“Mom! Mom! Get out here, quick! Hurry, Mom, Hurry!” I was in the kitchen finishing a load of dishes when my four-year-old daughter’s screams made their way from our tropical Las Vegas yard through our closed French doors and all the way to me at the sink.
Crap, I thought. This can’t be good.
All four of my brood were in the back yard, plus a couple of neighborhood kids, and I immediately imagined the worst. Zac, or maybe his best friend Peyton was bitten by a black widow! (Those spiders loved Las Vegas). Crew fell from the cinder block fence. He was only three at the time, but boy was that kid a climber. Maybe Adam finally found his way via our nearly-dead apple tree to the patio roof again, but this time fell through a weak spot to to the patio below and broke his leg.
Preparing myself for all type of blood and carnage, swelling spider bites, cracked heads, bones protruding from skin – I threw my dish towel and ran with the speed of well, a frantic mother, through the French doors and to the back yard. To my surprise and immense relief, I found children bunched together like a football huddle with six bodies all perfectly in tact. No blood, bruises, broken bones or spider bites to contend with.
Upon hearing my exasperated, “What is going on out here?” Ellie turned her fair and freckled face from the huddle and looked at me with her light blue eyes. Tears the size of peas tears streamed down her round cheeks.
“Look mom! He just fell! We saw him fall, but we can’t put him back!” Cradled in her chubby little hands was a brand new baby bird. Judging from the thin fuzz which revealed pink skin underneath, I guessed he couldn’t be more than a couple of days old. He was scared,and more-than-likely injured. He arched his head and moved in awkward and jerky ways. The kids didn’t even have to tell me. I could tell from the panicked mother, from which tree he fell. She screamed and screeched and circled the tree. Every couple of seconds she dipped down, then flew frantically upward, no doubt to check her nest and make sure the rest of her hatchlings were safe. The kids pointed to the tree, “He fell all the way from the top!” They were quickly becoming as frantic as mama bird.
The tree was at least 50 feet high but only 2 feet in diameter. Las Vegas is known for these ugly pine-type trees which are very thin and very tall and resemble a towering shrub more than a tree. They are flimsy and impossible to climb, or believe me, I would’ve done my best to shimmy to the top and return baby bird to safety.
Mama bird became more frenzied by the moment. She wailed. She grieved for this baby bird, who just minutes before, was safe and healthy in the care of the nest that she built for him. Two minutes and her entire life was thrown into chaos. I wonder if she regretted placing it so high? She did it to keep her babies safe but it ended up causing harm instead. I instructed my older son, Zac to find a box for the bird. Perhaps our presence was exacerbating mama bird’s angst. We placed baby in a box filled with grass at the foot of the “tree” and went inside to watch. Mama bird did not calm down with our absence. She continued her frantic flight to the top of the tree then down to baby bird in the box. We watched for at least an hour. I called our veterinarian. “Can you save a baby bird who just fell about 50 feet?” The prognosis was grim. The vet predicted internal injuries from a fall that far and death by morning.
Mama bird tended to her baby for hours. She tried to feed it but it wouldn’t eat. I’m sure at that moment she wished there was a way that she could pick her child up and return him to the nest with his siblings.But with only a beak and wings, she was incapable of the task. For hours she wailed and screamed and squawked. She was desperate to restore what once was hers, but she was helpless to do so and our hands were tied too. I considered leaning our extension ladder against that shrub-like tree and carrying baby bird back, but quickly dismissed the idea. For starters, it was a stupid and dangerous idea; my life was more valuable than baby bird’s. I had four baby birds of my own. Secondly, I may not have even been able to find the nest. The tree was tall and the pine needles so thick. Where would I have even started?
We waited until nightfall and we transferred the baby in his box to our little backyard casita to protect it from the many neighborhood cats that roamed every night.
The mama screamed all night. She kept me awake. I felt her pain. She was grieving. She was desperate. She didn’t know what to do.
First thing in the morning I walked to the casita to check on baby bird. He was stiff and cold. Dead, just as our vet had predicted. His tiny broken body lay still in the grass we had hoped would bring him some comfort. I sat down by that box and I cried, and I cried and I cried. I wanted to help that baby bird back to safety, restore his health. I was helpless to do ANYTHING. This poor baby, who less than 24 hours earlier, was a thriving, perfect and fresh gift from God, was gone. I placed the baby bird at the foot of the tree, hoping it would give mama bird closure.
She inspected her baby bird and returned to the top of that ugly, ugly tree where I’m assuming she moved on with life and took care of her other babies. She stopped crying.
But for the next couple of days, I grieved. Baby and mama were on my mind most every second of every day. I was so sad. I moped around. I neglected every day duties, so distracted I was by this bird. Its sounds so silly, doesn’t it? Baby birds fall from their nests all of the time. Mother Nature is beautiful but also cruel. I told myself to get over it. I reminded myself of the many things I had to be grateful for. I admonished myself to be reasonable and get back to living life before baby bird made his appearance.
And then it hit me.
I was grieving for baby bird, yes. I felt guilt that I was helpless to help, yes. I felt horrible for mama bird, yes.
But more than anything, I was reliving an experience of my own, way too similar to this one. Because ten years earlier, I was that mama bird and my very first baby fell from his nest. The child that made me a mother. And like mama bird, there was nothing I could do to stop it, and nothing I could do to repair the damage once it happened.
On December 25th, 1998 my first baby Adam was almost one year old. He was the life of the party that Christmas Day. He pulled every trick in the book to get as many “oohs” and “aahhs” out of friends and relatives as he could. He stole Grandpa’s cowboy hat and put it on and everyone giggled. He initiated games of peek-a-boo and had older cousins squealing. He reached up to be held and screamed every time his father kissed me on the cheek. He was cherubic. He was beautiful, alive, dynamic, happy, content and bursting to the seams with a baby’s energy.
Then two weeks later he fell from his nest. He stopped smiling. He stopped sleeping. Most of his nights were spent with his back arched, screaming, writhing. I cuddled him and rocked him, all night…every night. I kissed his head, his soft chubby cheeks. I stroked his hair and sang him lullabies and whispered in his ears that “all would be made right.” But it was a promise I couldn’t keep.
The nighttime screaming continued. He stopped making eye contact at all. In fact, he did his best to avoid it. Peek-a-boo stopped. He no longer answered to his name or even paid a bit of attention when other children were around. Gone was the toddler babbling and requesting his favorite show, “Blues Clues.” He stopped pointing and stopped waving bye-bye.
His body was there, but his eyes were vacant with dark rings beneath. His beginning baby sentences were replaced by unnatural and strange sounds. He started walking on his toes and no longer reached up to be held. We had an empty, confused and sick shell of a baby left, and it took precisely two weeks for that severe and tragic regression to consume him.
And I was desperate. And I saw every doctor from every specialty but none could provide an explanation or even suggestions for help. No one knew what to do. Relatives and friends offered their opinions, but no one, anywhere, not even his own mother could help Adam. We had lost our boy. And like that mama bird, I was useless. I could not, despite my best efforts, restore what I so recently had. I couldn’t save him, nor could any doctor or specialist.
And I grieved. Because it’s a horrible thing to lose a child. And I cried every single day for six months. And I looked at pictures from his first year of life to convince myself that I wasn’t crazy. That he really used to have light in his eyes. That it really was as easy as making mac and cheese to get that kid to smile huge smiles for his pictures.
I wasn’t crazy. The loss was real and has been every day since. Adam has made tremendous progress, because before his second birthday we learned he had developed regressive autism. The diagnosis allowed us to begin every available intervention.
And there is light in his eyes again and he improves every day, in small but enormous ways. .
But now for truth: for me it still hurts….tremendously. Tremendously. Did I mention it hurts tremendously? I remember that baby that I only had complete and healthy for one year, just like it were yesterday. And I’ve been trying for years to bury and suppress that hurt and to convince everyone in our world that everything is okay and that we are coping and that we’ve found happiness in spite of Adam’s awful challenges. We’ve buried ourselves in his therapies and interventions and that everything is okay. But I’m here to finally admit, that it’s really not okay. That although we have found much joy and happiness in our lives, there are still many, many days that I feel like that mama bird. I feel desperate and I feel guilty that I could not completely return my baby boy to the safety of his mama’s nest.
But I will no longer suppress. Because it has made me physically ill. And I’ve started to be honest when people ask, “How’s Adam doing?”
Neither Scott or I have mustered the courage to watch videos of Adam’s first year of life. The pictures are painful enough. But guess what? I”m going to post this…my very first post and then I’m going to ask Scott to help me unearth those videos from the garage. And I’m going to stay up all night watching them. And I’m going to cry for the baby I lost. And I’m going to allow myself to grieve. And I’m going to thank God as I do every night for the tremendous blessing that my fallen bird has been in my life.