Monday, August 11, 2008


I have never really written about the events surrounding Madam's birth. I've written around them—about how that endless second before I heard her cry, the way that silence screamed through my aching, red insides. I've talked about that first year which felt like one long sleepless night (thank goodness for Law and Order reruns and TLC).

It's something I've never wanted to write about. Perhaps hoping that if I didn't pin the events down in words, then it's like they never happened.

Of course, they did.

When Madam finally gave her weak cry, they put her on my chest for a second before whisking her away to the neonatal unit. I remember whispering something to her, perhaps simply, “Hey you.” She made me speechless.

After they took her away, I lay back, tears of exhaustion and fear leaking from my eyes. I remember how they evaporated into salt as soon as they fell into my parched mouth. My mother was alarmed, told me sternly not to cry. She was probably more afraid that I was. She was remembering my niece, who suffered complications at birth and is now profoundly disabled.

I was wheeled into my room, stared at the sun slanting through the blinds. It traced patterns on the wall that looked like a message. But I didn't understand.

TEG was with Madam. I am not sure where my mother was. Hospital chapel, most likely.

What I felt wasn't fear, not yet. It was a disbelief as strange and strong as if I had been deposited into another person's life. This simply could not be happening. I couldn't imagine a world where this was true. I clung to the assurance of that lie.

A doctor came in and informed me, kindly, that Madam would have to travel to the closest NICU—another hospital, about 30 miles away. He brought me a polaroid picture of her, her small hand pressing itself against the edge of her incubator. Already fierce. Was she looking for me?

I nodded dumbly at the doctor's words and he left. TEG would go with her.

I lay back in the bed, wearing my makeshift diaper full of ice for the pain. I propped her picture carefully against my lamp, but somehow it kept ending up back in my hands. I traced her face so often that my fingertip smeared her. Superimposed over her whole face.

I am sure I slept.

TEG came back eventually, full of stories about the NICU and the doctor's various diagnoses.

This was all my fault. I couldn't push hard enough, and she suffered some trauma in the birth canal. I came down with a fever while in labor. But he never said any of that.

I tried to read. Watched the sunset. Tried to sleep. Tried to feel like a mother, or else remember what it felt to have her inside of me. Neither was quite possible.

The next day, I begged the doctor to discharge me a day early so I could go spend time with Madam at her NICU.

That's when the story becomes strange, even to me.

When I look at pictures of myself as I left the hospital, one thing strikes me. I am smiling. I am happy. What the hell was I so happy about?

That evening, I went to see her for the first time. Wasn't allowed to hold her. So I just sat and watched her sleep. I was so tired, all I wanted to do was go home.

Mothers should want to keep vigil at the NICU bedside. Mothers should tear themselves away only for meals, the occasional rest room break.

I did not spend the night with her there. Not one.

Oh, I had a million reasons. My recovery from the birth was slow and painful (I was taken to emergency care two times while Madam was in NICU). I was dealing with a war exploding between TEG and my mother.

But. None of this should have mattered. I should have BEEN there. I should have WANTED to be. Not just for a few hours every day. But the whole time. The nurses were surprised at me. I could tell. When we called in the morning for her overnight, I could feel their coolness.

And there were moments, even during her NICU time, when I could...forget. Laugh. Watch MTV as I pumped breast milk and feel almost...content.

I carry this guilt inside of me, and I don't know where to lay it down.

When Madam cools towards me, sometimes, I don't immediately see it as the natural separation between mother and child. I think, “She knows. She knows I wasn't there.”

Didn't we bond enough? Will it always be so imperfect between us?

I am obsessed with missing her windows of time. I am obsessed with getting it wrong again.

(Are these words communicating the horror of me? I am not sure. I don't want to protect myself anymore.)

Today, while I sat in a hushed garden with Jessie, I told this story. I am not sure why. She is the kind of person you tell things to, I suppose. Jessie realized that the place where my manuscript stopped was while my main character's newborn was in the NICU. I tried to write around it, then tried to move to other stories. But I couldn't. This is the story I can't tell. This is the story I need to tell.

I needed to finally admit the truth about me. When my daughter needed me the most, I was selfish. I didn't want to go to the hospital, and so I showed up late, left early. I didn't want to sleep there, so I didn't. Not once.

I am so, so sorry about that. I couldn't rise to the occasion. This all showed me the kind of person I really am, after all.

And I can't forgive myself.

(Thanks to Jessie, who encouraged me to get this out and be brave.)



Blogger Jessie said...

You are a brave girl for writing this, dear Monica. And in writing it, you are beginning the process of forgiveness. Reading your story has given me shivers...because I sense how difficult this is for you to walk through. You are facing your fears and I love you dearly for that. This is writing with heart.

6:57 AM, August 11, 2008  
Blogger Jamie said...

I honour your bravery. I honour your truth. I honour the woman you are.

9:48 PM, August 11, 2008  
Anonymous caro said...

I'm not horrified.

Should have wanted is such a trap. The hours and days after a baby comes are completely strange. She had what she needed there. And you're a great mother. I hope forgiveness feels closer. If it were my job to give it out, I would in an instant.

9:53 PM, August 11, 2008  
Blogger Melba said...

I have no words for what mother hood is like for me.
Most other people's words hold no meaning.
I resonate with the emotion behind your words.
and I applaud your bravery.
Thinking of you too~

7:29 PM, August 13, 2008  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

M, no one can ever know how they would cope with a situation until they are in it. This is why I value fiction so much -- to be able to feel myself in someone else's skin as they go through their lives, to feel their joy and pain and shame, their bewilderment at their own actions. And though this story is true, to be able to find it and read it, fiction or nonfiction, it is very powerful. Stories remind us not to judge -- not others, not even ourselves. Because our minds and souls are so complex, the reasons that we do the things we do are so tangled. We have to have empathy for others and ourselves too. I hope you will forgive yourself for this -- and I hope you will find your way to writing through that difficult experience, even if you cannot express the why and the how -- you are not alone, and you are not bad. You are just human, and you have a gift with words AND a gift with emotional truth that not very many people have, so. . . you need to use it, to keep contributing to the "pot of empathy" that is fiction. Reading makes us better, more empathetic people, and your stories will become a part of that. They already have.

7:56 PM, August 13, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are courageous, m. and a very beautiful human being. thank you for writing true, and teaching us all something about authenticity.

9:42 PM, August 14, 2008  
Blogger rdl said...

But you did tell it and told it very well indeed.
Loved this: (loved it all really - it was so real).
What I felt wasn't fear, not yet. It was a disbelief as strange and strong as if I had been deposited into another person's life. This simply could not be happening. I couldn't imagine a world where this was true. I clung to the assurance of that lie.

I've felt this way many times; the last when my father was dying at the Rehab/old age home and i just wanted to go home and did - knowing he wouldn't be there in the morning.
But we have to forgive ourselves; i did, you should.

Sorry for this virtual stranger going on like this, i just couldn't help myself i guess.

8:41 PM, August 19, 2008  
Blogger Leah said...

beautiful post. i can imagine how you would feel guilt and it's all to easy for me to say you should forgive yourself. so instead, i'll say, i honor your bravery, your story, your truth and i wish you compassion for the you who did and always does the best she can with what she has at the time. xox

9:40 PM, August 21, 2008  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

When my father was in the hospital with pneumonia, the nurse told me he would most likely die that night.
A short while later, I left him and went home. I made dinner and watched a movie (Erin Brokavich.) Later that night, my father did die, but was brought back to life with an emergency tracheotomy, and we had another month with him. Like you, I have no explanation for my actions. How could I possibly have GONE HOME? Bt the truth is it had nothing to do with my love for my father; and I wasn't consciously being callous. It's just what I did--in a state of mind that remains mysterious to me to this day. I hope you forgive yourself. From reading your blog, I know you're a loving mother. (Your love has painted such vivid pictures of Madam that I feel as if I know her.) ICaro's comment is so true, especially in a situation like this. "Should have" IS a trap. Love to you.

3:59 PM, August 31, 2008  
Blogger bella rum said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:39 PM, September 02, 2008  
Blogger bella rum said...

A brave and beautifully written post. Looking at our darkest moment and sharing it requires great courage. Thank you. It will help others.

4:57 PM, September 02, 2008  
Blogger Jerri said...

Incredible post--brave and beautiful.

Neither of my children were in the NICU, but both spent many days in the hospital when they were young. My son spent weeks at a time in a brain injury rehab ward.

I can tell you without question that you are not alone. Many, many parents do not stay with their children in the hospital.

Try to be as kind to yourself on this issue as you would be to someone else who told you the story. For truly, that's what is happening now. You are telling yourself the story and imprisoning yourself in it with "should."

Writing like this holds a light in the darkness for all who read it.

3:24 PM, September 22, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home