Watching the Fight

Was that it? Was I making my baby suffer because I was being selfish? Did I really have it in me to let her go?

My daughter at 6 weeks old

Sixteen years ago, I was at a childbirth class learning about labor massage and the latest in labor survival techniques. I was having Braxton Hicks contractions, but had been able to drink water, use the bathroom, and sleep for an hour between most of them the night before. Everything that tells you it’s false labor.

When the woman teaching the class told me she wanted me to go down to maternity and get checked out, I shrugged and said sure. Even when the maternity nurse told me that they’d have to fly me to the bigger hospital 150 miles away if I didn’t “stop it,” I simply  started making mental plans for my older kids and work while I anticipated relaxing and being bored on bed rest. I was only 29 weeks pregnant; plenty of time left to get ready for the baby.

And then things got serious.

The nurse wanted to check my cervix before calling the doctor for advise. Suddenly she yelled out to another nurse, “Call the doctor! I see a head!”

The tears came immediately. All I could think was that it was too soon, my baby girl wasn’t ready, how could she make it?

I was barely into my third trimester.

But there was no stopping things at that point. The room was immediately full of hospital staff. They lifted me to a different bed (I wasn’t allowed to get up) and wheeled me to a delivery room. Questions were asked, blood tests were run, all while trying to prep for the arrival of a very tiny and fragile infant. Why did I think I was having premature labor? Why did I have trouble gaining weight for the pregnancy? Had I been doing drugs? How was my stress level? Did I feel safe at home?

I answered their questions, as confused and confounded as they were. The on-call doctor who arrived, bless him, had delivered my previous child. He assured them that I never gained much weight with my pregnancies. The blood tests were, of course, negative for drugs or any sort of infection. There was no identifiable reason for this to be happening.

Labor and delivery were painful. My body had, for whatever reason, decided to do this 11 weeks early, yet it wasn’t actually ready. The changes that happen to a woman’s body during the last trimester in preparation for pushing out a baby had not happened yet. Everything was shifting and moving and stretching at an incredible rate, and not everything was cooperating.

That was the easy part.

My little girl came weighing less than 3 pounds. Her skin was translucent; she looked a dark reddish color.

And she wasn’t breathing successfully.

The hospital staff worked desperately to keep her breathing. The delivery doctor himself, Dr. Anderson, personally “bagged ” her by hand to keep her breathing. The life flight was called at some point, but they were already on another call and had to drop off their current patient before they could come get my baby. The doctor and staff kept her going for Two. Hours.

When the flight crew arrived, everything was a frightening blur. I got to walk to see my baby for a minute in an incubator. They prepped her to fly, a tiny thing with tubes down her throat and wires attached to limbs the size of my finger, enclosed in a battery-powered isolette. The crew wheeled her into my room and handed me a Polaroid picture of her. They were kind and they were honest. They would do their best to keep her alive until she got to the NICU 150 miles away. I was hemorrhaging and couldn’t go.

This Polaroid might be the only picture I ever got of my baby. I might never get to hold her.

Still fighting

She made the flight, with her dad on the plane and the life fight staff working hard.

She made it to the NICU.

She made it till I got there the evening of the next day, terrified that I would not get to see her and tell her I loved her while she was still breathing and could hear me.

And there she was, tiny and red and intubated, a machine pushing air in and out of immature lungs smaller than a Thin Mint.

She fought hard. But fight in a failing 3-pound body is still a small thing. And a great thing.

She fought collapsing lungs and pneumothoraxes and sepsis. She fought to digest the food going through a tube  directly into her stomach. She fought to adapt to the stress on her system every time someone touched her.

After two weeks of alarms and emergencies and medicines and machines and seeing my baby’s body turn limp and gray while they changed her breathing tube, one of the doctors approached me after morning rounds and told me my baby was very sick and was getting worse. They had been doing everything they could. There wasn’t anything they hadn’t tried. There wasn’t anything more they could do.

She told me it was time to start thinking about quality of life. It was time to decide: Were we just holding on and making her, my sweet baby, go through all of this just because we weren’t willing to let go?

I sobbed. Was that it? Was I making my baby suffer because I was being selfish? Did I really have it in me to let her go?

We cried. We prayed. Our family prayed. People we didn’t know, and still don’t know, prayed, across the country and even in some other countries, friends of friends of friends of acquaintances.

I was broken and confused and angry. At some point, it just hit me. This wasn’t only my child; she was God’s child. And finally, I actually meant it when I said, “God, she is yours. If she is not mine to keep, thank you for letting me have her for this time. I don’t understand, and it might kill me, but she is yours.”

The next morning, her numbers started improving – rapidly. Although she was still quite sick and continued to need medical intervention, she stabilized. Over the next few days, nurses, doctors, and social workers stopped by her isolette, saying things like, “I didn’t think she’d be here when I came back” and “She’s a miracle baby.” One doctor specifically said, “She is a miracle. We didn’t change anything; we had already done everything we could. This is all her, and all God.”

When she was a month old, I got to hold her for the first time. It required a pillow to help support her still-tiny body. Her siblings were able to visit her. We started kangaroo care, skin-to-skin contact proven to help preemie babies improve. (She had been too sick for even this before.) We began to learn how to “do her cares.”

A day before she turned 2 months old, we strapped her into her car seat to leave the hospital, weighing just over 4 pounds and breathing “room air” completely on her own. It was still 3 weeks until her due date of Christmas Day.

My baby girl spent her first Christmas at home with her family, and that is a miracle.

My daughter taking pictures of the sunset

She turned 16 recently. She is an artist, and an aspiring chef. She is quiet, and loud, and fiercely protective of her friends. She has a soft heart, leaves food out for birds, and saves spiders. She is a Master Procrastinator of Chores and an occasional Raiser of Voice. She loves manga and anime and creates whole alternate universes.

She is amazing, and she is mine. But mostly, she is God’s.

And she is a miracle.

-KJ Roe

On the Backs of Waves

The whisper comes to me,
riding on the backs of waves
in a glassy sea as the light
appears in the distance,
a sign of hope under heavy clouds
a reminder that the distance is only
a moment and the darkness
only momentary
And my heart, though scarred,
hears the Truth and recalls
that Poets
and Dreamers
are idealists,
gifts birthed in reverie,
in hope and
airy harmony,

and they must rest
within the Light.

-KJ Roe

After the Swan

Crosshatch in
charcoal shades
ashy husks and
impenetrable blacks
in tangles on scorched earth;
ebony spires
standing stark monument
to a life lived in
lush overgrowth –
Musical balls in
palaces of birch and spruce
and cottonwood greens
whispered trysts among
the alders
and laughing leaf races
on brook-ish trails
The subdued commotion
of sylvan soiree

Now silent,
the scent of smoke
a lingering memento of
that which was,

and the curling green
of newborn shoot

a promise of what will be.

-KJ Roe

Beauty in the Dying

Lacy lines in frost
in curling leaf,
in this, her
paling face
The gray peers out
from colors
applied, an
artistry betraying
the battles fought
and the never-presented
decorations
of a life soldier

A map of blue
and purple
veins tangled
intersections on her
hands, trails along
arms and legs
and feet

Fluttering lash,
lover’s voice
summons recollection
as she stands on
the threshold
where he cannot carry

And in her newly
clear vision
the current of
their tears
washes away
leagues, and their
ships shelter together
in a harbor
of memory
and grief

-KJ Roe

Transcendence

I forget, sometimes, 

what it is to be me. In the bustle
of everyday and the demands coming
every way, I forget how to hear
that quiet voice,
how to just

  relax

into that person who is
soft, and serene, and
vulnerably and wholly at
peace with herself.

The quiet is filled with

    noise

because That Me loves and
needs the voices and
laughter and companionship
of those I love and those
I admire and those who,
bless them, love me.

That Me wants to help and
thrives on participating
and encouraging and
bringing a bit of sunshine
into the world.

   But.

  That Me
   also needs

The hush of sitting in
nature, so quiet the buzz
of insect wings is an
exclamation and the song of
whispering leaves is a
lullaby.

She needs the lapping and
gurgling of water that has
seen
   greater travels
  and alpine meadows
   and has looked down at the

small greatness
of Earth
from a cloud's-eye perch
in the sky.

She needs the caress of
the breeze and the kiss of
the sun and the rain
running down her cheeks.

She needs the strain of
effort and strength of will
and accepted challenge of
lake and trail.

And as her eyes are dazzled by
the color-washed sun
settling behind the hills,

As her limbs stretch in
rebuilt muscle and her soul
in regained tranquility,

My heart beats
in patterns of eons

that transcend

the cry of minutes
and the crowding

rush of days.

-KJ Roe


Sway

Suspended 
in the sound of leaves
mimicking water's hushed
rush under the
chee-chee-hee-hee of
goshawks and sparrows
countered by a duck's
scolding call

Dry yellow grass
interrupted in its plodding
monologue by the
impudence of green
upstarts stretching towards
evening's golden light

Whistling songs alight on
the breeze as stripey things
buzz around blossoms
and petals soaking up
summer's short shining

Tall grasses who haven't met
this year's mower dance
freedom of unbridled growth
and the trees burst forth
in songbirds of laughter
leaves tickling their
parchment-paper bark

Coaxing them out of
deep-rooted wonderings
to play chase with the
day's shadows
and rock-a-bye
lullaby in the
slumbers
of the
night

-KJ Roe

G[r]o[w]ing

20190224_164413

Distance measures out in
mountains and pebbles
and ocean waves
Heights stretching through
peaks and treetops
and fingers of flower petals
reaching for one last bit
of sunshine
like roots searching ever
deeper in loamy soil
tasting every possible
drop of sustenance
tendrils spread as
moonbeams and starlight
across the heavy
expanse of night
through the thick
blanket of losing

– I look at the stars and wonder,
which will you be?

-KJ Roe