The following is an excerpt from The Victory Daughter, a 2019 memoir
for which I collaborated with Laura Scott to write her story of family losses and wins.
I begin the birth rumble far too early. It’s only 27 weeks
into the 38-week journey my parents are wishing for,
conception to healthy baby. The first two children in my
family of origin perish at their births. My mother and
father cling to hope that I will come to them alive. But
they brace themselves for another childbirth tragedy.
My mother has developed preeclampsia during the
pregnancy, which threatens her liver and heart. The doctors
tell my parents that my impending premature birth is
dangerous to both mother and child, and that they may
face the choice of which of us would die, in order for the
other to be saved. It is an awful, but immediate decision.
Before they wheel my mother into the operating room
to split her open in a long vertical emergency C-section,
my parents say their goodbyes to each other and instruct
the doctors to save me, if it comes down to that.
In utero the force of me almost kills my mother. I
am torn from her body nearly three months too soon.
We both emerge from the birthing battlefield of Loyola
Medical Center in Chicago still breathing. I am hooked
up to an incubator, given a 20 percent chance of survival.
My mother’s chances are no better. After the birth, my
mother’s body fills up with fluid, and she temporarily
goes blind. In the first three days, her doctors give no
assurances that she will live.
My father is the only member of the family on his
feet, going back and forth between the near-death beds
of wife and daughter. As if a desperate token of love, my
dad gives me his wedding ring. My little arm fits entirely
through the ring, up to my elbow. Mom is hospitalized for
a month after my birth; I manage to make it out of there
in three months.
In the years that follow, there are periods when my
mother is well. Then her end of the teeter-totter dips
again. Suddenly the playground where she loves being a
mother turns into a war zone where she fights for her
lungs, liver, bones and blood.
Her sickness is a rogue member of our household
that keeps my father and I on call to administer damage
control. Every winter pneumonia kidnaps my mother
and holds her hostage in the hospital.
Loyalty to my mother runs deep. Yet sometimes I am
engulfed, gripping a life raft with my fingernails, hoping
to save her from what lurks in her body. My love for her
is an ocean, but I am drowning in it, knowing I can’t do
for her what she did for me—save my life.