The Time a Stranger Left a Post-It for Me at My Daughter’s Hospital
My twins, Reid and Madeleine, were born prematurely at 25 weeks gestation after a difficult and much-too-short pregnancy. They weighed less than 2 pounds each, couldn’t breathe on their own and couldn’t even open their eyes.
It was scary and heartbreaking and terrifying, and things seemed to go from bad to worse – my son had a heart murmur that almost needed surgery, and then my daughter developed a brain bleed that absolutely did (twice). There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about what happened to us, about the pain and suffering and endless worry.
But some days I think about other things, too. Some days I think about Janice.
The days leading up to Madeleine’s first brain surgery were almost certainly the most difficult days of my life so far. I was ill-prepared, and I didn’t know quite how bad things were. We were in a new hospital, different from the one I’d given birth in that I had come to think of as the babies’ “home,” and I felt unwelcome, unfamiliar, like I was always getting in the way. And of course, I was scared to death that something might happen to my beautiful, amazing, sick little girl, who I loved beyond words, even though we still technically weren’t supposed to meet for another two months.
In the new hospital, parents had to leave the room during shift change and rounds, which pushed my already-overly-emotional self over the edge each day. Twice a day, I would mope to the cafeteria, sit down at a table by myself, and burst into tears.
During one of those shift change mopes, a woman approached me.
“I hope you don’t mind me coming over here, but no one in this hospital should be left to sit and cry on their own. Would it be OK if I sat down?”
I learned that her name was Janice, and that she was there with her husband and 10-year-old daughter, who needed surgery to correct her scoliosis. She asked about Madeleine, and I told her the entire story, breathlessly, from beginning to end. It was the first time I’d ever shared it completely with a stranger.
Janice sat with me for a long while, letting me tell her all the little details about what I’d been through over the past month. In truth, I don’t remember a lot from that conversation, but I do know that she taught me two incredibly valuable lessons that day that I try to remember whenever I have the chance to meet another human being who feels like their entire life is falling to pieces around them.
The first is that they need to talk, and they need to be heard. I so desperately needed to vomit out the story of what happened to me, about what happened to my children, about what I had lost, what I was afraid of, and how much I still loved my babies with all my heart despite everything that had gone wrong up to that point. I needed someone to try to understand, to have empathy, to listen without judgment.
I needed someone to tell me that it was OK to feel this way. That it was OK to be terrified and want to scream and cry and beg the Universe to somehow make everything magically OK. Janice gave me all of these things, freely, expecting nothing in return.
The second is that I needed to be reminded that in no way did I have to go through this alone. I thought I’d be fine, I thought I could handle it, but that day, in that cafeteria, I couldn’t. I had people, but I didn’t think I needed them to be there. Janice knew better.
“You need to call someone. Who do you know who will come down here right now and be with you? I’ll call them for you if you’d like, and I’ll sit here until they arrive. Trust me, if they love you, they will be happy that you called.”
The next day, after I’d been picked up and taken home the night before by a girlfriend I called at Janice’s insistence, I headed back to the hospital. As I was making my way to Madeleine’s room, the girl at the front desk stopped me.
“Are you Madeleine’s mom?” she asked. “It looks like you made quite the impression on somebody yesterday.”
She handed me a large paper Starbucks cup full of coffee, with a yellow Post-It note stuck to the side. “She dropped it off early this morning and it’s cold now, but I just had to hold onto it until you got here so that you could see it.”
I’ve kept that note on my fridge ever since.
“Alana, Hope today’s a better one. Love, Janice.”
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