Throughout my childhood I often asked my mother to tell me the story of the day I was born. A blizzard delayed the doctor’s arrival, I was a shoulder presentation, no surgeon was available to conduct a C-section, and so the doctor heroically delivered me by himself. He told my father that he doubted the baby would live, because he felt certain I’d inhaled amniotic fluid. One arm was broken as I was delivered; the other was paralyzed from nerve damage and had no movement at all.
On the third day following my birth, a nurse carried me into Mom’s hospital room, and just as she walked across the threshold, I lifted the paralyzed arm and placed it on my chest. Mom cried, the nurses cried, and a few years later whenever my mother told me this story I would smile smugly and feel special to have caused such a ruckus.
Traumatized by his wife’s ordeal, my dad refused to consider more children, and so I was raised an only child, something I’ve never minded except during one brief period of time when I was about six and asked my parents for a baby brother. That was just a passing whim, and I recovered from it quickly. I think I always knew that being an “only” had definite advantages, not the least of which was being the sole recipient of gifts purchased with Mom’s Christmas fund each year. Life was good.
I’ve always believed God has a purpose for each of our lives, or perhaps a number of purposes He desires us to fulfill over the course of a lifetime. I’ve been my mother’s primary caregiver since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the spring of 2004, and early on I was convinced that caring for her was a part of my life’s purpose. It wasn’t out of my own loyalty or emotion that I chose to become Mom’s caregiver; I simply felt an overwhelming conviction this was something I was meant to do.
Over ten years of caregiving, this sense of commitment faded, dimmed by daily routine and habit. But then came the morning of my 60th birthday when I made myself comfortable on Mom’s couch, coffee in hand, and said, “Tell me once more about the day I was born.” As I prompted her with the specifics of the story that many repetitions had made so familiar to me, I wondered for the first time what a “shoulder presentation” might be. I did an Internet search and found various sources that say a shoulder presentation (also called a transverse presentation) is always a C-section because it is nearly impossible to produce a live infant once labor begins and a shoulder presents.
This information brought an almost disturbing sense of humility, but the next thought was a startling realization that if my life had not been spared, my mother would now be alone in the world. It’s one thing to have a politely distant and spiritual impression that perhaps I was meant to be Mom’s caregiver, but somehow the realization that but for God’s grace I wouldn’t be here at all puts things in clearer perspective.
Perhaps my life was spared so I would be here to take care of my mother during her long journey through Alzheimer’s. Maybe this responsibility I’ve sometimes viewed as a temporary interruption in reaching goals of my own making has instead been one of the main purposes of my life. This is an important shift in perspective because it is protective for Mom; in short, it provides me a needed attitude adjustment.
Every birth is dramatic, everyone has a special story, and every life is precious. During the anonymity and tedium of ordinary days, we lose sight of the truth that our job assignments may have a higher purpose. Peace of mind accompanies the admission that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.