Adele Oliveira | Longreads | January 2016 | 23 minutes (5,727 words)

I don’t believe in fate, or that life events, both everyday and profound, unfold the way that they’re supposed to. Yet the first six months of my first pregnancy were at once mundane and ordained. I got pregnant quickly. Morning sickness and a sore back arrived right on schedule. Growing up, my mom acquainted me with the details (like gaining 60 pounds) of her two healthy pregnancies and the unmedicated, uncomplicated births that resulted in me and my sister. I’d wanted to be a mother since I was a toddler pretending to breastfeed my dolls, and so I outlined the birth of a healthy child in an indelible mental framework, so unconscious and routine that it felt like destiny.

My pregnancy ended abruptly when our daughter Violet was born two years ago in late September, at 25 weeks gestation, about three months ahead of schedule. The day of Violet’s birth feels like a bad dream, partly because I was on a variety of strong drugs. I remember almost all of it with nauseating specificity, but it still doesn’t seem quite real; like it happened to somebody else. 

The day before my baby was born, I left work early for a last-minute doctor’s appointment. It was the first time a doctor uttered the term “pre-eclampsia” to me; I learned it was an autoimmune response to pregnancy that I’d heard of only once before when eclampsia, the advanced form of the disease, tragically killed Lady Sybil Crawley on the third season of Downton Abbey. In pre-eclampsia, the blood pressure starts to rise, and the only cure is giving birth. Eclampsia can lead to seizure, stroke, and death. The family doctor sent me home with a blood pressure monitor and instructions to call in the morning. When I contacted my OB-GYN the next morning and told him about my appointment with the other doctor, he said, “meet me at the hospital.” My mom drove me; I ate a yogurt in the car.

A nurse at the hospital in Santa Fe, my hometown, had me pee in a cup and then injected my upper thigh with steroids to help the baby’s lungs develop in case she had to be delivered early.

“Don’t worry, honey,” the nurse said. “I don’t think you’re going to deliver today.”

Even then, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. She hooked me up to a magnesium drip, which made me feel drunk and sleepy and my face swell and redden, and I slept in the ambulance on the way to a hospital in Albuquerque, one of two in the state which has a level III neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Once at the hospital, an hour away from home, my husband Roberto by my side and my parents en route, a technician squirted jelly on my not-yet-enormous belly and frowned as she looked at the ultrasound. She called the doctor, who looked at the monitor and told me that blood was flowing backward, the way it wasn’t supposed to, from fetus to placenta.

“You’re going to have a c-section,” he told me. “I’ll try my best to do a transverse incision, but I might have to do a classical section, in which case, any future children you have will have to be delivered by c-section, OK?”

“Fine.” I said. I took a deep breath and asked him if I was going to die. He smiled, almost laughed, and said I wasn’t. I didn’t ask about the baby.

I was amazed by how quickly the doctors and nurses and technicians moved; in the moment, even though adrenaline had me by the throat, I was most struck by their professionalism and skill. I got a spinal tap and did the breathing exercises I’d learned in my childbirth class as my emergency c-section was performed, Roberto in scrubs by my head, the anesthesiologist making me laugh with dark OR humor: “a c-section is like getting your dresser drawers rearranged. Or so I’m told.” Violet was born in the caul (amniotic sac) and immediately after the birth, which took ten minutes, the doctors whisked our baby away to resuscitate and intubate her. They told us that she was alive, but barely, and weighed just over a pound.

The first time I saw Violet (who was then unnamed), I was bloated and tired from surgery, and still in shock. We have a picture of the moment. I look terrible, and not just because of the surgery, but because I am looking at a child that’s not ready to be born. I had determined that I would try my best to remain at least a little detached; it did not seem likely that my baby would survive, and I was desperate to protect myself from hurting too much. I didn’t think I could handle the loss. But when I saw my daughter’s tiny red body under saran wrap on a tilted, flat bed, a thousand cords and wires attached to her chest, her eyes not yet open, and a ventilator breathing for her, I was not surprised to find that I loved her right away. I knew I’d never love anyone more, and I knew I’d always miss her if she died.

* * *

Our first days in the hospital were frenetic and emotionally heightened. Roberto’s parents flew in from New York; soon after, our sisters arrived from Montreal and London. We were told on the second or third day of Violet’s life, after we’d named her, to be prepared to lose her. The doctors were patient and practiced in dealing with overwhelmed families. We attended rounds each day, in groups of twos and threes and listened in as the doctors and medical staff discussed Violet’s status, from the metered breaths inflating her lungs to the fine balance of drugs and IV fluids administered through her tiny wrist.

On the fifth day, I held her. Our nurse that day was Libby, who later became one of our primary nurses (assigned to Violet during every shift she worked) and one of our closest confidants at the hospital. I thought I’d heard wrong, or that she was joking, when Libby asked, “Do you want to hold her? I think she’s ready.”

Casey, a respiratory therapist, helped Libby transfer Violet to my chest. We tucked her into my shirt, her tennis ball of a head nestled into my neck. This was called kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin, and Roberto and I were encouraged to do it as much as possible—the benefits extended across the board, helping the baby’s brain, heart, lungs, and nervous system development. Violet was warm, and her body was sticky with the Aquaphor Libby had carefully applied to her translucent skin. At first, I thought it was Violet’s skin itself that was sticky, that maybe gooey, amphibian-like skin was just how 6-month-old fetuses felt. My mother borrowed Casey’s iPhone and took the first pictures of my daughter and me. I still looked terrible, bruises up and down my arms from failed IV insertion attempts, unwashed with the pallor of a few days in the hospital, and weary, more than anything else, but I felt a peace and rightness with the world that was a physical sensation, as warm as my baby against my skin.

* * *

My parents and Roberto and I rented two apartments about ten minutes from the hospital. It was various kinds of privilege that allowed me to drop everything, including my job as a reporter at Santa Fe’s daily newspaper. My new routine consisted of waking up, remembering everything in a dizzy rush, feeling depressed and depleted at least until I got coffee, going to the hospital, going back to the apartment, repeat, with pumping breast milk every 2 or 3 hours interspersed in between eating, sleeping, and hanging out by Violet’s isolette—a kind of incubator and one of the many new words we’d pick up from the NICU lexicon in the coming days. My dad spent weekends with us, but my mom was with me almost all the time, and I reverted into a kind of late-adolescence, relying on her to make me soft-boiled eggs and bring me lattes in the morning.

I didn’t know anything about preemies (besides the fact that they existed) and rarely thought about them before I had one. Even while I was pregnant, it never occurred to me that my baby would be born early, though I spent my first trimester worrying about having a miscarriage. Other than weird things like a propensity for hives and receding gums, I’m healthy. Ordinarily, my blood pressure is on the low side. I was unaccustomed to hospitals and illness, except in the context of grandparents aging and dying, which is part of the natural order of things. Overnight, the hospital was my entire world. Very quickly, I was on a first-name basis with dozens of hospital staff members, from the cashiers at the cafeteria downstairs to the nurse practitioner on duty. I memorized everything about Presbyterian, without really trying: the pattern of the carpet on the way to the ward, the brown rubbery non-skid coating on the stairs, the smell of the ultra-strong disinfectant soap we used to scrub into the NICU. I still get a chill when I wash my hands at a doctor’s office.

Roberto spent more than half the week in Albuquerque, driving an hour each way to his job as a public school teacher in Santa Fe. By the time Violet was born, we’d been together for six years, married for one. Our experiences of our time in the hospital were so different, mine near-constant, his fragmented. Sometimes it was hard to know how to be there for one another. At the beginning, especially, I’d occasionally find him sitting on the kitchen floor of the apartment at 2:30 in the morning when I got up to pump, whiskey in hand, headphones over his ears, eyes closed. We were so scared, and so emotionally taxed, that we sometimes forgot how to take care of each other. But we also easily and automatically retreated into the intimacy of having inside jokes, like figuring out which actors would play the doctors and nurses in the Lifetime original movie biopic we were scripting in our heads, working title: The Violet Story. Generously, we cast Javier Bardem and Kate Winslet as ourselves.

Roberto favored visiting the hospital late at night, when it was quiet. He liked going for midnight cares, the every-three-hour ritual during which Violet’s diaper was changed, her temperature was taken, her tiny mouth gently swabbed with a moistened Q-tip. Usually, I let Roberto have the night visits alone, mostly because I was wiped out and looking forward to watching bad TV on my laptop. But sometimes we went together. When Violet was bigger and more stable, midnight cares was the time we’d weigh her, crossing our fingers and counting ounces. I remember the high fives we gave when each other when she hit two pounds. I remember the lift I felt from deep in my chest when she hit five.

After our visits we’d drive east on Central, sometimes skipping our left hand turn at Carlisle and driving further, towards the mountains. The neon signs of old Route 66-era motels light up the whole street: the Tewa Lodge with its vigas and glowing turquoise thunderbirds, or the Desert Sands Motor Hotel, its electric yucca beckoning. Sometimes after we visited the hospital, or especially if I was alone, I’d just drive for a while. The streets of Albuquerque were new to me. Likewise, I’d walk the 2.5 miles, taking meandering routes through neighborhoods or the University of New Mexico campus, listening to a podcast and sizing up real estate. Being between the hospital and the apartment, I watched the seasons change on foot under a hard blue sky. I loved the alleys. On most of my walks, I’d leave one headphone out, in case someone snuck up behind me, but I don’t think I ever saw anyone else. It was good being in between places. Even though I always had my cell phone close at hand, I comforted myself with the illusion that nothing bad could happen when I was in neither here nor there, but wandering on my own.

* * *

It was never quiet in the NICU. Our wing was a large open space divided into four quadrants housing four beds each. Monitors pinged, ventilators sighed, older babies wailed and depending on who was working and how many babies were wailing, nurses gossiped about who’d just announced their engagement on Facebook, and in lower tones, which families were nuts.

Violet’s bed, number 28, was in one corner of the ward, and had its own window, facing north. We had a great view: the Sandia mountains looming, changing color depending on what time of day it was (pink in the evening) and a retro, trashy motel called Crossroads across the street. If I craned my neck side to side, I could see up and down Central Avenue, which ran east to west. While Violet slept (especially early on, in her isolette, covered by a quilt) I propped myself on the counter beside the window and let my back get warm in the sun.

Even late at night, when background conversation was minimal and hushed, the monitors, which measured things like respiration and heart beats, dinged constantly. There was the good ding, a bland tone that you forgot about after a while, though the sound would show up in dreams and when I was trying to fall asleep. When something did go wrong, the monitors would light up red and urgently declare alarm with louder, faster, more insistent chimes. For the first couple of months, Violet (and virtually all preemies) would have frequent “spells,” episodes of apnea (not breathing) or bradycardia (a slowing of the heart). A nurse would come to the bedside and rub Violet’s back to stimulate her into activity. Someone would fiddle with the monitor and say-shout “we’re fine.” We quickly learned to do this ourselves, to read Violet’s monitor, understand what the numbers meant, shake her out of little spells. The nurses liked to say, “don’t look at the monitor, look at your baby,” both because the monitor quickly became my dinging god, and I got distracted, and because it was important for us to learn to recognize when Violet was in distress and when she was OK by reading her body.

Usually, everything was OK, but early on, Violet developed a penchant for pulling out her breathing tube (she was red-faced, angry, and vital from the get-go) and re-insertion was an unpleasant process. Because there was nothing I could do to help, and because it was awful to watch, the staff suggested I wait outside while they reintubated her. Once, after Violet had extubated herself for the third or fourth time, I sat on the edge of a plastic chair outside the NICU doors. I wasn’t as worried as I had been the first couple times it had happened, but I was tense. The woman sitting next to me had ombre blue eyeshadow blended up into her eyebrows and wore a matching powder blue hoodie with Tweety Bird on the back. We started talking. She was an old timer, had been there with her son for three months already. She was telling me, essentially, that things would get better. That in the beginning, the fragility of the baby’s life was overwhelming, but it wouldn’t always be like that. Then she asked me if I’d grieved yet. I was confused.

“My daughter’s OK,” I said. “She just extubated herself.”

“No, I mean for your pregnancy,” the woman said. “You missed out on a lot of pregnancy. It’s important to grieve it.”

I hadn’t grieved the loss of my third trimester, but I did, a little, in fits and starts, for months. It was hard to see super pregnant women touring the hospital (the maternity wing was on the same floor) and when I’d tense, my mom would say, “you already have your baby,” but I’d ache to feel her inside me. I had one round of hiccups, just a few kicks, before she was born, out in the world and away from me.

* * *

Even after the chaos of the first few weeks subsided, the doctors never told us, “you’re out of the woods!” though my best friend Mehera, with whom I maintained a never-ending conversation via text, kept asking if this were so. Slowly, over days, weeks, and months, we watched Violet get bigger. Progress was not linear—the NICU experience was a series of cliches dictated by doctors, nurses, parents who’d been there a couple months, and inspirational wall posters, and one aphorism that proved particularly true: two steps forward, one step back. For every ounce gained, there was a new breathing complication or a sudden onset of reflux. The hospital existed out of time, or rather, on its own time. My life before seemed unimportant, and I either couldn’t imagine the future, or thought about it obsessively, not wanting to jinx myself with dreams of first birthday parties. I was superstitious, even though I knew better, and fearful, which made sense, but was also painful and exhausting.

Two years removed from her birth and sixteen months after our release from the hospital, it’s hard to tap the deep, existential anxiety that defined most of my waking (and plenty of my unconscious) moments. My therapist and I would Skype weekly, and somewhat bewildered, she’d usually offer some variation of, “but how do you deal with that much anxiety all the time?”

“I mean, I don’t,” I’d say. “Not really.” I did have a prescription for Xanax, for when I was really freaking out, but otherwise, my life was the most immediate and present-tense that it’s ever been, which is saying something, considering I almost always spend the five-minute meditation at the end of yoga thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch. We vacillated between intense joy, when Violet made significant progress and equally intense despair when she took a turn for the worse. But so much of the in-between time was agony: both boring and uncertain, a difficult combination. All of us who loved Violet, and thus spent eons in the hospital, spent a long time pacing the halls of the NICU, which were lined with framed collages of NICU graduates: tiny babies growing into smiling toddlers, preschoolers, brace-faced teens. At a certain point, I had most of the posters memorized. There were few babies born earlier than Violet and pretty much none that had been born smaller. Still, I took great comfort looking at the school pictures and soccer photos of other children who started their lives in strange, traumatic circumstances. I imagined making our own collage one day, parsed phrases in my head.

The volatility and frequency with which our circumstances changed was whiplash-inducing and could make me paranoid. Triumph was when Violet’s PDA heart valve closed with medication, and she didn’t have to go through surgery. Success was when on the third try, Violet was able to be weaned off the ventilator to CPAP, a less-invasive form of breathing assistance, though it involved a yellow cap and a mask that looked like she was about to go scuba diving. But for every tiny success, there were setbacks, like the call I got at 3 a.m. one night informing me that Violet had to be put back on the ventilator because she’d gotten too tired to breathe on her own. The middle-of-the-night calls were the worst, because it meant things were bad enough to warrant waking you up, and this was compounded because it invaded the false yet powerful sense of security I felt in sleep, the only time I could really rest, even though Violet and the hospital almost always crept into my dreams.

I developed an almost rosy affection for the parts that were dull and routine, like pumping, which occurred every few hours but felt near-constant. The pump room at the hospital was accessed by punching a key code into the door, and organized into private cubicles. The walls were painted purple and decorated with framed pictures of giraffes and koalas, with lines from Corinthians printed underneath. There were other perks, too: I have a semi-closet love for vile food and I secretly enjoyed the just bread and turkey sandwiches the cafeteria stocked in the pump room fridge. They came in clamshell plastic boxes with a packet of low fat mayonnaise and nothing else. There was also creamy Skippy peanut-butter in single-serve containers, which I slathered on broken saltine crackers and washed down with a small carton of chocolate milk. I went into the pump room with the best of intentions (a serious book, or a three-week-old New Yorker) but I always ended up playing Candy Crush over and over, ad nauseum. It felt good to numb my mind, to stare at the screen and flick my fingers across it. Other than drugs, it was the best way I knew to tune out, to not obsess, to go into a deep and primitive part of my brain where I wasn’t contending with fear every single second.

I didn’t form deep bonds with other moms in the NICU, but momentary connections were surprising and enduring.We’d talk to each other through the curtained cubicles in the pump room about our babies’ latest milestones and setbacks, good and bad. We told each other the stories of their births, usually more than once, reassuring ourselves through repetition, and making the stories part of our lives, rehearsing how we’d tell our children about the way they were born for years to come.

* * *

The day we were told Violet had contracted the virus MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, (almost certainly from sharing nurses with a baby who had it; it’s rampant in hospitals) and that we’d have to wear paper gowns and plastic gloves before touching her for the rest of her hospital stay was devastating. Even if she was only colonized by MRSA, and not infected, not being able to stroke her with my bare fingers was a new, unexpected form of torture. Before approaching Violet’s isolette, and later her crib, we tied yellow gowns over our clothes (there were two kinds: a disposable paper gown that extended to my wrists and fell past my knees, or a reusable plasticky gown that didn’t breathe and left me flushed and sweaty) plus latex gloves, donned only after a copious application of hand sanitizer. The preamble before being allowed to touch my baby was tedious and annoying, but I missed terribly cupping her scalp in my hand, putting my finger in hers and feeling her grasp on tight. I was still allowed to place her skin to skin on my chest, to kiss her head, and to practice breastfeeding, but the physical and psychological barriers to being close to her, having layers of latex and plastic and protocol between us, was sharp.

When I could be with her, even during something painful, I was. Practicality and safety mandated that we stay away during Violet’s more serious procedures, but I was allowed to stay and comfort her if she was getting a shot, or a new IV inserted. One day, sometime during the middle of our hospital stay, I was with Violet when she blew an IV— the vein that held the needle had collapsed. Finding a new vein was always tricky because preemies have extremely tiny veins, and Violet’s had the tendency to “roll,” or slip away from the needle by rolling side to side. That particular day, most of Violet’s IV sites (both arms, both feet) had blown, so the nurses decided to insert one into her scalp, which looked scary, though it wasn’t more painful than any other site. The vein resisted, and Violet cried and cried. I held her head through gloves (which would have been the case, MRSA or no, because of the needles) and cooed and sang at her, and fed her little blister packets of sugar water, a technique sometimes used to distract a baby during something painful. Libby helped Becky, the charge nurse, with the IV while I held Violet’s head and cried. Afterwards, Libby cried with me. Violet was resting, but the whole ordeal had gutted me, and Libby a little, too. “Adele, don’t forget: Violet isn’t going to remember this,” Libby told me that day, but many times before, and many times after, too. She knew that I worried that Violet’s hospital stay would be with her always. I worried that it would mark her or harm her, so much pain and intensity when she was so small.

Violet had to have laser eye surgery in December, after she’d been doing really well. She had retinopathy of prematurity, a condition in which the excess oxygen the baby receives (the oxygen that keeps her alive) causes the blood vessels around the retina to grow wild, in a tangled mess. It’s actually the reason that Stevie Wonder, another preemie, is blind. The eye surgery was successful, Violet’s retinas secure, but she contracted pneumonia as a result of being re-intubated since she’d been colonized by MRSA. After her surgery, my baby, now four pounds, lay again on a platform bed after having graduated to a crib. Her eyes were swollen huge like marbles and she wouldn’t wake up, even though the anesthesia should’ve worn off. Before they diagnosed the pneumonia, the doctors weren’t sure what was wrong, and had to perform several tests, including a spinal tap, to rule out meningitis. I stood by her bedside blubbering. When our nurse that day asked me if we wanted her to send for Chaplin Gayle, an earnest woman with long braids who couldn’t have been more than 25, I tearfully said, “no, I’m an atheist,” anathema in the NICU, where faith was both implicit and openly discussed. It wasn’t that I was averse to prayer—prayers from friends and family the world over made me feel loved and cared for. On the second day of Violet’s life, when she wasn’t doing well, Libby asked us if we wanted to pray with her. I said yes, through tears, as usual. Libby talked about Heavenly Father having a plan and taking care of Violet, and I was comforted and moved by Libby’s compassion and strength. Her love for Violet was real, as was her willingness to stand with us in uncertainty and grief.

Months later, I was eavesdropping (on purpose, but it was impossible not to) as Libby talked on the phone to another NICU parent who was calling to check in on his son. She sighed and said, “Life is crazy, isn’t it? And it’s hard.” The phrase itself was nothing new, rather something I’d known forever phrased in just the right way. I wanted to get it tattooed on my forearm, to never forget how I felt when I heard her say it. I almost said something stupid, like “ain’t that the truth!” but instead, I kept it close and uttered it to myself when I felt depleted.

While we were in the hospital, two family members and a good friend’s baby died. My parents left in early November after my maternal grandmother had a fall, and they were with her when she died, intubated, like Violet, and scared, my mom said, which broke my heart. My grandmother had been baffled by the pictures of Violet, how small she was, and I was glad they existed on the planet together for even a short time. In late October, my friend several states away had a stillbirth at seven and a half months; they never knew why. And in early December, my 22-year-old cousin, the son of my dad’s older brother, killed himself by jumping off of a parking garage.

There was no making sense of these deaths, besides my grandmother’s which came at the end of a long life. Death seemed close by, which of course it always is, but we don’t usually spend much time thinking about it, especially when we are young, unless we have reason to. I don’t know that we could live if we did. The loss of my Grammy, Holly, and Caleb, and the real and prescient possibility of facing it ourselves, lent death a kind of nearness, a sense of being just out of sight. The things that ordinarily came to me only in flashes, like my mortality and the mortality of everyone I love, instead of being background noise hit me fast and hard and all the time, like getting the wind knocked out of my chest.

* * *

The day we left the hospital, 135 days after Violet was born, felt like escaping. I was anxious and excited, full of nervous energy, wanting to take Violet off the monitors so she couldn’t have a spell and prevent us from leaving, but being terrified to leave the monitors behind. I wouldn’t know her heart rate and oxygen saturation at any given moment. If something went wrong, Roberto and I would have to deal with it, there was no Libby to hold our hands and tell us how well Violet was doing, that she was going to be OK. The first night we had Violet home, I barely slept with her beside me in her co-sleeper. While her grip on life no longer felt precarious, the possibility of losing her had imprinted on my neuroses, and my heart. But we gained confidence, too, in our abilities to take care of our daughter by ourselves. We were finally her parents, in every sense.

Soon after we came home, well-meaning friends and acquaintances would look to us for some kind of take away from our hospital experience, some variation on, “everything worked out OK, because X.” I learned a lot of things in the hospital, like that our journeys are our own. I learned that I was the kind of person who could refer to life as a journey without irony. Nothing is certain. The lessons would’ve been more painful, less pat, had Violet died. Every day I am grateful that that wasn’t what happened, and I try to live in that gratitude. I feel a deeper empathy for those who lose their babies, because we came damn close, but I know that coming close and having it actually happen are a million miles apart.

I was rarely sure everything was going to be OK. I was terrified pretty much all the time and I had to accept that we had Violet at that moment, and that was all I could ask for, all I could count on. I didn’t want to count on the moment, to say that it had to be enough. I wanted Violet for the rest of my life with everything I had.

I think a lot about how easily things could’ve been different. I’m Facebook friends with several moms I met in the NICU including one whose son has significant, ongoing medical issues. Baby J is in and out of the hospital where he and Violet were born with regularity, and is occasionally flown to a children’s hospital in Denver when things get really bad. J’s mom posts pictures on Facebook of the two of them in transport ambulances, her son smiling around his frog pacifier as they wait for an emergency helicopter to carry them north. J is in the hospital now, and his mom posted pictures of the sun coming up over the Sandias, the Crossroads motel across the street from the hospital bathed in chilly blue early morning light. They didn’t get to really leave the way we did, the way the majority of NICU kids finally do. I would be a different person if this had been us. Dwelling on, “What would I be like, what would my life be like if my child was less than OK, if we’d been less lucky,” doesn’t qualify as a thought experiment so much as a string of what-ifs. We were lucky; I don’t know why. It’s not because we deserved it and some other family didn’t. In this universe, in this timeline, this is just the way things happened.

* * *

Libby was right, I think. If Violet does remember being in the hospital, it comes across in a quiet curiosity, and unpracticed, instinctual bravery. I can already see that she does not suffer fools. Violet is serious and a little shy, but it’s more that she doesn’t seem to think she owes anyone her affection. With those she loves, she is deeply sweet.

Recently, Violet got glasses. She’s near-sighted and has exotropia (both eyes occasionally and intermittently drift outwards toward the sides of her head) which are common problems in preemies, though not related to retinopathy of prematurity. Her new glasses are soft, flexible plastic, and connected with a stretchy strap (it looks exactly like a bra strap) around the back of her head. They’re perfect for an active toddler, and Violet took to them with an ease that surprised me, though maybe it shouldn’t have. The glasses frame her large brown eyes and impossibly long eyelashes and after only a couple days, the glasses are just part of who Violet is. She’s adaptable, my kid, and she is so strong.

“It’s weird,” Roberto said to me the other night. “Like, I’m not glad that Violet had to get glasses, but it’s kind of a good reminder for us, you know? All the time, I forget that we were in the hospital. But when I see her glasses, I remember, whoa, Violet went through a lot of really intense shit.”

“So did we,” I said.

This isn’t to say that the result of going through something terrible, especially something terrible with your child, is that everything will be OK if you’re strong and just hold on. When Violet wriggles away from me on the couch, intent on getting down herself, I know that we are fortunate beyond reason. Violet slides off the couch, landing on her feet. She stops to grins at me, and says, “hi, mama,” all glasses and staticy hair and new teeth, before something across the room catches her eye. Off she goes.

* * *

Adele Oliveira is a former newspaper writer turned freelance writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has contributed to, The Kirkus Review, and Bitch Magazine.

Editor: Mike Dang; Illustration by: Kjell Reigstad