The Light in Her Eyes

Louise-3 days old“You’ll be hoping to have her home for Christmas.”

Those words still have the power to bring tears to my eyes, fifteen years on. 

In heat of July, a scan suggested our new baby would be a girl. She was due in November, so  my husband booked time off from work with her delivery date in mind.

In the grey, damp days of early December, our baby, Louise, was three and a half months old. With oxygen prongs attached to her face, she squirmed in a Perspex hospital crib.

She had been home in early November, after many  months in Neonatal Intensive Care. For two weeks she was our baby, not the hospital’s. Then she caught a cold. I was holding her in my arms when she went white and limp, her eyes rolled back, and she stopped breathing. I panicked and called for my husband. She started breathing again by herself, but we took her to the hospital anyway.

Within hours she was on a ventilator and in an ambulance heading for another hospital with the intensive care facilities she needed. We left our 20-month-old toddler with my husband’s parents and drove to our baby, not knowing if she would survive the night.

After nine days in intensive care, she came back to our local hospital. Exhausted, I sat on the parent’s bed in her little room. My husband’s leave would soon be over, and I would have to look after our little girl while tending our baby in hospital.

“You’ll be hoping to have her home for Christmas.” Over and over, people said this to me. Nurses said it, the caregivers at the nursery where my toddler went two mornings a week said it, the neighbours said it. They meant well, but to me it just widened the crevice that had broken open between the rest of the world and me. I didn’t care about Christmas. I wanted her home before my husband’s leave ended and he had to go back to work. Couldn’t they understand how exhausted, afraid and alone I felt?

I longed for the numbness to end. I longed to feel the fire of love I felt for her sister, Melissa. I longed to feel that I was of some value, and that I could do something for her that the nurses and doctors couldn’t.

One night Louise cried every time I put her down. I was close to crying too. I had intended to stay all night, but at 2:30 am the charge nurse told me to go home and get some rest. I didn’t want to leave my distressed baby, but the ward was quiet, and the charge nurse said that someone would hold her as long as she needed, even if it took all night.

As I left, Louise was calm, snuggled into a nurse’s arms. I needed to go; I needed to sleep. And yet guilt and shame followed me out of the hospital and into my own bed.

“You should have been able to soothe her,” they said as I struggled to sleep. “You should have tried harder. You should have stayed and looked after her. You shouldn’t be pleased to be home.”

I agreed. “I’m a terrible person. I should love her more. I don’t even matter, she was happy with the nurse. She doesn’t need me. I’m not a proper mother.”

I longed to feel deeply that she was my baby, to really feel that she belonged to me, not the hospital. I was her mother, yet I wasn’t her Mum. Or so it felt.

The December days slipped by and, around the corner from our room, a tall Christmas tree appeared at the end of the corridor, all shimmering baubles and  sparkling lights. Instead of seasonal joy, I felt the weight of Christmas grow heavier.  

My husband brought our toddler to the ward, and I took her to see the tree. “Pretty lights!” Melissa squealed, clapping her hands. I bent down and wiped her runny nose. “Pretty lights,” she said again, and they sparkled in her eyes. We walked back towards Louise’s room. Shiny garlands hung along the corridor, wishing us a Merry Christmas. My husband and toddler went home without me, without our baby.

Louise was asleep, so I lay down on the bed and rested. Outside our room, her doctor was talking on the phone. “She fulfils all the criteria,” he said. “Less than thirty week gestation at birth, ventilated, lung infections and tested RSV negative.”

I knew that he was talking about Louise. He had already explained to me that her treatment would cost a lot of money.  To the person on the phone, money mattered. To the doctor who had cared for her since she was five weeks old, she mattered. We mattered.

I feel asleep, waking to Louise’s cry. I picked her up. She fed in her hurried way, gulping as if she’d had nothing for weeks. Perhaps that’s how it felt to her. Then she stopped and looked around. She looked up at me, and though her lips didn’t move, I saw a smile sparkle in her eyes.

Suddenly I felt it: the fire I’d so longed for.  I felt amazed that she was alive, that she was my baby our baby. After all that she’d been through she’d smiled at me.

The next day, in the moments while my baby slept, I wrote Christmas cards. I signed each from the four of us. Then for the people who didn’t know, I added: Louise arrived three months early, weighing 1.1 kilos. She is in hospital just now, recovering from a severe bout of bronchiolitis. We’re hoping to have her home for Christmas.

And she was.Scan 142120001


  1. Now if ever there was a Christmas miracle… we had a smaller and less dramatic time (in retrospect) when our boy at just under one caught bronchitis and was being given adrenaline shots while his useless parents held hands and looked at the wall, not sure where else to look. He survived, we lost a few years and in my case a lot of hair and he’s there, opposite me now, at 24 blocking out a lot of the light. I think I’ll surprise him with a hug. Thank you for reminding me, Yvonne

    1. Author

      Geoff, yes she was a miracle – that’s what my Dad used to call her.
      So you went through bronchiolitis with a baby too.
      I love your comment about going to surprise your son with a hug. I hope he enjoyed it! Bet he did.
      Thanks so much for reading my blog after I’ve been away for so long. I’m hoping to get back into the swing and back to reading blogs too!

  2. *TEARS* Oh Yvonne…. this is just the most heart wrenching beautiful story ever. It’s poetic, and real and raw and the power of your passion soaks in every word you used to convey such a difficult and weary season of your life as a mom.

    I am thanking God that you and your precious girl survived.

    It’s amazing the strength of a mother.

    I surely never questioned your worth for her, she felt you all along. <3

    Have a beautiful, whole, healthy, blessed Christmas my friend.

    1. Author

      Chris, thank you for your lovely comment! I definitely found that time hard – but it’s our inbuilt “mother’s love” that provides the strength I suppose (and father’s love.) When we feel supported it’s so much easier. Somehow, knowing that doctor cared about our baby made a big difference to how I felt.
      You are probably right that she felt me all along, yet at the time I did not feel that way, but to use Geoff’s word, I felt useless. And yes, I am so, so thankful she survived!

  3. Yvonne, how beautiful! And how wonderful to be reading your blog again!
    You did such a true job of voicing those voices in a mother’s head–the ones that criticize anytime we appreciate a break. I completely understand how you felt.

    1. Author

      Sarah, thank you so much . I think I just felt a bit “burned out” with blogging and although I’d started several, I haven’t finished them. Sadly, I guess far too many mothers can recognise those criticizing voices. The irony is that the more I’ve learned to be kinder to myself, the kinder I am as a mother.

  4. Yvonne, I was thinking of you and wanted to come by to say hello. Reading this gorgeous amazing story about your little daughter is such a bonus and a gift. Beautifully written. I can imagine the horror and the heartbreak of those nights in and out of the hospital though – so frightening! Happy happy 2015 my friend. I hope that this year is lovely for you!

    1. Author

      Aw, Kristi thanks for thinking about me! And for coming by. I’ve not been blogging much or visiting others much, though I have popped onto your site a couple of times and then not got round to commenting. I will soon. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It was a difficult time for sure, but we were fortunate that she survived, when some babies don’t. She’s 15 now, and getting ready to sit exams this week -eek!

      Thanks again for popping by and I will get back to your blog soon.

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