At the end of a book I was reading my daughter, there was a question…
Norah was in pink and black Minnie Mouse pajamas. We were both sitting on her bed. My back was against the wall, legs stretched out flat in front of me. Norah was snuggled into my right arm.
I read the question and Norah said, “On my first day I went wah, wah, wah, until mummy gave me milk.”
I looked down at her, gave her half a laugh, and said, “I wish you’d cried. The problem was, you didn’t cry. You just let out the smallest little whimpers because you couldn’t breath.”
Norah gave me a sideways snarky look like she didn’t believe me.
“Norah,” I said. “You almost died the day you were born.”
I must have told the story of Norah’s birth a million times in the past five years. Norah was born with under developed lungs. I remember her small and white-crusted body being carried by the nurse. During the few steps between Mel and the heating table, I watched Norah turn from pink to blue. She struggled for breath. She didn’t cry.
No one told me there was a problem. I could feel it in my heart. It took doctors almost two weeks to get Norah stable. I’d never been so scared in my life. And yet, I’d never told Norah about this.
Norah sat up, un-crossed her legs, and placed her palms on her knees. “I didn’t cry?” she asked.
“No.” I said. “You didn’t.”
She looked up at me, ready for a story, and I struggled with just how to tell her what happened. I wanted to put it in terms that she would understand, but I wasn’t sure what those terms were. So I just tried to tell it simply.
I placed my hand on Norah’s chest and said, “Inside here are your lungs. They make it so you can breath. And without them you could die.”
Honestly, I didn’t know if she even knew what death meant. She’d never lost someone, or something, close to her. I thought about ways to explain this to her so that she could understand, and suddenly I realised how weighty of a topic death is.
Norah smiled, a little embarrassed, and said in a chipper voice, “Nope.”
“It means to go to sleep forever.”
“Oh!” Norah said. “Well… If I’d died, I’d just have my prince kiss me.”
I laughed, and shook my head. Leave it to Disney to make this more complicated.
“When you die, not even a prince can wake you."
Norah looked frightened now, so I pulled her a little closer.
"Luckily, you didn’t die. You were taken to a special place in the hospital called a Newborn Intensive Care Unit. It’s a place that saved your life. It also cost a lot of money, and I hope to never visit it again.”