being me

On the Day You Were Born

Five years ago today, I held our youngest daughter for the first time. She was 24 hours old. She was down to almost 3 pounds. She could fit into the palm of her father’s hand. I held her for the briefest of minutes until she stopped breathing, her alarm went off, and she had to go back in her incubator. I remember being too scared to hold her, she was so tiny, and yet the nurse, Layla, told me she would be okay. That being held by us would only help, that we would get used to the alarms, the wires, the tubes. That what Augustine needed most at that time from us was our touch. It was the one thing we could do.

I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant on my own. I still remember the doctor being as surprised as we were. The whole pregnancy with her was one fraught with complications. 8 weeks in we thought we lost her, but it turned out that it wasn’t her that was causing the bleeding, it was the blood clots that I had. After weeks of bleeding, and so many ultrasounds we could fill an album, the news came that they thought she had Spinal Bifida. One more ultrasound in a darkened room as they meticulously scanned every centimeter of her body. Her gender was revealed as a side-note, “…by the way you’re having a girl…” and I remember calling my husband, Brandon, to tell him. Standing in front of the hospital shouting into my phone over traffic; we’re having a girl, and she may be okay, they didn’t see any holes…

When my labor started at 29 weeks, we were surprised, yet didn’t think it meant anything. Surely, it would stop. Surely, it was much too soon. Yet, 6 days later as Augustine came so fast that the nurse caught her because there was no doctor in the room, we became part of a tribe of families that got to take the elevator up to the 8th floor of the hospital, to scrub in, to watch their baby grow under plastic. Who got used to alarms beeping and others caring for a child, we were supposed to take home. Whose crib stood empty as her siblings asked us what happened to the baby?

And to this day, while I see the child she has become, the child that knows no limits, I also am reminded of the events of her birth, of the brutality of her birth. Of how we didn’t know why I was in so much pain that even the strongest pain medicine they could give, didn’t do anything. Of how my mother came to visit and didn’t know how to help. How Brandon stood by my side, holding my hand, imploring the doctors to figure out what was going on. How I couldn’t even scream in the end and just cried silently as I felt like I was being torn apart and they couldn’t make it stop.

In those events, wrapped up in pain and fear, Augustine came into the world. Silently and quickly. Brandon was the first to tell me she was breathing as they rushed in and rushed her away.

It was then that they realized that the lining had separated from my uterus. A condition that can kill your baby and cause massive bleeding to the mother. Having Augustine early was my body’s way of saving her. Forcing her into the world was my body’s way of giving her a chance.

And she is fine. She just turned five. She is in school and knows how to write her name. She knows our phone number. She is a great friend and role model. She loves her teddy “Puppy” and asks me to sing to her every night. The doctors have declared her perfectly average years ago and yet, on her birthday, and in the days leading up to and away from it, I am reminded of one of the most traumatic events that happened to me. Of the fear, of the pain, and of the incredible guilt that comes with giving your child such a hard start to their life, even if you know rationally it is not your fault. I can see that she is fine. I know she is fine, and yet, the joy is wrapped in memories that are hard, still, to process.

How many others carry memories such as these silently?

I think of our students as they come to class with unknown trauma surrounding them. Of how small things that we see as harmless may be triggers. Of how we all carry our stories with us and within us and that sometimes those stories can still make us cry when we are reminded of them. That one of the things trauma does to you is to intricately change the connections in your brain and that you might never fully heal, even if you know you should. That it causes you sometimes to act in ways that don’t make fully sense at first, but then later can be traced back to a reaction caused by something that happened to you. That it is something I have had to recognize within my own actions as I cried on her birthday and I couldn’t figure out why.

And so as I share this seemingly too personal story, I do it in the hopes of giving myself the freedom to speak these words out loud. When I recognize that her birthday, while joyful, is also one that carries many layers, I can feel the burden lighten. When I write out the thoughts that continue to haunt me, they seem to lose some of their weight as we look to a new year of memories.

Sometimes I wonder how some of our students do it every day, knowing full well the lives they live in, the lives that continue to produce trauma in their world. How perhaps in our rooms they can feel safe. How perhaps our time together can be something good in their lives that doesn’t cause them more pain. How perhaps with us they can find courage if they need it, reclaim their voice if they lost it, find hope if they seek it. Because I know that what we do everyday matters, that how we help kids feel everyday matters. And as Augi sits here next to me, I am reminded of what we all know to be true; every moment is but a moment, and yet, every moment has the power to break us or empower us. We choose its legacy. Happy birthday, Augustine Grete, and many more.

10 thoughts on “On the Day You Were Born”

  1. Important message in this powerful personal story: more often than not we don’t know what personal trauma our students or colleagues might be carrying with them. Taking the time to listen with empathy can make a big difference. Happy birthday to your daughter!

  2. A wonderful friend of mine shared your story with me. It’s so close to mine and I cried reading your words. My little is a perfectly average 7 year now and every birthday is the same. But initially it was every day that was the same. The tears and sadness, the deep abiding guilt over the trauma that we introduced these sweet innocents into. The endless sound of the nicu beeping that didn’t stop even in sleep. I encourage you to read about nicu ptsd. We are out here. It does exist and I feel your heart. Best birthday wishes to your perfectly average 5 year old.

  3. This, “every moment is but a moment, and yet, every moment has the power to break us or empower us. We choose its legacy.” moved me. My first grandchild is two weeks old today. He is beautiful and perfect. And yet these experiences test us, even in the best of circumstances. There is strength in overcoming and making it through such a traumatic event. Thanks for sharing your experience with us and helping me see the joy in the chaos.

  4. Thank you for sharing this very personal story. So often people feel their experience is unique and no one can understand how they feel. Everyone has a story unique to them but relatable to so many others. Sharing stories such as this helps healing and makes us all feel a little closer to someone, often a stranger but yet not a stranger, because of similar experiences. Happy birthday to your little girl and good luck to you in your continual healing.

  5. Your story is a powerful one that speaks many truths. I admire your dedication and conviction to share while encouraging others to do the same. I wish more people were willing to be open and honest about their experiences in life because of the helpful opportunity it could provide to others. I verbally share my personal experiences as openly and honestly as given the opportunity with my students and their parents in the hope it could help them in some way. I am a very apprehensive writer and avoid it whenever possible because even the simplest note is such a long painful process. Rereading over and over to edit and revise even this reply to your post. As a reading teacher, maybe I’ve read too many good examples to ever feel adequate. So, thanks for doing what you do.
    Happy New Year!

  6. I am a faithful reader of your blog, although not always in a timely fashion depending on the craziness of life. Since I heard you speak about 3 years ago at WSRA, I have felt so connected to you and your blogs always reinforce that. I can especially relate to this entry because my oldest child, my daughter, was a premie. We, too, belonged to that tribe that scrubbed up and got used to all of the alarms and wires. I, too, had guilt over my body sending her out early, but realizing that it was God’s way of giving my sweet girl a fighting chance. And although my now 22 year old is very normal and doing very well, I interestingly can see in hindsight how some of the medical traumas she experienced have possibly shaped some of her uneasiness about all things medical. Yet, even that is a small price to pay for how well things have turned out. As I deal with students who have all sorts of trauma too, I know that the effects are real. However, all I have to do to have hope is to look at my daughter. Resiliency in the young is a real thing!

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