I followed her and found myself on the wrong bank of the river Styx, wandering lost, searching for the right coin to give Charon so that he would carry my baby back across to the Land of the Living. He rubbed a cold hand on her stomach. If only she would eat. Maybe if I gave up on nursing and let her have a bottle. Maybe if I gave up on the bottle and let her get a tube in her stomach. If only food were the answer.
My sweet daughter presented every sacrifice she could. On Day One she offered up her tiny hand and accepted the needle coursing with antibiotics. As time went on she would give over her arms, legs, head, and neck to the various needles. She submitted to multiple nose tubes, throat tubes, and a g-tube in the hopes that the food and oxygen they supplied would give her the strength to cross over.
But Cerberus attacked her, snapping his bacteria-filled jaws down on her. Not once, not twice... but again and again he cut his teeth into her, slobbering on her, filling her with poisonous creatures invisible to human eye. They tried to kill her but the needles flooded her with even stronger weapons of destruction.
And me? I sat there staring across her, across the river at the doorway to the Land of the Living and I shook with fear, with agony, with anger. I wanted to rip it all off of her and scoop her up in my arms... and run. The raging desire to escape with her was quelled only by the knowledge that she would be dead before we reached dry ground. I felt my inner self be slowly crushed and compacted. There was nothing left to me but a heavy rock in my stomach and my faith in God.
I was not alone on the river bank. I saw other mommies with other babies with other tubes and needles who had committed other crimes. And I saw Cerberus wrap his scaly tail around other tiny bodies and pull them backward to a place where only God could follow. I cried the tears of vicarious trauma... a suffering I’d never known existed.
Charon tapped a bony finger on my baby girl’s chest. Somewhere within her, somewhere inside the greatest artery, or perhaps hidden deep in a pumping ventricle was the golden coin he wanted. There would be no trip back across the NICU Styx without it.
(Continue to Part 2)