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Brave Parenting

A little green turtle named Franklin describes it best, “Being brave means that even when you are afraid of something, you do it anyway.” Franklin and his mom are talking about having an operation in one of his books. But me? Have I ever been really brave? Was it the day when I was eight and I saved my little brother from the snake in the yard? That snake was coiled up, standing taller than 3-year-old Kenneth who with his arm outstretched; stick in hand was playing with “the worm, LOOK the worm!” However, really all I did was drag Kenneth away by the back of his pants while yelling for mama at the top of my lungs. I did not actually do battle with the snake. Somehow, I don’t think this was the bravery that Franklin was talking about.

I didn’t have a choice about being brave the day my oldest daughter was born. I was only 28 weeks pregnant; it was not yet time for me to have a baby. I wasn’t ready in so many ways, but I was told I had no choice or both of us would die. As soon as I woke up that Saturday morning, I knew something was wrong. After a quick examination at the hospital things moved very fast. I had no choice, the placenta had torn away from the wall of my uterus, I was bleeding and my baby was no longer being supported by my body. It was a very grave situation, chances were high that I would die if they didn’t perform a C-Section immediately. Chances were high that the baby wouldn’t survive being born 12 weeks early. I prayed and cried silently. I listened to all this medical blather in a state of the calmest panic I have ever known. I signed paper after paper allowing the doctors to perform the necessary medical procedures on me and my unborn child. And less than 3 hours after I walked in the door of the hospital they rolled a tiny bubble of an enclosed bassinet up to my head so I could glimpse my 2 lb 7 oz daughter. It was July 5th.

She wasn’t supposed to be born until September 13 -- 71 more days. I had thought I’d be spending those 71 days planning a nursery, attending baby showers, and going to childbirth classes. My life had been turned inside out. I kept a vigil in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) hours after an emergency C-Section as I listened to the Neonatologist explain how slim the chances were that my child would survive and how great the chance was for health complications, if she did indeed live. I couldn’t hold her, I couldn’t even touch her. I was so ill; I’d had major surgery, lost a tremendous amount of blood, and developed a spinal headache from the epidural. My body, my brain, and and my heart hurt beyond reason but I had to be brave to make decisions about the care of my very sick baby girl.

I existed in this surreal state where I received care necessary after surgery, rolled down to the NICU to stare at my child through a plastic barrier and ask question after question about all the machines, lights, sounds and activity going on around her, I pumped breast milk to provide her with the best possible nourishment that only I could give. Providing her with mothers milk and prayer were the ONLY things I could do for my child – I felt so helpless. I was constantly terrified. I was ill and hurting and confused. No one would give me reassurance that my child would live, they only would quote the odds based on her current medical state. Nevertheless, I was THE MOMMY. I didn’t have a choice, she needed me. I refused medication that would taint my breast milk and make it unusable for her. I studied every pamphlet that was available. This went on for three long days-- and then they said I had to go home. Without my baby. She would remain in NICU until she was well enough to come home , this is usually around the baby’s actual due date they told me (if things go well). I didn’t want to leave her. Why couldn’t I stay I begged.

NICU was a multi bed nursery unit, a large rectangle room with about 20 babies in various isoletts around a centered nurse’s station. There was only about 3 or 4 feet between each baby, enough for a rocking chair when parents were allowed into the unit. There were no beds for parents, no private rooms for babies – there was nowhere for me. My doctor was able to arrange for me to stay two more nights in my room due to my own medical circumstances but on that 5th day after my daughter was born I had to be very brave. I had to walk out of the hospital and leave my helpless and tiny child in the care of strangers. They let me touch her tiny hand before I left that day as I sobbed and told her how sorry I was, how much I loved her and how I’d be back every day to see her. I begged the doctors and nurses to take care of her, to comfort her when she cried, and to love her when she was scared. My body was racked with sobs and fear as I left the hospital.

For the next 10 ½ weeks I visited my child at least twice a day, some days not even being allowed to touch her. Finally, on the day she was 2 weeks old I was able to hold my daughter for the first time about five minutes. Each day was still a challenge of learning all I could to make the right choices for her. There were so many tubes, so much medicine, so many procedures and so little I could do myself. I had to be brave and trust that these medical professionals were making the right decisions for my helpless child. It seemed that my baby would take two steps forward and then two steps back, but I bravely sat by her side even though the hospital was over 25 miles from my house. After four weeks I had to go back to work. I had no choice because my health insurance and hers was provided through my employer. I had no concept of catastrophic medical conditions until that time period. I was brave and began to work a reduced schedule to maintain health insurance coverage for my child and to ensure that I would be able to take some time off when she was finally able to come home. I remember that first day back. I woke up early to pump breast milk and make it to the hospital by the 7am visiting time. I cried getting ready, I cried driving, and I cried while I was with her for two hours. Then I was very brave again and I walked out the door and drove to work. Yes, I cried the entire day but I worked. I reasoned how lucky I was that I had a child, a job to support her, an employer that allowed me a reduced schedule. As soon as the day was over, I headed back to the hospital. This schedule continued over the next 6 ½ weeks she was hospitalized. I’d be at the hospital by 7am, work by 9am then back to the hospital by 7pm, and her daddy and I would stay with her until 11:30,pm or 12am each night. Each time I left her I placed my hand on top of her tiny body and prayed. Then very bravely, I walked out of the NICU crying and leaving her behind.

Finally, the day came when the doctors said she could come home. What pure joy I felt. What utter fear. My tiny girl who was barely 5 pounds was a typical preemie. She sometimes forgot to breath. In addition, sometimes her heart would forget to beat. The nurses and doctors were trained for those moments and I had learned to handle them under their supervision. Surprisingly, usually all it takes to restart their little systems is a hard thump on the foot or patting the back a bit briskly. Still, it’s a bit unnerving at best. The idea that I’d be in complete control of all her medications, special care, and normal baby stuff on top of a monitor that would always be attached to her to indicate her breathing and heart beats was terrifying. But I wanted my baby home with me so badly, in my care 24 hours a day – so again I was very brave and I learned all that I needed to know. I took the required CPR classes. We spent one night in a hospital room down the hall from the NICU following the strict 2 hour feeding, medicating, monitoring schedule on our own with visits from nurses to cheer us on. During this time, I continue to pump breast milk every four hours because she still used a very tiny special bottle. Sleep? Not that night. And really not much the previous 10 ½ weeks. (In fact, I’m not sure I’ve slept through many nights in the past 17 years since she was born.) The next day I could not believe these people were letting me leave the hospital with this fragile baby, scared doesn’t begin to describe it. But the overwhelming joy and immeasurable love and devotion helped me to be very brave. Again, I walked out of the hospital doors with tears streaming down my face, but finally for a different reason.

Since that day, I’ve had many opportunities to be brave. When I returned to work 8 weeks later and left that tiny girl in my mama’s care; mama and I were both very brave. There is no one else I would have trusted her with and my mama wouldn’t have had it any other way. She jumped right in and followed that 3-hour care schedule each and every day like a pro. I’m sure she was scared, but like me, love made her brave. As Kenly grew and her health became stronger I had to be brave each time she reach a milestone. I was brave the first day I left her at preschool. I was brave when she was hospitalized with pneumonia. I was brave when I took her to her first dance class. I was brave when she went on her first play date. My bravery muscles were being stretched and honed.

The fear lingered not just for Kenly. I had always wanted a big family, at least 10 kids I use to say. We began to talk about the possibility of having another child. I went to doctors and specialist. The experts made the risks clear and I prayed relentlessly for guidance. The odds were in my favor. There were risks, but the risks were manageable somewhat they explained. So one day while I was feeling particularly brave, I decided that it was time to have another baby. Within a VERY short time I was startled to find out I was pregnant and I was not feeling brave at all. WAIT, I thought, I’ve changed my mind….this isn’t a good idea…be thankful for what you have…what was I thinking…DEAR LORD! But I had no choice, I was pregnant and was truly deliciously happy about it. So I decided to be brave again.

I took all the precautions my doctors suggested. I ate the right foods, I took the right medicines, and I exercised and took care of myself. I went on bed rest when it was prescribed and bravely parented my four-year miracle child while doing it all. Even though I was careful, I had to be hospitalized twice. The second time I was 30 weeks pregnant and the doctor told me he recommended that we take the baby. Not only was I brave, I was stubborn. This time, I knew things weren’t at a critical point for the baby and me. I knew that I still had a choice. It may have been best for ME to deliver at that time, but I knew it wasn’t best for my BABY. So, I was brave. I negotiated. I explained what I knew and what my oldest daughter had been through. I told them that unless one of us was in danger of immediate death, I was going to be brave and continue the pregnancy as long as possible. I can’t say the doctor was happy, but I was successful and 8 ½ weeks later I delivered a healthy 6lb 11oz baby girl. What a glorious day.

I’ve been brave each time one of my girls has reached a growing up milestone. From going to “Big School”, to play dates, to learning to swim. I’ve learned that Franklin is right about being brave. I’ve been scared so many times for my children. When they have spent the night with a friend for the first time, or gone to sleep away camp. But love has helped me be brave and my devotion to them and their happiness helps. Sending a teenager off driving in a car for the first time or the 50th time is an exercise in bravery. Allowing them to get in the car with a friend or a date – oh my stars! Next week, I’ll be sending a Senior off to her last year of High School and another piece of my heart to her second year of Middle School. We bring these precious lives into the world. We provide for their every need and they are our hearts. But we have to be brave, we have to let the grow and learn and live. By being a parent some of my moments are braver than others - but we are ALL extremely brave each and every step of the way.