The Mighty Logo

What This Yellow Chalkboard Taught Me After My Daughter's Birth Injury

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

When I was pregnant with my first child, the whole world was one giant cliche of unicorns and ice cream. I was so grateful and lucky and happy and excited and never once did I stop and even consider anything bad happening. Things were great! Everyone was healthy. This is what I always wanted.

I obviously spent an exorbitant amount of time planning and decorating my baby girl’s nursery, agonizing over every little detail until it was just perfect. Because that’s what you do when you live in the la-la land of first-time parenthood.

Part of that decor was a small little chalkboard inside a fancy yellow frame that I would place on the side table next to our rocking chair, where I would undoubtedly spend many hours snuggling my beautiful babe and basking in the glow of new motherhood (ha!).

The week I turned 37 weeks, I painstakingly wrote out her name on that chalkboard, making sure it was just perfect. We were ready to meet our little girl!

But then things changed.

I’ll save the gory details, but during my labor and delivery, my sweet baby sustained a severe brain injury. She lost oxygen and blood flow to her brain in an event called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). We didn’t know the specifics at first — she was in the NICU with seizures for a few days before we had an MRI done and found out the extent and the meaning of the damage.

The whole medical team brought us into a room, sat us down and told us that essentially our feisty little redheaded girl would likely not survive much longer. If she did, she would have a very low quality of life and probably wouldn’t ever meet any milestones or even recognize us.

We were obviously devastated.

In the midst of this overwhelming grief, later that night I found myself awake, attached to the breast pump (instead of my baby) in that perfect nursery we had prepared. I looked over through my swollen and blurry eyes and saw that yellow chalkboard with her name written on it. And I suddenly had the realization…

I might have to erase it. 

The thought broke me. I don’t know if there was much left to break, but the very last piece of my heart shattered right then and there.

The days continued to creep along and we soon were able to bring our baby home. We were terrified and traumatized and barely functioning but there we were.


All three of us.

Time passed and our girl continued to make progress — on her own timeline and in her own way, but it became clear to us that she was going to stay and fight.

While she definitely has her fair share of challenges, our girl has blown those early predictions out of the water. We still live a very different life than we had envisioned, but it is a good one — full of laughter and joy. I have done many things as a parent that I never expected I would. But one thing I have never done, more than seven years later, is erase her name off that chalkboard. It may be a bit smudged and faded, but I don’t think I will ever be able to wipe off those words.

In my darkest time, I thought I would have to, but now I can see that my Madeline Jane will not and cannot be erased. No matter what happens, her soul is just too important.

Originally published: January 24, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home