The Day I Googled My Son’s Birth Defect

It was love at first sight when Luke was born two years ago. He was perfect in my eyes so I was surprised when a birth defect was discovered during his newborn screening. It was mild but would require surgery to correct. My husband is a physician so like a child who has just taken a tumble, I looked at him to gauge how concerned I should be. He didn’t seem too worried so I wasn’t either.

A few days after we got home from the hospital I googled Luke’s condition, marking the last time I’d experience peace for the next sixteen months. Hopes and dreams for my boy collapsed one by one with each account I read. When I wasn’t cluster feeding my infant, I was reading about botched surgeries and broken lives. I wasn’t sleeping and soon slipped into a dark place. Instead of enjoying my infant, our last, I found myself distancing myself from him. It hurt to love him. I’d lay him back in his crib as soon as I was done nursing him; simultaneously feeling guilty for not savoring those precious moments and knowing that lingering over him only caused more tears.

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It was up to us, his parents, to decide whether or not to have the operation. As his defect was not life-threatening, it was considered elective surgery. All the experts suggested doing the surgery before he was 18 months old. Time was ticking as our indecision built. My reading and research only confused me more. Our long-awaited appointment with a specialist was a bust. We felt no connection to him and he refused to give us any direction in our decision. At my darkest point, I was convinced that either decision would ruin his life. Truly damned if we did, damned if we didn’t. My mind was on a hamster wheel I couldn’t exit. I was frustrated with myself, “Snap out of it would ya? Go for a walk! Pray! Put on some lipstick for goodness sake!” I’d command of myself. But I couldn’t. I was stuck in a deep pit and couldn’t get out.

On one particularly bad night I reached out to a hand full of my godly girlfriends. I was wracked with anxiety and depression and knew I could no longer do it on my own. I told them everything, Luke’s condition, my fears, our indecision, how utterly hopeless and stuck I felt. It was hard to press “send” on that e-mail but also strangely freeing when I did. There is power in bringing the darkness into the light. And I was tapping into it.

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. John 12:46

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By morning the responses started pouring in, my spirits lifted with each one. My friends assured me Luke’s defect was not my fault (one of my deepest fears), that God loved my son even more than I did, that He had a plan for him and that He was still in control even when it didn’t seem like it. Their words and prayers, a soothing balm to my broken and beat up heart. My husband and I scheduled and cancelled Luke’s surgery three times in three months. My friends marked the date on their calendars… and erased it, along with us. Soon the spell of sadness and fear that had taken residence in my heart and mind slowly dissipated.

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory. Proverbs 11:14

Last summer I came across this quote by Shauna Niequist, one of my favorite authors in her book, Savor:

I know what it’s like when the things that always used to make you happy don’t do the trick anymore, because you can’t break through the sadness and fear that are covering over everything in your life. I was there, and I’m not there anymore, and I’m so thankful. You’ll get through this, and you’ll find yourself in an entirely new place. You’ll find your old self again. You’ll laugh easily and sleep well. It will happen. I promise.

I realized that was me, that was where I was, but I wasn’t there anymore. Thank you Lord. Luke’s issue hadn’t changed but it had been right-sized in my heart and mind; a mild condition we could either seek surgery to correct. Or not. It felt manageable again.

With my newly restored mind and calm heart we sought out a second opinion. The consult with the new surgeon went great. He was personable and his expertise brought heaps of blessed clarity. We decided on the spot to go through with the surgery using him. The operation was an utter success. Not one of our 2,345 fears came to fruition and the recovery was, get this, RELAXING and ENJOYABLE.

I’m still not sure exactly what I was experiencing in those dark days: Post-partum anxiety? Depression? A spiritual battle? A truly jacked up cocktail of all of three? I’ll probably never know for sure, but I treasure the lessons that challenging time gifted me. Lessons on waiting, hope, faith and godly community. I’m thankful for God’s ability and goodness to heal our broken hearts, bodies and minds when we can’t help ourselves. Most of all, I’m thankful for my boy, savoring every bit of his two-year-old rough and tumble but sweet as pie goodness.

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In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33


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Kelly Russell
Kelly Russell is married to Mark and is the mother of two kids, Ava (5) and Luke (2).. She earned her Master’s Degree in Leadership from Denver Seminary and has gone from serving at a mega church in Orange County to a rapidly growing church plant in town and is now solely leading her family. Kelly has been influencing and leading women towards Christ ever since she was in junior high. Her greatest joy is having a part in women coming to know Christ for the first time or coming back to Him after a long time.  You can find her blog at https://kellyshayrussell.com or follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kellyshayrussellblog/ or Instagram at kellyshayrussell