Poems & Essays

26 Jun

Life Jackets

General/Column One Response

I crumpled onto the hospital floor outside her room heaving sobs, not caring if the doctors and nurses of the ICU witnessed my defeat.  My nurse-friend came and sat with me before her shift. 

“Will she make it?” I asked her, looking through the glass at my newborn’s body clinging to life in a tumbleweed of wires and monitors. 

“I don’t know,” she said, “but babies are resilient.” 

This was the stuff of parental nightmares, where the wicked what ifs taunted and sleep exhaustion tortured. 

Every day brought more bad news, hurling us further into the abyss of the nightmare: speculative diseases with painful medical treatments and dismal statistical outcomes, results from an MRI that showed stroke and brain damage, and daily fights for her glucose and ferritin levels to stabilize. 

There were the first nights when my newborn child howled in pain and hunger; but almost worse, were the nights she fell silent— too weak with pain and suffering to raise a cry of protest when she was poked and prodded. 

I pumped her legs when they became swollen with fluids, got tangled sometimes in the wires. I held her tiny fist when she received spinal taps, heel pricks, a feeding tube, and PICC line. I whispered to her the promise that everything would be okay, even though I didn’t know. I wished by clinging to her hand that I could transfer the pain into my own. 

At night, my husband and I crammed onto a small, hard seat lounge. This was not the postpartum experience I imagined to heal my body. I survived on fresh-squeezed juices and mother-steel adrenaline. I pumped milk for a baby too sick to drink it. And, I promised the “other” child that we would be home soon as a family. 

But even there, joy managed to seep in through the chinks of dark, winding passages. It came in kind messages and timely visits. Even, in the form of a vision. 

In desperation, I looked up from my window seat bed and saw them standing there. Not angels, just ordinary people. Hands clasped, faces shining with the hope of song and prayer, they made a circle around her bassinet. Another circle of people stood around that first circle, and a circle around them, and so on and so forth… 

And I heard a small voice say to me, “This is the ripple effect of people believing with you for the miracle of her life.” 

I’ve heard the story of a God who parted the Red Seas for his people to escape their captors. But He didn’t part our seas. No, He threw us life jackets and told us to tread the raging waters. And when the waves threatened to swallow us, suddenly they were still. None of the doctors could explain why there was marked improvement in our child on day eleven.

We were moved out of the ICU.

“I expected to meet a much sicker baby,” one of the doctors said, puzzled. 

My daughter’s doctors called her a miracle. They shrugged, said they’d rule it bacterial sepsis, unknown bacteria, and sent us home with seizure meds and follow-up appointments. 

At home, I panicked in the moments I almost forgot a dose of her seizure meds, to be administered three times daily. I kept her close to me, foregoing an invitation to go anywhere I could not bring her. As I washed dishes or completed other mundane tasks, fear gripped itself around my maternal mind. 

I learned waking up from a nightmare doesn’t mean it stops haunting you.

Month eleven brought steps. And month twelve brought a clean EEG report. The months that followed  kept bringing signs of “normal” development.

Two years have passed. Each year on her birthday, I mourn for the sweet beginnings we didn’t get as a family. 

I mourn for the people praying on calloused knees who didn’t get their miracle or are still waiting. And for those without access to medical care. 

But I rejoice, too in the moments our eyes connect and we share a smile. To every mother, those moments are precious. To me, they are the reminder of what I could have lost, these fleeting moments of life. 

Sometimes, I wonder if I could do it again, the sacred honor of carrying a small one in my womb? Because what if… 

My postpartum body has healed. It’s strong again, proud of the two babies it carried earth side. But my heart still needs a thick coat of salve when I give into the wicked what if’s. 

This is motherhood. We carry our fragile organ hearts outside ourselves— they are bound to be scraped, gashed, and bruised.

But we heal—bit by bit—when we are gentle storytellers of our own stories. We heal when we know we aren’t swimming the raging seas alone. 

Voracious reader, history enthusiast, local explorer, graduate in English Literature, and children books consumer, Kris Ann Valdez is a dabbler in all things self-taught. She is a wife to a spicy Latino and mother of two equally passionate children, Ezra and Vera. She is a desert-dwelling Arizona native and member of a local writer’s group, Pen in Hand. A night novelist, she writes after the children are in bed. Her first novel— a speculative YA fiction— is in the hands of an editor now, and she’s also been featured in For Women Who Roar. 

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1 Comment

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  1. Lucia Marquez

    June 28, 2020 at 6:15 am

    This is tremendously moving, Vera is an example of what a miracle looks like, but it’s amazing how KrisAnn can transform such a hard story into almost a poem with her lyrics. She and her family are an example of Faith and Love. I admire you and love you mucho.


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