Waiting for Navy’s Lips
Guest Post by Alicia Reisinger
Today I am honored to share this piece from my friend and former student, Alicia Reisinger. When I decided to try a guest blog series, Alicia was one of the first people I invited to contribute because she is a gifted communicator. Alicia knows story. She also knows what it is to wait.
And actually, over the course of this series, I’ve come to believe—as Alicia will tell you too—that we all wait. In one way or another. At some point in our life. It’s a part of the human experience.
What touches me about Alicia’s story though, about her time in the waiting room, is that she waits—not for her own benefit—but for her precious newborn Navy to be made whole. It’s one thing to wait on our own behalf, isn’t it? For our own answers or achievements or next stage of life. It’s one thing to wait for our own pain to end.
It’s an entirely different beast when you sit and wait and can but hold your helpless babe.
What also speaks to me about Alicia’s journey is the everlasting imprint that waiting makes on our soul.
Here’s her story in her own words…
I sit in a cheery room filled with beautiful women. Moms. Specifically young moms. The place smells roasty, and the air is filled with the murmur of conversation. I’ve grown to love these women and rely on them in a way that is new to me. I’ve never had a lot of female friends. One or two very special women have always been a part of my life, but not loads of beautiful, talented, courageous women. No. I’ve never had that. But there is an unexplainable comfort in their long hugs and even longer conversations.
But this morning I have forgotten how much I love this place.
I’ve forgotten because somehow I’m reminded of my pain. And I’ve started my routine judgment. To be honest, I am waiting. I wait for people to disappoint me. I wait for people to hurt me. For the bad to come. I wait. And when it happens, a part of me is satisfied. “I knew that was coming. You don’t win, because I was waiting for you to break. I win.”
Today I’m waiting for our speaker to make some move, to give me some reason to hate her, to write her off. As she speaks of God’s grace, of God’s purpose in our lives, of how our trust in God defines our Christian character, I wait. Where is her pain? What darkness has happened to her that gives her any right to tell me what my reaction should be to God? What hard truth has she ever endured?
My mind floats back. Three years back. I was pregnant. Very pregnant. I was hosting a documentary television show and traveling the world to do it. My husband, Jonathan, and I had just bought a beautiful home on a lake. I had even temporarily deferred my “waiting” to fully embrace our magical life. One night driving through cornfields, heading home with Jon, I looked over at him and asked aloud, “Could our lives be any more spectacular?”
Before going into labor, I pictured how we would announce our new baby girl to the world. As a television producer, I had the media release all planned. We would release a picture right away. Then a series of our favorites. Then a short blog about how beautiful the birth was, and how happy we all were, this new little Reisinger family, most likely peppered with hilarious jokes.
And then the night came. And we took a lot of pictures. But we didn’t post them. Not one. In fact, we fell silent on social media for about a week.
When our beautiful little girl emerged into the world, our life turned upside down in ways we had imagined, but also in ways we hadn’t. Navy was born at 10:59 p.m. on Monday, August 8, with an extreme unilateral cleft lip and palate.
I remember the moment when the nurses handed my baby girl to me, crying her lungs out; she snuggled down close to my heart and fell fast asleep. Snoring her little cleft baby snore that I would grow to adore. And, of course, I was in love.
That night Navy was admitted to the NICU, and Jon and I were alone in our little hospital room—both of us restless, scared, and a little bit heartbroken.
I whispered into the dark. “Jon, are you awake?” And of course he was. And together we cried until the early morning.
Most families in America know about the cleft before birth. Navy slyly hid it from us in every ultrasound. We were not prepared. I was clueless about raising a cleft child. That’s partly why I froze. I was convinced it was my fault. Something I had done in my pregnancy that would now plague my daughter for the rest of her life. I thought I had already failed my first duty as a new mother. I was scared to death of the reaction people would have to this tiny little face, so unique and unexpected. And selfishly, I was terrified of how people would react to me, for doing this to her.
On the second night of her life a new waiting game started for me. Subconsciously, something inside of me shifted. And it’s never really been the same.
That night was night one of waiting for Navy’s lips.
For four months we worked to stretch her lips and nose and to force the cleft palate gap closer, to give the plastic surgeon more flesh to work with. It was a painful process for everyone. A painful wait. Four months of tears. Of long frightening nights, coaxing Navy to eat. Of medical bills, hospital visits, tests, scans, judgy old women, and loneliness.
During those four months, our documentary television show lost its funding. Our show was cancelled. Between doctor visits, doctor bills, and a tiny little girl in so much pain, sleep was rare. We started to lose pieces of our marriage. It was breaking. We were breaking. Twelve days before Navy’s surgery to receive her new lips, both Jon and I lost our jobs. Our health insurance. Our imagined stability. And I think, the last shred of hope we had left in our souls for that season. We were unable to recover from each new wave of disappointment. We were drowning in discouragement, desperately gasping for air before the next wave hit. And I was waiting.
Days later Navy went in for surgery anyhow. And four hours later she was returned. With beautiful perfect pouty little lips just in time for Christmas. [ https://vimeo.com/33614564 ]
That waiting was over. That pain was over and she was whole.
But I was empty.
I wish I could say that in that four month waiting period God taught be many beautiful things, and that I emerged whole and courageous beside my tiny daughter.
I did emerge. And I am still breathing, next to my sweet girl. But I emerged shakier. Less trusting. Harder. Nerves exposed. I gaze now toward the future in an anticipation clouded in grey. Internally I am different, although I imagine that externally very few people are aware of this change.
Cut back to the room full of women. Bored with the speaker and consumed with my own awfulness, I enter her name in Google. Determined to appease my dark heart, knowing that this shiny speaker can tell me nothing. But because the internet is full of information, I learn that she lost her sister when she was a teenager in a terrible drowning. I learn that she nursed her mother in sickness and cared for her until her recent death. She is not without pain. Her pain is deep and new. Clearly she isn’t hiding it. It’s all over her writing. But her face and her body language display a different woman. Oh hey, kettle.
This morning my friend Jill prays in our group. She thanks God for the pain in the lives of those around her, because those who’ve felt incredible pain love differently, more deeply. Jill’s mom is dying, maybe even this week. And Jill is thanking God for pain. She too is in the waiting room, literally.
And it hits me.
Really, we never leave the waiting room, do we? Even when we are fully present in our own situation, we are forever still waiting. What changes is the way we chose to wait.
Our pain and situations are different, but the room, the feeling, the wait, well, we are all in there. As I get a little older, it’s clear to me that none of us are truly without pain. And that is what makes this community, these women that God has brought together, so strong. We stand next to each other and say, my heart aches for your heart because I too have felt pain. I chose to wait with you. This waiting room, well, it’s just life. Every day. And we can chose to wait alone, or we can chose to open the door for a fellow journeyer, and together we can wait. Nerves exposed. Hand in Hand. We wait.
When have you experienced a time of waiting?
How did it change you?
Come back again as we continue to unpack what happens when we spend time In the Waiting Room…
Categories: In the Waiting Room