My first parenting lesson

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About 21 years ago, I learned one of my first lessons about being a parent. When our son was born, I thought he was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I didn’t even realize how unusual it was that he was such a tan baby born to such a fair-skinned mother.

It didn’t occur to me that something might be off until a friend – who had already had two babies – came over for a visit and said, in her usual, straightforward way, “I think your baby has jaundice.” 

Thank God for friends who don’t mince words because she was right. A checkup showed that our baby was yellow, not tan, and had a typical case of treatable infant jaundice. 

After the diagnosis, our pediatrician sent us home with instructions to put the baby in his

crib with a special blue-green treatment light shining down on him. He had to wear special baby goggles to protect his eyes from the artificial sunlight. This type of light therapy helps break down bilirubin in the bloodstream so the baby can pass it through all those dirty diapers. 

Little did I know, the dirty diapers were the easy part. Because the doctor also said I had to take him to their lab for regular checkups to make sure the treatment was working. And those lab technicians were out for blood – literally. And do you know how they draw blood on tiny yellow babies with jaundice? 

They stick a needle into said baby’s heel and then squeeze that tiny heel until it bleeds out the right amount of blood so they can run the lab test. As you might imagine, my baby was not on board with this plan. A second after that needle stick, he screamed, and then he wailed – long, heart-piercing cries that nearly brought me to my knees. 

Tears streamed down my face, and I wept right along with him. Maybe it was new-parent exhaustion or fear or just an overwhelming sense of helplessness, but at that moment, I realized that there would be times when my baby would feel real pain, both physical and emotional, and I could not stop it. My inner control freak was shocked and so afraid. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin and into his little body to absorb the hurt.

A nurse must have noticed that the jaundiced baby’s unusually pale mother looked like a fainting risk. She guided me to a chair, handed me a drink of water and then patted my back while another nurse patted my baby’s back. We were both a crying mess. She leaned toward my ear and said, “He’s going to be okay, and so are you.” Thank God for kind-hearted nurses who help you through the scary moments. 

That day was my early introduction to the lesson all parents learn sooner or later – that we are forever connected to our babies, even when those babies grow taller than us, move far away, or think they know everything. Our hearts will always be along for the ride as they move through life. 

I may be years past kissing their skinned knees or soothing their hurt feelings after a bad day of school. Still, this invisible, emotional umbilical cord ties us together. I can feel their fear, pain, or even a mild case of unease. Sometimes I can help, but often I can’t.

Twenty-one years later, I’m still learning the lesson I began to realize that day in the lab as I held my little tan baby. Life is a package deal. We feel the hurt, but we also feel the joy. And the joy is always worth it, no matter what. I’m never more elated than when I see pure happiness on our kids’ faces or hear it in their voices. It’s a natural high that keeps love-addicted parents coming back for more.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon. 

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