This is week two of being pretty depressed. And I realize that I’ve been depressed for a long time. I lose track of how long. There are phases. It’s been a lifetime. Years and years and years. It ebbs and flows and sometimes I’m not even that self-aware of it because it’s so normal. And then there are times when I feel happy and realize how depressed I’ve been. I will have a moment of inspiration and feel alive. And depression is not just about being sad, a lot of times it’s melancholy, hopelessness, and lack of energy. It’s a very weird thing to live with. It can be dark, beautiful, and not always painful. Sometimes it’s like being under water and everything looks like that. And it can be many shades, not always gray. And I realize that this is part of my existence. I don’t think it will ever be cured and I’m not sure that’s the point. Understanding would be nice because pressure and judgment don’t help at all. Love and empathy are everything. It’s not because you need attention, it really is life blood when you are sinking like a rock. And with all I’ve learned, I will never tell anybody that happiness is a choice, they should be grateful, someone has it worse, they just need to do this or that or look on the bright side. I will just be there and be a friend and not instruct. I won’t tell them what to think or what they should do. I will just accept someone else’s feelings without having to control them. And I don’t have to understand everything to support someone. I don’t need to project my life experiences onto someone else or make it OK. Sometimes the most powerful things we can do are validation, apologies, and showing up. Telling me not to live in the past minimizes my pain. Comparing me to someone else is disrespectful. You don’t have to have the answers. Nobody really has the answers. Unconditional acceptance is wisdom. I’m glad when someone listens.
While Baby Imani was in the hospital, we got to know Nurse Kathy – a woman with a heart-shaped face and heart-shaped life. Close to retirement, she was still as joyous as someone just beginning a career of her dreams. Her smile shone from her eyes as she worked. When I met her for the first time, she hugged me, pulled back to smile directly at me, and then embraced me again. It made me feel warm all over, and safe – like everything would be OK because she was there. Along with her beautiful smile, she laughed from the inside, with her head back, and sang or hummed as though she didn’t have a care in the world. I needed her validation, after having been abandoned during my pregnancy, and before that, losing everything when I left home and church. It was a wonderful surprise at a time when I had almost nobody.
“Hi, Bridget! Look at your little angel, I put a bow in her hair,” Kathy said. Drawing closer to the isolette, I peered in at my tiny baby attached to tubes and sensors under three banks of lights. Her miniature face was covered with an eye guard attached to pieces of velcro stuck to the sides of her head. And on the top of her fragile head, still recovering from birth trauma, adorned by a sparse coat of jet black hair, was a bright, pink bow, set in Vasoline.
In that moment, we were honored as a family. Kathy gave us a gift, symbolized by a plastic bow with a dab of Vasoline. My daughter was treated like she was special, and worth loving by not only me, but people who would meet her. And I as her mother was regarded with respect, as I was presented with my decorated child. Kathy moved us beyond what we were thought of by judgmental society to a position of grace. Here in this NICU on the University of Minnesota campus, I was more than a teen mom, and Imani was more than my assumed mistake. We were important.
When I visited Imani every day, Kathy was often there. Sometimes she would be changing Imani’s diaper, or cleaning her up, singing as she did. Like every visit, I parked in the hospital lot, took the elevator up to the 4th floor, and was buzzed in to the NICU through the double doors. Mary was at the desk during the day, and we chatted while I signed in. She would one day mail me the records of my sign-ins as a keepsake. All day, she greeted parents, family members, and professionals, as though each one mattered to her especially. Her imprint on me is lasting because she made me feel welcome. There were not many places in the world where I felt welcome in my situation. But Mary. Mary made me feel welcome. With people like Kathy and Mary, we would make it.