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

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

G[r]o[w]ing

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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

Batten Down

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Swirling, howling, blasting
the wind beats at the door
Shutters shudder, clinging
to their perch, and
door holds the line
while chill infiltrates
the weak spots where
seals just can’t hold out
Windows withstand the onslaught
though their groans slip
between their panes
And in the dark,
fading certainty
trembling bravado
and the fearful hollow
where confidence once
had flamed

-KJ Roe

Prison Break

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The door is open,
I must escape
There is no time,
it cannot wait
Must leave this cage
of pens and files
where blood is spilt
in red-tape miles
Duck under threat
of deadline siege
and outrun duty’s
ravenous needs
Break free from
tightened daily chains
expectation’s gnawing
strain
I must run free where

Nature Reigns

Stretch out with my
arms flung wide
where breath can
truly breathe

I must look far at tops of trees
and mountain peaks
and wild things
hear the calls of birds
and streams
taste the fresh
in evergreen breeze
inhale heavy
mossy scents
as ancient rumbled
dirt is spent
in lines between
my toes

The lure of green
and brown and blue
and all the rainbow’s
many hues
hails with need
I can’t refuse
There is no time,
it cannot wait
for in the wilds
my heart awaits.

-KJ Roe

Contours in Crystal

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The glow of warm lights
wraps its arms around
traveler and couple
and quiet dreamer
gazing out
at the flurries, the
same in their shade
and in their cold
and in their errant,
erratic, swirling descent
toward frozen ground

The variety of their paths
a feast to those who look,
intricacies of their individual
shapes noted by the dedicated
and the patient and the
ones who look deep,
infinitely different,

Infinitely beautiful,
each one a fingerprint
of its own faithful
hopes, dreams of
drift or tree-lace
or child’s laughing
snowball-fight screams

Evidence of their
numbers piling up
in hills and cakes, covering
roofs and transforming
landscapes into a
new sort of world
where the magic
of wonder and the
power of love

illuminate
the darkness,
where hearts hold
no malice,
where brother
recognizes brother,
no matter his shape
no matter his shade

Snowflakes dancing,
drifting, bumping
their way through a life of
indescribable
Beauty and
unpredictable winds,
and the shapes we make
as we come together
become
the picture of our legacy
before our bodies
melt into the land

-KJ Roe

Metamorphosis

Butterfly woman
Image from https://goo.gl/images/j4B4Ez   PC: Unknown

Soft and pliant
No shield
No boundaries
No protections
Now hidden, now enwrapped
As a being ensorcelled
Cocooned in layers
A chrysalis of experiences
Of losses
And breakings
And shatterings
Now emerging, now changed
A creature unexpected
Broken from layers
A freedom of scars
– They didn’t warn of the pain.

-KJ Roe