date.

Early in my career I served as a North Dakota Emergency Care Technician and volunteer driver for our community’s ambulance. Once we were summoned to transport an infant in respiratory distress to a higher level of care in a hospital 150 miles from our town. When we backed the ambulance into the bay at the hospital, everyone was waiting. The doctor climbed into the ambulance with the tiny one. They had quite a bit of equipment on board as well. I had imagined that we would be driving fast, with lights and siren going all of the way. We were capable of making the trip in a couple of hours. However, there were several times when we were asked to stop completely so that the doctor, nurse and EMT could provide care. It was a rather long trip and everyone was very tired when we finally got to the city hospital. The infant, however, survived the trip and received the care necessary.

I had been a pastor for about a decade and had participated in the baptism of dozens of infants when I was summoned to St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho. St. Lukes had a Pediatric Critical Care Unit and was able to provide advanced care for infants who had a wide range of health challenges and problems. The particular case to which I was summoned was a tiny baby, born much earlier than full term with a mother who was herself not very old. The family had not participated in our congregation, but had asked for a Congregational minister and I was the first one the hospital staff could reach. I met the family in a waiting room not far from the Intensive Care Unit. We visited briefly. They had been told that the next 24 hours were critical and that after that it might be weeks of hospitalization before the baby could be taken home. I was briefed by a nurse as I scrubbed up to be gowned to enter the PICU. The nurse asked about the vial of water that I had with me. I assured her that I would be able to use any water and that I needed just a few drops. She suggested that she would supply the water for the baptism. We baptized the tiny one with the nurse and I standing next to the isolette and the grandmother behind me. The mother was not present. My strongest memory of the event was of how tiny the baby was and how complex the various monitors, iv lines, and other equipment was. I was allowed to touch the forehead of the infant without a glove on my right hand for the baptism, but our time was limited and we soon were back in the waiting room.

Some weeks later the family brought the infant to my office for me to meet properly. They also brought a small slip of paper with a footprint of the baby and the date of birth. That footprint was so tiny, even smaller than the foot of the weeks-old baby they brought to meet me. We marveled at the growth that had already taken place.

For the rest of my professional career and long after I had lots track of that family, that paper was under the transparent blotter on my desk. I would look at the tiny footprint, smaller than my thumbprint, and marvel at the miracle of birth and the incredible power of scientific medicine to provide the nurture and support that that baby had required.

Towards the end of my career I became friends with a Doctor who is a neonatologist who provides care in our hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. One evening he was making a presentation at our church and he recognized a family whose child had been in the icu for a period of time after he was born. The child was now a lively elementary school student with thriving health. I was heartened by the warm exchange between doctor and patient and the entire family. They definitely had a bond forged in crisis. They were aware of the miracle they had witnessed.

Gracious God, we give you our thanks for the dedicated people who work to provide care for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community. And we thank you for the decades of care and learning that have provided the knowledge and experience to provide that care. Bless all of the doctors and nurses who work in Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Units. Thank you for their vocation and calling. Thank you for their dedication and care. Thank you for your presence in their workplace every day.

Bless the children. Bless the families. Bless the caregivers. We pray in awe of your power and creativity. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!