‘Dad, I Don’t Think I’m Old Enough to Handle This’

“Dad, I don’t think I’m old enough to handle this.”

Those words were hard to hear. They were my daughter’s words of despair when she received the worst news of her life: The baby she was carrying suffered from grave defects. That sweet baby, named Lila, was diagnosed with gastroschisis, a dangerous condition in which her intestines were developing outside her body. She also had only one healthy kidney, and her very small size indicated that she might have a fatal genetic anomaly.

And Camille was indeed young: 21 years old. She married her high school sweetheart while she was in college, and she got pregnant her senior year. All this sounds unusual, especially in an era when Americans are getting married and having children at older ages than ever before, but marriage at a relatively young age fit Camille. She was always an old soul, and so was her husband. They were mature beyond their years, but this moment felt different. The news about Lila was terrifying — crushing, actually.

I didn’t really know what to say in response. I knew she’d rise to the occasion, but I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t ready for a motivational speech. When you get bad news, there are times you don’t need encouragement so much as empathy. All I could think to say was, “No one is old enough for this news. There is no right age for this challenge.” We cried, we prayed, and then we prepared. Our daughter was becoming a mother in the most difficult of circumstances.

And it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Her first concrete decision as a mom was to refuse amniocentesis. Though she desperately wanted more information about Lila, the thought of any additional risk to her baby was too much for her to bear. She’d find out Lila’s true condition when she gave birth; then and only then would we know if she’d live.

Camille delivered Lila at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville on Dec. 15, 2020. Pandemic regulations kept us at home, and they even limited the amount of time that Camille and her husband, Jarrett, could spend with their new baby. No other family members could be with Camille and Jarrett when Lila was whisked away to surgery. They were alone with her when the post-op pain was so great that Lila briefly stopped breathing. They were alone with her when the Nashville Christmas bombing cut off all communication with Vanderbilt.

The bomb blew up an AT&T facility, and we immediately lost all phone and internet service. The phones at Vanderbilt even went dead for a time. And so Camille continued her bedside vigil with her tiny recovering daughter cut off from her parents and her siblings, unsure of what was happening in an outside world that seemed to be falling apart.

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