My daughter, Stella, is almost four weeks old. I sit next to her bassinet in the Special Care Nursery waiting for the doctor to do her daily rounds. Stella, who was born two months early, has had trouble nursing, but it’s even worse now that they’ve started giving her bottles at night when I’m not here. So I’m ready to do battle with the doctor today.When Dr. Lanning approaches, I stand. But before I can say anything about Stella’s nursing strike, Dr. Lanning says, “So, I have the results of the brain scan.”
I had forgotten that Stella had her brain scan yesterday, and I wait for Dr. Lanning to tell me that everything is fine, just like Stella’s first scan was.
Dr. Lanning flips a page in Stella’s chart. “It showed a Grade 1 intraventricular hemorrhage,” she says slowly.
I stare at the doctor’s pale hair, at the tortoiseshell rims of her glasses. The scan showed. She said the scan showed.
I turn to my daughter, who is sleeping, her eyelids fluttering.
“It’s small,” Dr. Lanning goes on. “The bleeding is confined to a very a small area of the ventricles.”
Bleeding. Confined bleeding. Small area. Stella sucks on her green pacifier. I take a step back, lean against the wall. “A hemorrhage,” I say finally. “I don’t understand.”
She pulls out a piece of paper and draws a picture of a brain, and she draws two lima bean shaped ventricles inside it. “It looks like this,” she says, drawing a spot on one of the ventricles, a dark swirl of ink.
The girl baby by the door cries her thin pterodactyl cry, which sounds so lonely, muted by the walls of her isolette. Her alarm flashes. I look at Stella’s monitor. Her heart rate and oxygen—everything is fine.
Dr. Lanning says something else, but I don’t understand. I turn to her. Her lips are moving, but no sound is coming out. Finally I say, “What does this mean?” It’s a question I’ve asked myself a dozen times since Stella was born, but this is the first time I’ve said it out loud, to a doctor.
Dr. Lanning tilts her head. She says something about math processing problems, ADHD. “Or,” she says, “she could be totally fine.” Her hand moves through the air. Her hand through the air as if she’s showing me her garden, pointing out where the lavender will be planted, where the Hostas will go. “This is something you should put out of your head until she’s in grade school. And then, if there are problems, get her tested.”
Put it out of my head. I stare down at the swirl of ink on the ventricles in the brain in Dr. Lanning’s hands. She should have drawn it in red, I think. It should be red, not black.
“Okay,” Dr. Lanning says then, and I suddenly hate her. I hate her drawing and her pale hair and her glasses. I hate her calm, even voice.
Looking back on this moment years later, I’ll remember what it felt like to move from fine to furious in a split second. It’s as if all that time sitting by my daughter’s bedside, trying to be calm, trying to stay positive, had primed me to explode. As if each of my nerve endings was exposed, making my reactions, to anything and everything, extreme. And I’ll wonder how other parents—those with children who have terminal illnesses and severe disabilities—manage the stress of the hospital. How do they release the pressure?
I don’t know what else Dr. Lanning says to me.
When she leaves, I sit back down in the rocker. Stella is asleep in her bassinette. The sunlight seeps in between the blinds—slats of light against the white wall. And just as suddenly as it appeared, all of that hatred drains away, and then all I am is exhausted.
*This piece was adapted from Kate’s memoir, Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood.