Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Telling his own story.

It was smack dab in the middle of a snowy, frigid, winter's night, eight years ago.

1:38 a.m., to be exact.

I had just endured fifteen plus hours of labor and finally, I reached the glorious finish.

My second child was born. Another son.

As was true of the birth of my firstborn, a mere 16 months earlier, my feelings of love were immense and immediate. We had just been blessed with another child to love, protect, and raise.

As the doctor placed my squalling, beautiful baby boy on my chest, my heart surged. Bill and I kissed his head, looked into his little face, and through tears, I said, "Hello, beautiful! It's your Mommy and Daddy!"

The nurse was rubbing him with a towel, cleaning the effects of birth off of him off as he laid on my chest, still wailing. It was a beautiful sound indeed.

I continued to coo to our boy, our newest blessing, as Bill snapped pictures of the two of us, a mother and son who had endured the long, arduous journey of labor, and looked triumphant. Knowing that the nurse would be grabbing him at any moment to weigh him and get his vitals, I savored these first seconds of his life, with his head on my chest. I grabbed his tiny little hand in mine and kissed it. Through the haze of a insanely bright delivery room, and meds that were slowly starting to wear off, I thought I saw an extra finger on his left hand. I picked up his right hand and thought I saw the same thing. Thinking it was just birth goo, I blinked a few times and tried to rub it off with the receiving blanket the nurse had hastily thrown over his back, but to no avail.

12 fingers, 10 toes.

A pit in my stomach grew, and I frantically whispered, "Bill, I think he has extra fingers!"

In retrospect, I have no idea why we whispered about it. Perhaps I thought we could keep it our little secret. If we whispered about it, then no one will notice that our precious boy has extra digits on his hands.

Clearly, calm logic was not on my side at that moment.

At that moment, before Bill and I could examine him further, the nurse grabbed my boy from me and brought him over to the bright lights of the isolette to weigh him and check his vitals. I fervently waited to hear, "This one looks just fine! 10 fingers, 10 toes!" But we heard nothing for what seemed like an eternity, but in hindsight, was mere minutes. Crickets.

Bill nervously paced the room, trying to get a better look at our son while the nurses worked on him and whispered to each other.

Finally, one of the nurses exclaimed, "He's just perfect!" and she asked us what his name was. She asked if he had any siblings. Both nurses told us over and over how gorgeous our child was.

Tell me something I don't know.

But no one mentioned the elephant in the room, the perfectly formed superfluous, complete with knuckles, fingernails, fingerprints, looked-like-they-totally-belonged-there 11th and 12th digits sprouting off the sides of my beautiful newborn son's hands.

I must have imagined it. Clearly these meds were messing with my brain. The now-wearing-off effects of the epidural had given me the shakes. That was the only explanation.

Thinking the nurses were going to think I had just lost my last marble, I spoke with hesitation. "Umm...does he have extra fingers on his hands?"

Without skipping a beat, the nurse cheerfully responded, "Oh yeah! But that's no big deal at all! We see that all the time! He's gorgeous!"

Once again, in hindsight, I realize how wonderful both of these nurses were. They calmed me. Or, at least they tried to. I honestly believe that my child could have had one big Cyclops eye in the middle of his forehead, and they would have been all, "What a beautiful baby!"

But at the time, through my hormonal haze, the only thing I could think of was, "WHAT?!? They see this all the time? Nice try, Nurse Poker Face." I remember having the thought that the only six-fingered person I can ever recall ever seeing was in the movie, "The Princess Bride", and he was the bad guy. My hormonal brain scrambled to process. Was there something else wrong with our boy? Was there something they weren't telling us?

Bill's face was ashen. He was fervently trying to hide his worry from me in order to keep me calm, but failing miserably. Being the protective father, he instantly fired off questions to the nurses and our obstetrician. No one would give us a straight answer. They tried to assure us our boy was fine, but we would have to speak with a pediatric surgeon.


As in hours from that moment. An eternity to a worried parent.

My baby boy slept and ate like a pro through the night, and finally the pediatric surgeon came to see us the next day, later in the morning. He examined our son, and simply said, "It's just a genetic defect. There are no nerve endings, no cartilage, and no bones connecting these extra digits. Do you want me to remove them right now?"

Within moments, the surgeon administered a local anesthetic to my baby's hand, tied up the extra fingers at the base with surgical string, and cut them off. The whole process took less than 5 minutes.

Just like that.

As the nurses tried to assure us that first night, our boy was fine. His hands work just like they are supposed to, and the only evidence of extra digits are two pimple-sized bumps on the side of each hand that Bill and I dubbed his "nubbins".

When he was six, he asked what the bumps on the side of his hand were. Bill and I sat him down and told him that when he was born, he had extra fingers on his hand. Foolishly, we thought this would be a huge moment for him. Foolishly, we thought he would be embarrassed or have questions.


Our boy's face lit up and he said, "COOOOOOL!!! Why didn't you save my fingers?"

And that was the end of that.

Last week he decided that he wanted to cash in on the cool factor. He wanted to tell his own story. My friend Liz, (who has given me her full blessing to include her in this story) had heard from her son, who is good friends with my boy, that my son was bragging to the whole 2nd grade class that he was born with six fingers on each hand. What ridiculousness! She asked him about the story he was peddling, and he simply verified it with a, "Yep," as he showed her the nubbins on the side of his hands. Still thinking it was just a tall tale my son was telling, Liz asked Bill, who verified it again with a, "Yes. He was born with six fingers on each hand."

Liz saw me a few days later and said apologetically, "I put my foot in my mouth." I assured her several times that she did not. Being the good mom that she is, she turned it into a teachable moment for her own kids, as they researched how yes, sometimes people are born with extra fingers on their hands.

But when I heard of my boy deciding it was time to tell his story, it brought me back to the moment of his birth, when Bill and I were terrified that something was wrong. We, as overprotective parents, worried that our son would somehow end up an object of ridicule, but clearly, that couldn't have been further from the truth. My son was proud to tell his story, and I was proud of him for owning it, and showing the world his uniqueness.

I hesitate to use the words, "birth defect".

Electronics are defective. Furniture is defective.

People are not defective.

Different, yes. Defective, no.

My son knows he is unique. But we all are. Bravo to him for owning it.

He turned what could have been a negative into a positive.

After all, my boy knows his audience. What else is cooler to a bunch of second graders than a kid who could brag that he was born with extra fingers?

1 comment:

Can we talk? Don't be shy. I'd love to hear what you have to say.