We sat in a crowded hospital cafeteria, sleep-deprived and terrified. We couldn’t eat. We could barely think. “Do you think she could die?” I asked him.
My stoic husband answered with the slightest head nod, and I could no longer contain my grief. After weeks of no sleep, barely eating, and staring helplessly at this tiny being in an isolette, I was broken. New test results sparked a roller coaster of highs and lows every day as we confronted hope and anguish in alternating measure. I was failing as a mother. I could not meet the needs of my ailing baby, nor be present for my 2-year-old at home. I was full of fear, full of doubt, and full of guilt. There, in that cafeteria, I expressed it all. Tears, sobs, convulsions. I was certain of only one thing: my own despair.
Three weeks earlier, our daughter Bryn had entered the world a full 10 weeks before her due date. There had been no warning signs during the pregnancy indicating Baby Bryn (or Beadie as her big sister Avery called her) would be premature. Unbeknownst to me, an infection was brewing in my amniotic fluid. My body saw the danger and pushed Bryn into this world and into the care of a team of neonatal intensive care unit specialists.
Now here I was, the mother of a 2-pound baby that looked more like a newborn chicken than a newborn child. She was slightly longer than a dollar bill. She spent the first part of her life in a heated incubator, not being able to be held or comforted. Tubes were connected to the vast majority of her body. I felt mostly numb and concentrated on doing whatever people around me told me to do. It was only when I was alone in the shower that the fear and overwhelm would hit and my tears would fall.
My Aunt Jane called to check in on Bryn (and me) on a day when I was feeling like all hope was lost. Jane had been on a spiritual quest since she was a child. She once fell out of a tree only to be caught and laid on the ground by an unknown force. While her “day job” is as an IT professional at a prestigious university, her life’s passion is exploring and understanding consciousness. With my permission, Jane and her friends had been gathering to send light and love to our sweet baby.
“I have a message for you about Bryn”, she said. “Would you like to hear it?”
I was open to anything at this point. “Three things. Bryn gets scared when you leave. Talk to her about where you are going and when you will be back. Reassure her that you will always be there for her that she won’t have to do this alone. She also needs a vision of the future that is filled with love and hope and fun. Talk to her about what she has to look forward to if she stays Let her know that it won’t be just living in a hospital hooked up to tubes and feeling separated from her family. Lastly, she needs help getting focused. She needs to know what to heal. From her side, she’s trying to do everything at once. Work with the doctors to figure out what is most critical, and then ask her to concentrate on healing that part first.”
I was IN. Finally, some direction, something I could do to make a difference. I don’t remember questioning if it would work or not or believing or not believing. All I remember is the relief I felt that I now had something tangible that might make a difference for our girl. So from that day on, I spent much of my time whispering in her ear telling her all that she had to look forward to by staying and being part of our family. “You will be a flower girl in your Aunt Melissa’s wedding this summer. You have a big sister named Avery that you will get to play with and be best friends with forever. You have a mom and dad that will love you with everything they have,” and so on and so forth. I checked in with the doctors — what’s the most critical thing right now? “Her kidneys”. So I asked Bryn to focus on her kidneys. “It’s your kidneys, baby girl. Send all of your love and light to your kidneys. You can do this.”
The next day there was incredible news: her kidneys were dramatically improved! The doctors were incredulous. I was invigorated.
At last, I saw a new future for our Bryn. She would heal and we would take her home.
Next up, her lungs. “It’s your lungs now, baby. It’s your lungs. Heal those lungs. You can do this. I know you can.” Two weeks later, she breathed on her own.
I continued talking to my tiny daughter every day for the next 80 days until she was well enough to come home.
Over the course of that 80 days, she healed her kidneys, her lungs, and her heart; she healed every infection, resolved every barrier to healthy eating, and miraculously doubled her body weight.
Bryn wasn’t the only miracle we brought home. I came home a different mother. A mother who is deeply in tune with the connection between a mother and her child. A mother who knows that she is powerful beyond comprehension. A mother who not only nurtures, soothes, and cheerleads, but who sees what’s possible and empowers her children to engage with that world of possibility.
That woman who sat in the cafeteria across from her husband–scared, helpless, and lost–had fallen away, leaving someone new in her place. A new mother had been born.
My daughter is a powerful healer. And so am I.
Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.