My son was born healthy and strong. He had the softest brown hair, the smoothest rosy skin, his eyes were open and his button nose was turned up just a tiny bit. His perfect little form was rounded out by wrinkles and dimples. The pain of giving birth to him was so intense that I nearly forgot the point of it all. Then I saw him and realized it was all worth it. There it was before me: Love. Love, unconditional, constant and pure. Love, greater than my own life. Love, more beautiful than anything and everything.
We were so happy. We couldn’t wait to bring him home and introduce him to his older sister and grandparents. We were so excited on our last day at the hospital, my husband had brought up the baby carrier in anticipation. Our baby just needed one more examination before we could be released. Then complete shock—we could not go home. The doctors had made a startling discovery: Our son had internal bleeding. His life was in danger. We were numb with disbelief.
He had somehow caught an infection and it had settled in his intestines. The doctors immediately rushed him into the neonatal intensive care unit for treatment. The next few days were a living hell for all of us. I was not allowed to breastfeed him because he could not ingest anything until the bleeding stopped. Over the next forty-eight hours, all I could do was hold him as he cried, wailed, and shrieked for milk but never received it. All I could do was hold his delicate hands as tiny needles were poked and prodded into his translucent skin. All I could do was watch as various IVs dripped fluid and antibiotics into him. After two days, he became jaundiced. They installed UV lights around him, stripped him naked and covered his eyes. His plastic crib glowed a strange neon blue in the dim room.
The room was also occupied by two other infants. Like my son, they were all hooked-up to various monitors and tubes. Right next to him was a little girl, born prematurely, her birth weight had been too low and her organs were underdeveloped. Next to her was a little boy who was battling a kidney infection. Like us, their parents hovered around them like ghosts, pale and drawn. We greeted each other with somber politeness. There was a hush in our words, a gentleness in our movements, a haze in our eyes. Like our babies, we also occupied the same space—an enclosed space of profound Love, guilt, doubt and fear, everything tinged a pale blue, the blue on the border of grief. We were all in that same room, but each left alone to wrestle with our pain in unsurmountable isolation.
I spent nearly fourteen days in that room, sleeping in fits adjacent. There was a quote written on the wall just outside the double doors: In each person is something extraordinary, something that has never existed in the world before. These were extraordinary new people, people who were in the biggest fight of their lives at the very beginning. The world seemed to stop and rearrange itself around them. Everything adapted itself to the needs of these smallest, most fragile, most vulnerable of people. My husband and I arranged our time in shifts. The nurses and medical staff hovered busily around us, attending to all the babies with care and genuine concern.
There were people of all colors and backgrounds, helping us, suffering with us, trying their best to heal. The babies came from all kinds of families, from all over the world. We were all there to pray, to plead, to bargain, to fight for Life. Life that didn’t need paperwork to be recognized. Life that didn’t need to contribute to belong to society. Life that didn’t need to prove itself worthy of anything—least of all, our Love. Love which came easily, generously and unconditionally. Love which overflowed. It was all there.
I stood by my child, watching him and the other babies day and night. How wondrous it is that babies are born so tender and fragile, yet they have the ability to change us. They could reduce the most powerful of us to tears, and even, to ghosts. How wondrous it is that babies are born already perfect, so full of Love and compassion. When one of them cries, the others would too. They could feel each other’s pain.
When would they start believing that they were different? When would they start believing that they were better or had more rights than the other? I remembered playing with my older child on a playground a few months earlier, two little girls about six years old wanted the playhouse to themselves. They went up to my little girl and said, “You can’t play here because you’re a foreigner!” It struck a nerve in me, already wounded, but they were just children. “No, she isn’t.” I said calmly, “She was born here. Can’t she play here too?” Their faces were stony. “No.” they said, shaking their heads, unwilling to believe me. They simply wanted the playhouse for themselves, they were just too insecure to say it outright. Even for them, it was too brazen. Even a child could come up with the terrible logic needed to back a shaky claim. Even a child could find ways to support their sense of entitlement. You’re too small, too big, too ugly, too light, too dark, too fat, too skinny, too poor, too odd to play with us.
Had it been taught to them or did they figure it out on their own? Whatever it was, they would probably grow up believing in such rules, rules made on a child’s logic. Perhaps as they grew older they would become aware of it and recognize that simple insecurity for what it was. Or perhaps they would become hateful and look for new, more complicated ways to back their claims: That they were superior, that the others were too stupid, too savage to be equals, that the country belonged to them. They would find a multitude of reasons not to be compassionate, not to be kind. They might say that it’s simply too hard to deal with people who are different, that someone else’s pain wasn’t their problem, they had enough problems of their own. There would be an endless number of reasons why they didn’t have to care.
I keep going back to that room, to the babies. The blue light of my son’s crib tinting the darkness behind my eyelids. The three new lives starting out so painfully, so tenuously. My ears constantly searching for each one’s tiny breath, a whisper of a butterfly’s wing. When would we start to forget? To forget that we each came into this world naked and screaming. To forget that we were once completely and utterly helpless. To forget that we were once completely vulnerable. When would we forget that it was Love—unconditional, unquestioning, unfathomable and free—Love that kept each of us alive.
With Love, my son recovered from his infection, he regained his strength and grew into the smart, beautiful, healthy child he is today. You would never know it, looking at him now, that he had fought so hard at the beginning. We, as parents, would do everything in our power for our children to live long, happy, healthy lives. We would do everything in our power to make the world a better, kinder place for our loved ones and for ourselves. Yet, one day, we will lose our power. One day, we will not be able to work or take care of ourselves. One day, our bodies and minds will fail us. We will become vulnerable again. We will be dependent on the kindness of others. Each and every one of us. We will need Love completely once more.
Text and images by M.P. Baecker
I would like to thank everyone who shared and commented on my story: The Mirror of Hate, this story is in response to all the positive feedback I have received! Thank you!