Recently I have reflected much on naming Walter and have been so grateful that he was named prior to finding out about his ToF. In a short week, I have a much deeper understanding of many things: fear, love, guilt, anger, dilemma, faith, and yes, names. Throughout history names have been stripped of slaves in shackles, prisoners in wartime, and Jews in concentration camps. In every instance the attempt has been to deprive people of their humanity, by replacing their identity with a number or label – and in every instance these same people have risen through unfathomable circumstances while diligently and relentlessly keeping their name with them. As a proponent of Life, and a now advocate for my unborn son, I realize that our decision to name Walter before birth was anything but superficial and nothing less than divine.
Quickly upon finding out I was pregnant, Dan and I began indulging in many of the wonderfully exciting aspects of pregnancy and expectation of a new precious family member. Days and discussions dwelled over the proper shade of gray for the nursery, research on exactly which stroller and carrier were apt for our lifestyle, and naturally, lists of names up for consideration and whether we would find out the gender of our little arrival.
Initially a decision to find, or not to find, out the gender of our baby before birth seemed entirely superficial: did we want the big “surprise” or did we want to buy cute gender specific clothes beforehand and solidify a name? We affectionately dubbed our little one “sweet pea” and figured we would hold off on any gender determination for the time being. After significantly exhausting options for gender-neutral newborn items, and deciding on a neutral nursery, my will broke. Dan and I decided to go ahead and find out whether we would be welcoming a little boy or girl, and I looked forward to making big decisions between bonnets or bowties.
At 17 weeks, we opted for an ultrasound revealing that our “sweet pea” was in fact a sweet boy. We were quick to pin down his first name Walter (after my maternal grandfather), middle name David (after my father), and joyfully announce the news. Though I had loved “sweet pea” very much prior to his naming, my bond with our little boy quickly grew ten-fold. Suddenly, he felt real. Dan would say good-bye to Wally and me in the morning, and I would rub my slowing growing bump asking my little guy how he was doing each day. I quickly recognized that our decision to name Walter so young was far from the initially petty decision I thought it was. His name affirmed his personhood, and that decision would prove monumental in the weeks to come.
As we learned of the concerns and ultimate heart defect affecting our little one, our medical team quickly realized and acknowledged Walter’s person. No longer was he a “fetus”, the “baby”, or “it”. He was firmly a “he”, with a proper name and already growing identify. In the next days, as we met our doctors they quickly asked whether we knew the gender and had a name. It became a topic of conversation and means of reference – making it boldly clear that termination was not an option. Our little boy was called Walter, and sometimes, Wally, by his doctors and nurses. Suddenly he existed outside of a medical terminology textbook and in the realm of humanity. For parents nervously wondering whether they will be able to hold their first child in their arms, the resounding life in their words gave us hope.
I can’t say whether our decision to find out his gender and name Wally was God-given, because I am not sure that God intervenes in such things, but I can say it was a blessing for us. After all, it is already so appropriate that he has such strong men behind him, who have risen in the face of adversity.
In his own last name, Walter joins a long line of strong, loving, husbands and fathers who have cared and nurtured their families in times of need. In his first name, my “down the street Papa”, Alexander Walter, affectionately known as “Al”, comes a man who worked at a young age to help support his parents and siblings during the Depression (later turning down the opportunity to play professional baseball because the pay was too low), enlisted in the Army prior to WWII (flying over Germany on D-Day), and raising three children as a single father (in a time when such things were unheard of). He was sharp, frugal, and principled: a man of his word who time and time again chose to do what was right in favor of what was easy.
My father, David, has always been a steady rock: responsible, wise, and able to crack a joke or give a hug with a cheerful wink – enough to make any daughter smile. He too has always chosen a path of selflessness, devoting his time and determination to care for our family; and he too has been tried. My dad’s successful battle with cancer, Hodgkins Lymphona, made my mom an expert on his care, and it made my seven-year-old self an expert on how to love my dad. What could have been a dark spot in my childhood, is filled with memories of joy, strength, and the mission my family accomplished. Plus, the kids at school thought he was cool because he had shaved his head, and my dad still occasionally allowed me to adorn him in my clip-on earrings if I had been an especially sweet “nurse” that day. My dad is a fighter: whether against cancer, or on the basketball court, and it comforts me to know that Walter will grow up with these stories of his namesakes as his guides.
Though it pains me knowing that my son will have to suffer so early in his little life, I find solace in the hope that Walter will grow to find meanings in his sufferings, and choose to make himself better for them. Victor Frankl examines the inevitability of human suffering in a favorite read of mine, Man’s Search for Meaning, through his own suffering during the Holocaust. Little if anything is gained from suffering itself, but in circumstances never to be envied, man is positioned with a decision to either better himself from these sufferings or wallow in self-pity: through this actualization that man finds his meaning. Walter David means “Beloved King of the Army”, and we will raise our little warrior to triumph in his hardships and never dwell in them.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
– Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl