It was 3 am when the doctors flooded her room with light. Still numb from pain medication, the new mom fumbled for her glasses, squinting to distinguish the blur of white coats. The doctors were saying something about needing some papers signed now.

Twenty miles and twenty minutes away, a high-pitched beep suddenly filled my dark bedroom. Numb from the early hour, I fumbled for my glasses so I could read the number on my pager. “Oh no, it’s too early,” I groaned. Still groggy, I managed to get dressed while placing a whispered phone call to the maternity ward. “Chaplain, we have a baby who’s not doing well,” the nurse reported. “The parents are asking for you to please come.”

Maternity wards are the happiest places on earth — except when they are the saddest places on earth. As I stepped to the bedside, the couple told me of their journey through a problem pregnancy.

Nevertheless, they had nursed thin hopes that doctors would find things more fixable. But now the baby had arrived, and initial reports showed underdeveloped lungs and a leaky heart that was beginning to fail.

I asked the mother if she might have the strength to come with me to the neonatal intensive care unit. As we encircled the baby, the usually noisy NICU fell silent in readiness for this “emergency blessing.” Mom stood beside her tiny daughter, stroking the baby in an attempt to re-establish the sustaining love of the umbilical cord. —