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Three Little Birds

by Kathryn Mahoney 9 days ago in children
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A story of gratitude

I watched my daughter, barely two days old, lay lifeless on the hospital table in front of us, struggling to breathe. “We need to get a spinal tap ASAP.” the paramedic shouted to the ER surgeon. I cried, paralyzed at that moment, praying harder than I ever have in my life. “Please, don’t let her die.” Please, don’t let her die.”

Moments earlier, we had just experienced the greatest joy imaginable. Marian Amelia, “Wren,” was born on March 9th, 2020, at 2:48 am. She literally popped out of me, screaming and throwing punches. We attributed her feisty attitude to her red hair. She kept us on our toes from the moment she emerged into the world.

She was 20 months younger than our older daughter, Mabel. Mabel had just visited us at the hospital to meet her brand new baby sister. Hesitant, she watched and studied Wren. “I’m the baby,” Mabel said quietly to Wren as I held her and rocked slowly with the afternoon light creeping in. “I know, sweetie; you’ll always be my baby.” Mabel continued to study her sister quietly and again, softly saying, with tears in her eyes, “Baby sad.”

We were able to leave the hospital early. Excitedly and nervously, we transitioned back home. We hoped to get a little bit of sleep and rest before we went to Wren’s first pediatrician appointment the next day. Everything as we knew it seemed normal.

That first night was probably the worst I could have ever imagined. Wren was up all night. Screaming, feeding furiously, spitting up, then back at it every 20 minutes. The nurse warned me she would probably “cluster feed” that first night home, but I never imagined it would be like that. I moved her to the couch and did as much skin-to-skin as possible to keep her comfortable. She had spit up on every ounce of clothing, and all I had left was a blanket to wrap her in.

That morning I was like a walking zombie. I tried to get her and myself ready for the pediatrician appointment. We dropped Mabel off with my parents and headed to the doctor’s office. Wren didn’t seem to look right. She appeared to be dazed and continued to screech and spit up throughout that morning. We brought her to the doctor, and the nurse took her temperature.

“Wait a second... this must be wrong. It’s only reading 95 degrees.” She came back and grabbed two more thermometers. 95 again...94.8. She asked the doctor to come in immediately. He looked at her, took her temperature, and calmly told us, “You need to go to Children’s Hospital immediately.”

Coronavirus was appearing in the news more, and the doctor thought it might be less busy at the hospital a little further away. We drove about 30 minutes to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Close to Home, which also had an Emergency Department.

I still remember walking into the emergency room with a sectioned-off area for people experiencing “Covid-like symptoms.” I thought it was strange to have them separated from us, but I had already felt some fear about this new disease. Somehow even with these extra precautions, we were still not safe.

The doctor was worried maybe Wren had developed sepsis, and we needed to make sure we stabilized her temperature immediately. In the car on the way to the hospital, I Googled ‘newborn sepsis.’ It was terrifying. “Serious medical condition. Life-threatening.”

They took her temperature, and that was when life stood still. Wren stopped breathing. Immediately the paramedics, nurses, and surgeon rushed in. They gave her oxygen, talked gently to her, and said we needed a lumbar puncture immediately. They revived her little body and sent her to do a spinal tap next door. She was barely two days old, and they were hunching her over, sticking a long needle into her spine. My husband and I watched in terror.

The surgeon immediately walked over to us, looked down at the ground, and said, “I did the best I could.” He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

“Is she dead?!” I whispered in horror. My husband yelled, “Wait, come back! What happened?!”

The paramedic rushed over and said, “No, No, she is ok. Marian is alive. The surgeon just couldn’t get spinal fluid out.” “However, she still is very sick, and we need to rush her to Children’s Main Hospital. We will transport her in the ambulance, and one of you can come with her.” My husband drove behind us, and I sat in the ambulance, struggling to make sense of everything happening.

“She’s just a little peach,” the paramedics warmly described Wren as she slept peacefully in the transport bed. They warmed her body in a heated incubator, connected her to IVs, and pumped her with as many fluids, antibiotics, and antivirals imaginable. I watched the monitor as her oxygen levels, and heart rate appeared steadily. It reminded me of when I’d anxiously await her first ultrasound and the relief I’d feel flooding in hearing her heartbeat echo onto the screen.

They did X-rays of her spine and head. They were able to warm her up, but we didn’t know what was causing her temperature to drop and apnea to occur suddenly. There were times when an alarm would activate, startling us, and a frantic group of people would rush in and start giving Wren oxygen to revive her. We’d also see her temperature suddenly drop again, and she’d go back into the incubator to warm her body up over the next three days.

The worst of it all was not being able to feed her. We needed to decide if she should have another spinal tap done and that required no food if she needed anesthesia. She was so hungry. She was so small that preemie diapers looked big on her.

She looked up at me in pain and screamed, pleading with me. I wasn’t sure if I had much time left before the light faded from her eyes.

My husband took his turn to cradle her in his arms. From the moment she was born, my husband loved singing “Three Little Birds”, by Bob Marley. “ His voice trembled as he sweetly sang:

“Rise up this mornin’, smiled with the risin’ sun.

Three little birds pitch by my doorstep.

Singin’ sweet songs, of melodies pure and true,

Sayin’ this is my message to you-ou-ou.”

Wren stared up at him with her deep blue eyes. For a moment, it seemed like maybe everything would be alright.

We met with the team of doctors, trying to figure everything out. We were relieved to find out this wasn’t sepsis. However, we couldn’t help but ask... was this Covid? We were hearing more about this viral disease, and we were days away before the entire city of Columbus, Ohio, was about to shut down. Wren tested negative on every bacterial and viral test we could give her. We gave her metabolic tests and looked to see if there were any genetic conditions that could be contributing to this illness. As far as we knew, it wasn’t Covid. However, now that her temperature was stable and she seemed to be better, we were told we would need to go home.

“Wait.. no.. we can’t leave. We don’t know what is wrong! She still needs to be warmed up and given oxygen at night,” I pleaded. “That can happen with babies. Keep doing what you are doing now, such as monitoring her, keeping her warm, and checking her temperature, “ The doctor advised us. “You are doing everything you can. She shouldn’t be here with an infectious disease increasing around us. You are better to be home.”

“Also, just to warn you, there’s currently no toilet paper in Columbus.” The nurse cautioned us as we were packing everything up. “Oh, it’s fine; I’m sure we can order some from Amazon,” I said. “Honey, I don’t think you understand.. you can’t even order it online. I think this is going to get worse.” My husband said gently.

It’s hard even to imagine how naive I was at the pandemic's beginning. I knew things were bad with Covid spreading, but I had no idea the toll it would take on our family, community, and country. As much as I was terrified to hear the new cases increase, I was so grateful we could learn, track, and discover medical technologies created to keep ourselves safe. We were collectively living in this trauma, unaware of what would happen. However, we were incredibly grateful to have the experts and medical advances that quickly adjusted to keep many of us safe.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the trauma that occurred with our daughter Wren and what was happening outside the hospital. Inside and outside there were countless individuals working day and night to find a solution. There were people who studied, researched and sacrificed to advance the care we received. We relied on the years of medical technology to protect my newborn daughter to make it through that terrifying beginning. There were people who gave up so much, to give us everything.

How many babies get a second chance at life?’ ‘How many babies have been saved because of science and the medical advances we have made?’ Here we were trying to speed up medical technology to save millions of people at the exact moment- we were desperate to save my daughter, Wren.

We rushed to my parent's house to pick up Mabel and headed home for the second time since Wren was born. Mabel was so excited to see us. She ran to the car and yelled, “Come on, Wren!” She couldn’t imagine being separated from us again after this past week. Although we were still terrified of what was happening to Wren and what was happening around us with Covid, we were so grateful and lucky to have each other.

We relied on Telehealth to communicate with doctors, checked Wren’s temperature with thermometers, had her blood tested for possible lead poisoning, and had the best medical care through the help of new technologies and medical knowledge. We had access to her medical information, had doctors researching possible causes of her illness, and remained in contact with loved ones. We zoomed, called, texted, and took videos and pictures. We were able to adapt to this new way of life. Mabel used to visit her grandparents every day before Covid; however, we created a new normal by calling through video. She could share pictures, sing songs, and tell stories all through video instead of being kept away permanently.

We never discovered Wren’s mysterious illness, but she survived, and we grew stronger as a family. We decided to move across the country to Oregon and have an adventure during this incredibly stressful time. I could keep my practice as a mental health therapist and still see all my clients from Ohio while we resided in Bend, Oregon. With the use of technology, I could provide Telehealth and still do EMDR, the primary modality of therapy I use to treat so many people.

Without the advances in technology, and the expertise of the doctors and medical staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, I shudder to think what life would be like today. Not only were we trying to save my daughter’s life, but we were also doing that during the very beginning of a pandemic, not understanding the devastation Covid would have on our entire nation. We were able to travel across the country to seek adventure and joy when life almost ended for us. We were able to save my daughter’s life, and I was able to help hundreds of people with the help of Telehealth and the fantastic ability to keep connections through technology today. I owe my daughter’s life to the advances in the medical field and technology. I don’t think we’d have a happy ending if it weren’t for the resources we still primarily rely on today.

I’m sitting in our kitchen with the sun shining, watching my two daughters giggle and eat lunch together. They play a game in which each one says, “I love you!”, “No... I looovveee you!” Then they erupt into laughter and try to say it louder and faster to each other. As I smile, watching them, tears well in my eyes, and all I can think of is gratitude.


About the author

Kathryn Mahoney

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (5)

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  • Carol Townend8 days ago

    I remember the day my youngest child who wasn't much older than 2 was taken into hospital after he pulled a petal from a poisonous plant in the garden. We were unaware of the plant, though the letting agent knew about it. He ended up with Grade A Septaceamia and he had a close call with death because of that. The guilt, shame and tears are just too much to describe even now, so even though your little one was younger, I can relate to your journey in many ways. I also lost a baby to what was termed 'dormant pregnancy' in the '90s. I then found out I was also carrying twins, and I didn't lose the baby until some time after my son was born. I also had no idea that I was carrying at the time. Thank you for sharing your painful but beautiful story.

  • Moi Li8 days ago

    So glad your baby is well. Love the ending with them playing. I could hear the playful I love you’s ! This is so very precious !

  • Nicole Carroll8 days ago

    Oh my goodness!! I loved this story!!! My very favorite part is the end. I love the peaceful moment of gratitude and watching your two precious babies love each other!

  • Linda Rivenbark9 days ago

    This is a precious story. I am so glad Wren survived and thrived. It has been a time like no other in living memory since February 2020. The stories need to be written and shared with the world. Thank you for doing that.

  • Kendall Defoe9 days ago

    I am so glad this ended well with you and your daughter. That song was playing in my head as I got to the last paragraph... Don't worry about a thing...🎵🎵

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