On broken nests and babies

I’ve learned in the last couple weeks that babies are incredibly fragile. They’re also remarkably resilient.

Recently my niece Z fell off an ottoman onto the floor. The fall was less than 2 feet but her head struck the leg of a desk chair, and something about that impact jarred her little brain and sent a wave of panic and prayers rippling across our family. She had a seizure, started throwing up, then eventually went totally limp, her eyes open and fixed — catatonic.

It pains me to imagine the scene at my sister’s house as they frantically tried to revive her, as they choked out an address to 911 operators, as they cried and shouted and waited an eternity for help to arrive. My sister flew in a medivac helicopter with her baby girl to a nearby hospital, praying, crying, bargaining with God.

Within an hour of arriving, Z was better. She could focus on her parents and move her limbs. She eventually nursed to sleep and was discharged the following afternoon after round-the-clock tests and doctor consultations and many, many more prayers.

In the hour between my younger sister’s call to tell me about the accident, and my older sister’s call to tell me “She’s going to be OK,” I didn’t do much except pray. I tried not to imagine the worst, but that’s difficult to do in such a moment of uncertainty.

My mind kept drifting to a former colleague of Chris’s who lost his infant son a couple months ago. The tragedy had caused Chris and I to talk about such a grievous loss, and how — or if — we’d be able to go on living.

During that discussion I told Chris that I try hard to remind myself every day that Kostyn and Evan are not fully our kids, that God has merely placed them in our care until the time He calls them home. Every night I thank God for having been blessed with one more day with “my” boys.

I think when we lose a child we grieve for ourselves, for all the dreams we had and all the beauty of this world we wanted to show them. But the beauty of heaven is, without a doubt, infinitely more amazing than this place we call home. As a parent, our most basic prayers are for our kids to be happy and safe, free of pain and darkness and struggles. In that regard, a parent couldn't ask for anything more than for her child to be cradled in the hand of God.

And still we grieve, because Oh My God the pain, the loss, the broken dreams and unfulfilled potential.  At the time I said that the challenge, for all of us, is that we have to love God more ... more than we love ourselves, even more than we love our children. If we love God more than we love our children (which isn't as hard as it seems, when we realize they are of and from Him) then we are better prepared to “let go and let God.” And in the meantime, all we can do is cherish every second we have with them, not just go through the motions but really soak in their presence. Because they are only on loan to us. Their heavenly Father is their parent for eternity — and actually, we would have it no other way.

So went the discussion when it was all hypothetical. But when Z’s actual fate was hanging in the balance ... it was a lot harder to “let go and let God.”

A day after Z’s ordeal, a nest of baby birds came crashing down from its perch on our chimney onto our fireplace floor. We knew that a couple of Chimney Swifts had taken up residence in our chimney awhile ago, so when we heard one suddenly fluttering around near the fireplace floor we assumed he had fallen and needed to find his way back up to the nest.

Sure enough, by morning we didn’t hear him or see him anymore, so we figured once dawn broke the bird could see the chimney’s opening and made his way toward the light.

But just before noon, I opened the fireplace doors to see if there was any sign of the little fella, and that’s when I saw them -- three tiny nestlings, no bigger than my thumb, lying on the fireplace floor. Their nest lay in two pieces, and one baby bird’s neck was caught in the branches. Another was lying face-down in the soot, barely moving. A third one was trapped under the broken nest. An uncracked egg had rolled a few inches away.

It was a horrible scene and I instantly felt terrible for not having peeked into the fireplace sooner. All morning the boys and I had walked by, not noticing the struggle for life happening behind the small glass doors.

I spent the next hour frantically calling around trying to find someone who could tell me what to do. I didn’t know if I should touch them, move them, try to feed them? Where would I put them? What would I give them to eat? I finally got a wildlife rehabilitator on the phone who said she’d take them and “do her best” but that I needed to get them to her, in Hershey, about 45 minutes away. I told her how long they’d likely been there, struggling, and she said, “Come as soon as you can.”

So I got a small jewelry box (she told me to put them in the smallest box I could find) and lined it with tissues before gingerly scooping up the tiny birds and lying them next to one another. One gave a small chirp; another tried to lift its head but couldn’t manage it. The third barely moved. I placed the egg, about the size of my thumb nail, in the box as well.

I told Kostyn about our rescue plan and he wanted to see the little creatures we were saving. He was astounded at their size and so earnest in his desire to help. We sped off to Hershey, me and the boys and three baby birds, and I kept looking down at the box, its top slightly turned to allow fresh air to reach them. Every once in awhile I heard the faintest chirp and I’d smile outwardly and grimace inwardly, wondering if I was too late, if it had been too long. If the fall had been too far. If they were too young to make it without their mother.

I thought about my sister in the helicopter, unable to do anything but hold her baby girl’s hand as she was strapped down for the ride.

We made it there in record time but one of the birds was no longer moving, and I was sure the fragile egg would never open. I handed them over and asked if I could call in a few days to check on them. But my messages have gone unanswered, and I’m left to wonder about their fate.

I think part of me doesn’t want to know.

The hardest part of the ordeal was returning home and hearing the flutter of wings high up in the fireplace, as the mother undoubtedly returned for her babies. I know she couldn’t have saved them without our help, but still my heart breaks a little because I cannot tell her where they are. I can’t reassure her that they’re getting help, that this was their only chance. That I’m so, so sorry.

But she’s a bird, which means she exists more on instinct than emotion. Perhaps she feels the power of Life and God course through her wings in a way that gets muddled in humans by the voices in our heads and the distractions in our minds. Perhaps she doesn’t need my explanation at all.

So these are my recent lessons about the fragility and resiliency of life. Nests fall; babies fall. Lives change forever in ordinary moments. If we’re lucky, the very next moment includes a watchful eye. A caring hand. A helicopter. A prayer. Always, a prayer. Because these are not our babies, and these are not our birds. His hand is the unbreakable nest, the eternal cradle. Our goal is to get there one day, all of us. Just not yet.

Not yet.



Stacey said...


Tara said...

Oh my goodness, Robyn. In my crazy hormonal state, I'm bawling all over myself. This is beautiful and so so true.

Rachel said...

What a touching story! Thanks, Robyn for another great read.