It takes a long time for me to process things.
After my marathon labor with Jemma I focused on my new life as a mama and never processed the events of her arrival. Well, not until I was pregnant with Max and broke down from fear of experiencing labor again. During my first trimester I relived everything and came to many new realizations. It was healing. Most of all, it was empowering; To process my feelings – all the good and bad – and come to a place where I could close that chapter and appreciate it for exactly what it was.
And then my Max was born, a surprise home birth, so much swifter and different than his sister’s birth. I remember breathing a sigh of relief, barely understanding that labor was over and my baby boy was in my arms.
While I was getting a few stitches, Max was getting having his newborn assessment with our midwife’s assistant. And that’s when she counted to 11. My son was born with 11 fingers, an extra thumb on his left hand.
I’ll pause here and proclaim my love for midwifery care. Midwives celebrate birth and all that it brings. They are in the business of HEALTHcare. They rejoice in everyday beauty. There was excitement over Max’s extra thumb, joy over his uniqueness and a calm statement that Max was different, and therefore special. They never said he was deformed or had a problem. They didn’t rush to assure me that his thumb could be removed or that things would be taken care of. They looked at my healthy baby and loved him, every bit of him. And I love them for that.
Our dear friend and photographer embraced the same mentality and snapped beautiful photos of Max’s special thumb. I cherish these photos – fresh from my womb and absolutely beautiful. My son. That evening after everyone had gone home and I was left with excruciating postpartum contractions and a precious baby boy in my arms I held his little hand in mine. I counted to 11 and loved every little finger I saw. Max was perfect. Unique in his own way and destine for great things.
I knew he was different and I felt a strong sense of protection as I held his hand and nursed him. I wanted to lash out and growl, bite even, at anyone who ever thought to mock or tear down my son. I knew those days would come. And it broke my heart. Crushed it. Max is different than any other person ever placed on earth – God made him special inside and out. Just like each of us. In Max’s case, he was born with an extra marker of his uniqueness.
In the coming days I wept. I wept from fear and love and confusion.
With the role of mother, I felt strongly that it was my job to determine what was best for Max and his double thumb. And not knowing, still not knowing is hard. Max’s thumb didn’t necessarily warrant surgery. Nothing was “wrong” – there was bone and nail and we all assumed that he would gain proper function as his hands grew. That’s what made it so hard. Nothing was wrong with Max, but there was most definitely something wrong with the world. The world, the people, who would use Max’s thumb as a means to be cruel, poke fun, judge and discourage his spirit.
For months, as I researched our options, I prayed for divine inspiration. Or in the least, a peace of what direction to take. We learned that, if we pursued surgery, the ideal timing would be between 12-18 months which gave me many, many days to think about it all. For a time I was adamant we would keep his double thumb intact. Logically, I deduced that Max should have a say in the matter. It seemed in line with my feelings on circumcision. I imagined his life with a double thumb – the first time a friend noticed, playing sports, reaching into his wallet, holding hands with a love interest, in his career …
And then I imagined going through surgery with him. Either now as a baby or later after we talked with him and he came to his own decision. I felt extreme anxiety over my baby having a cosmetic surgery, something not truly necessary for his well-being. I’m sure I’d have the same anxiety at any age for any surgery with any child, but especially with this because Max was whole and thriving just as he was. So I pushed it all out of my mind. All the decisions and what ifs. I chose instead to just enjoy and embrace my days with my little 11 fingered son.
As Max’s birthday drew near that peace I prayed for arrived. For many reasons, I knew what to do. I knew I wanted him to stay just as he was the first time I held him – perfectly formed and uniquely his own. But, I knew more that it wasn’t best. As his mama, I knew I had to make the tough decision for him. And so I went about my business advocating for him, being his voice and preparing for surgery.
Now, 21 months after I first counted to 11 and 9 months after surgery, I’m finally processing it all. I’m confident in our decision. Yes, I still wonder, what if. I’m sure I always will. About this and many other parenting decisions. But when the day comes to explain to Max about his birth, double thumb and now, scar, I know I can honestly represent my feelings and convey the decision we made on his behalf.
To me, Max will always be my perfect son with 11 fingers. Through him I’ve learned to judge less and love more; To look inside others and treasure them. Sometimes I wonder if Max was born with an extra thumb for me — to give me the opportunity to feel how God feels about all His children. Their beauty and perfection despite what the world says.
Photos by the lovely and talented Christine of LCS Photography.