Among the most exciting events of my life were the births of my children. To this day, when I hold a new born child I am astounded at such a miracle. The bones in his head are soft, yet, and flexible, made for the moment of his grand entrance; they move and slide so that he may come… And here is the child, finished, complete even to infinitesimal fingernails and downy eyelashes.
Sometimes things go awry. Not all is well and there is sadness in the delivery room. A couple of articles I read earlier today reminded me of Sonny, a child from my early years. The following is taken from my book, Road Tales.
A certain family was associated with our church but never attended any of the services. A special child had been born to them–my parents tenderly referred to him as a "water-head baby." His name was Sonny, and at first, I was mystified when I heard the adults say his mother had never held him, later understanding that the monstrous size of his head made it impossible for anyone to hold him. Mama and Daddy made calls on this family but had determined that we children were not to go. I wanted to, but Mama said, "No. You do not need to go there."
One evening, someone was moving a piano, and several of the men of the church were helping with the job. Daddy followed the truck in our car, and he let Donna and me go with him, while Junior stayed home with Mama. As the driver turned a corner, the truck leaned precariously, and the piano lurched free, crashing into the street. It was a predicament, as can be imagined, and someone had to make telephone calls. We were close to Sonny's house, so Daddy drove there, parked, and got out of the car.
Donna and I got out, too, and followed Daddy into the house. He was so taken up with the piano business that I'm not sure he recalled that we children had never seen Sonny. Anyway, I think it was Mother who was most concerned about the impression this would make on our young minds.
Sonny lay on a bed in the living room–a six-year-old child with perfectly formed torso, arms and legs. From the neck down, he appeared normal. His head was gargantuan, a fifty-inch globe, flattened on the bottom where it lay on the bed, turned sideways to look at us as we gawked at him. His eyes, nose, and mouth were positioned together, and were of normal proportions. His eyes were brown and returned our gaping stare.
My mom was right; it was a stunning blow to a juvenile mind, a rigid vision still etched into my now mature brain. I have seen other hydrocephalic children since then, but none with heads even approaching the massive size of Sonny's. An ugly door opened for me that night, a life-size opening that stretched far down a dark hall where guttering candles flicker and where chilly air blows. I glimpsed dim shadows of the inevitable and had a momentary view of life's corridor of sadness and unpredictability: I grew up a bit that evening.
When we left Sonny's house and went into the unlit night, I believe I had grasped a slight understanding of the treacherous human way and of my own vulnerability.
I was right in my insight, of course, and today I understand even better. A slight aberration in the development of the embryo within my belly, and a "Sonny" comes forth, or a child with a twisted leg, a missing ear, or a muted mouth. At any moment, an imbalance of chemicals in my finely tuned body may change me into a raving maniac. The development of twists and tangles in my brain conceivably could take away memory, then my reasoning processes, and finally my most basic living skills.
Mercy is in order.
Tags: hydrocephalic, hydrocephalic+children, childbirth