Nurse Kathy & Receptionist Mary

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.

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#nationalpreemieday

#nationalpreemieday: imageThis was Imani at 5 days old. She was 2 pounds, 6 ounces, and 14 weeks early. She had a significant brain hemorrhage and a condition that causes blindness, was fed through an IV, lived in an incubator, and was breathing with a ventilator here that I’m holding in place. Plus a list of other issues and a prognosis filled with uncertainty. She didn’t breathe on her own for months, and went home when she was apnea and bradycardia free for 24 hours – which means she didn’t stop breathing and her heart rate didn’t drop. I had just turned 19, was a victim of sexual abuse & had complications that were genetic & accelerated by socioeconomic stress & domestic violence. I was unmarried, living with a schizophrenic roommate who died from suicide. We moved from place to place to survive on home care worker wages and were regularly in imminent danger. I almost died in a car accident that happened because I was sleep deprived & malnourished. She almost died many times from a number of causes. I didn’t know if my child was safe much of the time because I had to leave her with unstable people who were all I had in order to work. It’s a long, traumatic story. I still can’t believe that we are still surviving. Nobody knows what it has been like, except for us. Our triumph is not in any vainglorious declarations, but in the next day building on the last, toward a vision of happiness that includes transforming the ugly into beauty around us and for others.