Motherhood & Words

A few days ago, I took Stella in for her 4-year-old check up. She was all shy smiles, and passed the little developmental tests—drawing circles and triangles, hopping on one foot, balancing with her arms out, identifying the colors on the nurse’s smock—with flying colors. She proudly held out her arm for her blood pressure to be checked, and perched carefully on the seat for her vision and hearing tests. I couldn’t have been more proud of her, partly because she was so proud of herself, and partly because it was her annual exam, and I always feel a little sentimental—and so thankful—at each of this ritual acknowledging the passing of a year.

On these visits, the years—especially the first year—of Stella’s life feel just beneath the surface. I can almost taste the dread and fear, the worry, the careful hopefulness. And as I fill my hands with the antiseptic foam in the doctor’s office, breathing in its sickly sweetness, I am back in the NICU with my 3 pound daughter, in the days and weeks following her birth.

Sometimes I wonder why I do this—go back, remember. It may seem masochistic in a way, as if I’m keeping the wounds open in order to throw salt on them. But though the painful and scary memories are there, I now have time and distance on my side, and all I feel is this immense gratitude.

I also love to see Stella’s doctor, who has been her doctor since the beginning, and has seen me at my worst. (Or almost at my worst. I suppose D. is the only one who has really seen me at my worst—and the dear man still loves me.)

But I won’t forget the day that I called Stella’s doctor, just after she was born. We had been playing phone tag for a couple of weeks because I wanted to set up a time to meet him before Stella’s birth so I could decide whether he was the right pediatrician for us. But when I finally got a hold of him, Stella was a week and a half old, lying in an isolette in the NICU. He told me he’d be down later that day to meet her, and he was. His office was in the same building, only a floor away, but his visit seemed like a big deal nonetheless. He took the time to come see her. And I fell for him immediately—his gentle smile and good humor and the way he kept saying to me and my sister, “You guys, she’s gorgeous. She’s going to be fine.”

Even now, he is always excited to see Stella, and it makes us (me) feel important, like he’s really invested, and I think he really is. I never had a doctor like this growing up, and I’m so glad that Stella does.

After our visit, I asked Stella if she wanted to see the place where she lived just after she was born, and she said yes, so we took the elevator down to the second floor, walked hand and hand down the long hallway lined with then and now photos of NICU graduates, and stopped at the reception desk between the NICU and the ICC.

“My daughter is a NICU graduate,” I proudly told the receptionist. “And I was wondering if K. was working and could come out and say hi.” K. was one of my favorite nurses in the NICU, even though she wasn’t Stella’s primary care nurse. But I would watch her from across the room, how she spoke to other parents, how she held the other preemies. And the day that timed seemed to stop, the day that Stella developed sepsis and stopped breathing, over and over again, the day she lay flopped in her isolette as if she were dead, Kris hugged me tightly with tears in her eyes and said, “I know. I know.” I will never forget this.

K. wasn’t working, but I still felt happy as Stella and I left to search for stickers at Walgreens. Over and over again that day, I hugged her close to me.

I think I will forever be acknowledging this, what feels like such luck.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. *camerashymomma* on September 30, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    “Sometimes I wonder why I do this—go back, remember. It may seem masochistic in a way, as if I’m keeping the wounds open in order to throw salt on them.”

    wow kate. what a post. this is healing. this is so amazing that you have this openness to go back and remember. so many people turn this off and i feel or fear that they never heal. you are so strong, momma and your daughter is too!

    i can always look to you for beautiful healing words.

  2. Jen on September 30, 2007 at 10:52 pm


    I’ve just come across your blog, and wanted to tell you how beautiful your thoughts and words are. I’m glad you’re doing this work!

  3. Mardougrrl on October 1, 2007 at 12:08 am

    I love this so much, Kate…and I know what you mean. Sometimes I look at my big, loud, brash daughter and remember that horrible silence when she was born. When she didn’t cry. And I thank God, the Universe, and my lucky stars that she is fine now, and that those NICU days are far beyond us. And, unlike Stella, she was full term.

    Your story is amazing…I love when you share pieces of it with us here. Thank you.

  4. Mandy on October 2, 2007 at 7:38 am

    Great post, Kate. I love the way you describe Stella’s pride in showing her knowledge. I love watching this in little kids.

  5. kyra on October 2, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    so beautiful. i love that stella has that doctor. it’s the kind of i hope to find for fluffy one day and the kind i always wish i had growing up.

  6. kristen on October 5, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Hi. I popped over on a whim from kyra’s place. Glad I did. This was such a beautiful post and so wonderful a reminder that there are doctors out there who love and care about kids in a most extraordinary way. I sometimes forget that. We’ve, unfortunately, been lost in a long line of knuckleheads…

  7. wordsbymary on October 16, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    “Sometimes I wonder why I do this—go back, remember. It may seem masochistic in a way, as if I’m keeping the wounds open in order to throw salt on them. But though the painful and scary memories are there, I now have time and distance on my side, and all I feel is this immense gratitude.”

    I have felt this way and wondered the same when my mind trys to slip back to October 7, 1972, the day my dad and two brothers drowned. It is like it just happens maybe when I’m driving my car or alone in my room, asleep…kind of during those waking hours and my mind is trying to imagine what it was like for them dying this way while on a duck hunting trip. And, yes, I am grateful that I do have time and distance on my side and that the painful side is in the past for me and I know that in time, God does heal our wounds!