The imprints of some experiences stay with us forever.
They swim around and around in our subconscious mind like something stuck permanently going down the bathtub drain.
One of these such memories is the worst evening of her life.
She lies on a hospital cot curled up in a ball thinking that she couldn’t, for the first time, get back up to standing from this fall.
Her newborn lay in a cold, clear isolette. No parent who hasn’t gone through this will ever understand.
They’ll never understand the fear, the cold-blooded fear, that runs through chilled veins when a child may or may not thrive into infancy, although just its imagining will turn any parental stomach.
She saw many other faces in the NICU. She rarely saw other parents.
At first, she couldn’t understand; couldn’t fathom where everyone was when all that was worth living for was within the confines of this seemingly sterile jail cell.
But as time wore on she figured it out.
They were out working. They were caring for older children. Because many of these babies were here for much longer than her own few-days stay, and some would never leave.
They had to transfer rooms when theirs would be turned into a mourning room for a family that would surely be grieving by that evening.
She could hear stifled cries through the walls and, for once, she saw the same faces regularly, but now she wished she wasn’t.
She drank kefir from a brown bag filled with her favorite foods and kept in the lobby refrigerator. She hadn’t cared about food at all, but her midwife did and had brought her everything she loved to eat.
The sobs and cries and chest-beating howls that she wanted to let loose sometimes dripped slowly down her cheeks—silently, wordlessly, showing the bleeding of her wounded mother’s breast—but, more often than not, she became the stiff, lifeless person that she inhabits when truly and deeply affected.
She’s angry—a fierce, fearful anger leaps from her body when motivated—but when something intertwines a barb within her soul, be it from emotional pain or a wound so deep that it could potentially be fatal, she closes down. She’s always been like this.
Her gaze falls on her newborn in the clear isolette, who she’s learned will be okay.
Yet somewhere in the space of the passing days, she’s pulled back from being a mother.
It’s hard to touch someone who’s hooked up to machinery and it’s even more challenging to begin to love someone who you might have to let go of before you’ve really begun to hold on.
She remembers the shock that came with the sudden realization that her daughter was in danger; the shock of recognizing completely that she loved someone more than she’d ever experienced before and they’d only just met hours previously.
Tears come to her eyes, even now, but she still won’t let them flow.
She feels a slight flutter in her lower abdomen where another baby grows—a sibling for the child once in a clear, cold isolette—and she knows that her maternal soul is already tearing open before her skin has; before she has even given birth.
She pauses and drinks in a quiet morning breath with her eyes closed, her empty coffee mug sitting on the wooden floor next to her bed where her fingers clickity-clack, clickity-clack across her laptop keyboard.
And she did make it through. She did live. But she knows, too, that there’s a gaping, oozing hole in the center of her chest that will never, ever heal.
And the sometimes stifling reality is that we’re all walking around with holes in our chests.
Beating, injured flesh-made hearts that continue to pump and live and feel because, amazingly, the smallest token of genuine love can begin to create tender scar tissue over nearly any wound.
Her baby suckled at her breast, looking up into new mother’s eyes, and she let herself warm to the gentle sounds of coos and giggles emanating from the tiny being cradled nearest to her heart.
Photo credit: Adam Jones/Flickr.