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Possible futures

February 4, 2011

My instincts said to keep them close.

Mirabai Eliana Courpalais June was born to early morning birdsong on August 14, 1996 in my childhood home. Her birth was a whirlwind, just under 3 hours start to finish. She was in a hurry to get here.

Mira was healthy and opinionated from the moment she touched air. She nursed like a pro, with no trouble latching.

But two mornings later, something went wrong.

Morning light was slanting through the bedroom blinds and we were all exhausted. It was the kind of exhaustion that felt like molten lead behind our eyes. Thorough, debilitating fatigue.

Little Mirabai was snuggled up next to me in our family bed–a sleeping arrangement we’d enjoyed since Soren’s first night on earth. I couldn’t imagine putting my infants in another bed. I loved having them right next to me and nursing as they needed. It was the perfect symbiotic relationship, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that it would save Mira’s life.

I was in that numinous place between dream and consciousness. I could see the slatted light, hear the tide of gentle breathing in the room. My husband next to me….Soren in his toddler bed against the far wall…and Mira. She rooted around to nurse and I helped her latch on, sleep still shading my vision. Then the dreams took hold again until…

Something was wrong. Mira had pulled off as though she was done nursing, but she was still. Too still. I opened my eyes, painfully. The light burned but I persisted, looked into her tiny face, and saw something odd. Her lips were turning a dusky blue.

Without thinking, I sat up and lifted her to me. Held her up and blew in her face. She startled, her whole little body jumped. And she drew a deep breath.

I held her there for a moment and wondered what had just happened. It had all transpired under some sort of automatic series of motions. Open eyes. Sit up. Lift baby. Make her breathe.

After acting annoyed at the sudden awakening, she settled in to nurse again, and I collapsed back into the bedding.

She did it again that night. All day long I had doubted, just a little, what I had seen in that harsh morning light. Doubted my sleep-addled reason. But then, she did it when my mom was sitting next to me. While nursing she made a little hiccup, pulled off, and her head lolled back….her lips began turning blue.

Call the doctor, my mom said, urgently, as I once again revived my tiny daughter.

I did.

Meet me at the hospital, she said.

We did.

She met us there. Our pediatrician….the most amazing doctor we have ever known (sadly, she quit pediatrics to take up web design and, last I heard, alpaca farming in Oregon. Our world has never quite been the same). In the ER, Mira was the picture of health. Nothing physically wrong whatsoever. Still, we stayed the night, with Mira hooked up to countless monitors in the NICU. It was a long, uncomfortable, frightening night for me. In the morning, she did it again, and a nurse witnessed it. The diagnosis, finally: physiological immaturity. Basically, Mira hadn’t figured out how to coordinate nursing and breathing, and so she would stop doing both.

With the diagnosis came relief. She’d grow out of it.

Three weeks later, however, the crying started, and it happened every night…2:30 am, or thereabouts, Mira would wake from a deep sleep and start screaming. And screaming. And….screaming.

I’ll never forget one of those nights. I walked her out into the dining room, my head spinning from exhaustion, and sat in the darkness trying to calm her. Trying to help her. I tried to nurse her, but she couldn’t calm down enough. Soon she was spluttering milk everywhere, her mouth as wide as a baby bird’s. I held her out from my body and looked at her. Wanted to scream too. Wanted to…do anything to get her to stop crying. What’s wrong??I cried. What’s wrong? I felt tears on my cheeks.

As if on cue, her father walked softly into the room and lifted her up and away.

Shortly after that awful night, she turned blue again. We went back to the hospital, this time in Albuquerque, 60 miles south. They were more equipped to deal with major medical problems. The diagnosis that time: reflux that was not only causing her to stop breathing (choke, basically) and turn blue, but was also giving her painful heartburn. Thus, the early morning screaming.

When Mira was 2 months old, we endured yet another hospitalization. Our third, and last. This time, they anesthetized her to do a laparoscopy of her larynx. It was red and swollen, obviously still painful. But that wasn’t the memorable moment of our second stay at UNM Children’s Hospital. Rather, it was on the second day of her stay. I had been holding her and watching crap TV for hours. She fell asleep in my arms, so I gently lay her in the big metal crib, careful not to jostle her wires and leads and electrodes. She was so wired into machines that I could barely move without setting off an alarm. I felt like I was living in a low-tech sci-fi movie, complete with awful only-recently hydrated foodstuffs. I needed something from the vending machine. I needed to stretch my legs. Satisfied that Mira was settled safely, I notified the nurse that I was going to dash down the hall and would be right right back.

I was. And there was a swarm of people in Mira’s room. She had stopped breathing again, this time without nursing right before.

I realized then–right in that millisecond of panicked time–that Mirabai could have died if she hadn’t been hooked up to all those machines. I instantly extrapolated that out to this basic level of understanding: had I not been sharing sleep with my baby, she may have ended up being a SIDS statistic.

I can’t know this for sure, of course…and of that I am glad. That wasn’t my possible future, or hers…rather, it is this one: my daughter is now a healthy and happy 14 year-old. Who sleeps safely in her own bed now.

But I do suspect that our belief in the family bed is what saved her life, and for that I am grateful. I was right there, even in the deepest sleep, my soul entwined with hers.

Responding immediately to the slightest change in rhythm.

She and I are still dealing with some emotional fallout from those rough early days, I think. All those procedures, all that pain…exacerbating her trauma was the fact that when Mira was 4 months old I ended up in the hospital for 5 days with appendicitis and bronchitis, and she couldn’t be with me as much as she needed to be. Somewhere along the way, in those stressful and traumatizing few months, Mira internalized a deep concern about my presence in her life. To this day, she still exhibits some attachment issues that can manifest in anxiety and upset whenever I have to go anywhere without her–especially if I’ll be gone overnight. We’re working on these…working to help her trust her connections at the base level. Working to help her whole body emotions feel secure.

It’s hard to heal disconnects caused by difficult attachment, even if the child in question was attachment raised. Mira is living proof of this.

But patience and time and connection work wonders. Every day, it’s a little easier.

Connection in parenting is the ultimate key to so many things. And though Mira and I still have some emotional landmines to negotiate, together, she and her siblings are very connected to their family. This despite the fact that we are now a blended stepfamily, too.

I can’t say enough about the importance of maintaining a connection with your children. But this post has gone on long enough. I haven’t written Mirabai’s story in years, and it blossomed into something longer than I expected. This is good. But connections will have to wait. Suffice to say for now….

A child who feels connected feels secure fees respectful feels confident feels love…and can act from that security, respect, confidence, and love….

And I believe that this is why I could go volunteer on an early Saturday morning with my teenagers and have fun…see them have fun. The three of us together.

This is why my 16 year-old son still hugs me (not in public, of course) and tells me he loves me.  This is why, I think and hope, he hasn’t cast about outside his family of origin for a replacement family of peers. And for that, I can’t be more grateful.

More on this soon.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2011 2:54 am

    What a wonderful story, and I have no doubt you are correct about the outcome: had Mira slept in a separate bed, in a separate room. Reconnecting with a disconnected child can be challenging – we’ve done it too for different reasons. I look forward to hearing the sequel. Best wishes.

  2. Candelora permalink
    February 5, 2011 3:35 pm

    You are a powerful and very moving writer, Ana….and you are working with your deepest truths. Brava!

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