An excellent preemie memoir came out a few months ago called “Anchored: Finding Hope in the Unexpected,” by Kayla Aimee, published by B&H Books. It tells the story of Kayla’s first daughter, who was born at 25 weeks of gestation and began a long stay in the NICU.
The greatest strength of this book is Kayla’s ability to build a breezy narrative that blends the emotions of a preemie parent, in single paragraphs going from the humorous to the traumatic and from mundane observations to major spiritual growth. She relates the past to the present, for example, telling stories about passing out in science class at the sight of blood, and then adds in several other mishaps including escaped beetles, and setting the lab on fire and getting banned from Bunsen burners as a result before rambling around to a traumatic catheterization of her daughter’s vein that caused her to get over this squeamishness about blood in a quick hurry.
The book is loosely chronological, that is, the narrative moves forward in time as the baby grows, but the chapters focus on different categories of emotional growth. This advances the character of the narrator well, but it sometimes leads to a scattered sequence of events and places. For example, the baby is transferred to a more major children’s hospital an hour and a half from Kayla’s home town and then transferred back to the home town hospital. The narrative goes along for a while and then Kayla’s talking about the awful Internet connection at the major children’s hospital, leaving us to wonder how she got back there. Did the baby relapse, or did the narrator’s time machine need a tune-up?
Chapter 5, “Miracles and Motherhood,” shows a significant increase in Kayla’s confidence, but in kind of an abrupt fashion. On p.69, she’s afraid to mention a urinary catheter that seems to be inserted wrong. At the top of p. 70, she talks to Dr. L who tells her it’s ok to speak up, and then at the bottom of p. 70, she’s super-Mom, asking if the baby’s lab results are back yet, and asking if the nurse has measured the baby’s stomach yet. I can believe that this transition occurred, but I’m guessing it took a few weeks — and those few weeks would make for interesting reading. Also, for the rest of that chapter, there’s not a single humorous moment. Why was it that the arrival of Confident Mom had to silence the Humorous Narrator we’ve come to love?
The book is lighter on technical explanation. For example, the baby gets transferred to the major children’s hospital for what sounds like surgery to close an open patent ductus arteriosis, and there is a great deal of well-described drama leading up to that, but then we don’t really find out how the surgery went. Similarly, the doctors say her daughter might have a major genetic disorder (not spoiling it by saying which one) and then there’s no closure on that, either. Being a preemie parent myself, I was interested in how long the baby stayed on the ventilator and other breathing support devices, how weight gain went, and introducing the baby to the bottle, but these aspects of preemie growth were not there.
There was also one bit of data she introduced that drove me absolutely bonkers, which is that she stated that the divorce rate among couples who experience long NICU stays is 97 percent. She footnotes “Tulane University” and an article called “The Capacity to Care Gives Life Its Deepest Significance,” a dateless article on the Tulane University Web site of May Lesser, an artist who writes about drawing things in the NICU. (Lesser seems to have graduated from Tulane, but is not a faculty member.) The article also quotes the number of 97 percent, but provides no context for the number.
A few Google searches for on NICU parent divorce rates did not find any studies, reliable or otherwise, done on the topic. A few articles said that a seriously ill or disabled child could stress marriages (believable) but no one said anything remotely close to 97 percent. There were a few blog articles quoting the 97 percent number, but they also quote “Tulane University.”
My inner news editor went argh! It’s a worthwhile topic, marital distress, but don’t scare people with an un-fact like that!
The religious growth she goes through was also very enjoyable to read about even though I’ve got quite a different religious background from hers. She talks about being a teenager able to quote Scripture easily and say things like “I’m pretty sure that’s in Job,” to an fuller understanding that God is present in our sufferings as well as our blessings:
I did not want this story. I wanted a fair tale with a Once Upon a Time and They All Live Happily Ever After. That is all we ever want, a happy ending. This is where my belief system had failed me, in subtly suggesting the pursuit of prayer as a means to achieving a happy ending, skipping over the shadows…. It is the story that we allow a Creator to write in our suffering that gives us the greatest opportunity to know the depths of His love, and in this way share that love with others.
This kind of maturity, is, I think, missing from most Christians’ worldviews in this country. We believe in God on a topical level and wonder why “bad things happen to good people,” saying that a rule’s been broken when we have to face adversity.
All in all, this was a great read. I recommend it whole-heartedly.