Crisis at the Border, Snowflakes, and 218 Days Separated from My Children
I’m neither politically savvy nor a lawyer, but I do know that there are thousands of children who remain separated from their parents and have yet to be reunited. As you read this, these children don’t know when and if they will see their parents again.
Their anguish is unimaginable, but I can imagine it. I know how it feels to be a mother who wonders if she will ever lay eyes on her children again. My son was once a toddler crying for the comfort of his mommy, worrying she was never coming back. My daughter was once a newborn who wasn’t nourished, held, or consoled by her mother.
At first glance, one would doubt that I have much in common with mothers fleeing violence and poverty. I’m a white, well-educated, third generation American. My circumstances are worlds apart from the images we’re seeing, but I know their heartache. I suspect their anguish is so mind-boggling, it’s almost unrelatable. We watch, we shake our heads, we protest, we donate money, but can we really put ourselves in their shoes? Perhaps envisioning yourself being torn away from your children at the southern border is beyond the realm of possibilities you can conceptualize.
I know my journey doesn’t mirror that of the children and parents who don’t know when they will be reunited. Still, I offer my story as a bridge to connect with their experience.
In 2006, after the healthy birth of my second child, I suffered grave postpartum complications. What began as an infection ultimately led to a 218-day hospitalization. I endured nine surgeries, lost two organs, and was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down. A tracheotomy prevented me from speaking, I had enormous drains inserted in my midsection and tailbone to expel infectious fluid, and tubing sprang from every orifice of my emaciated 75-pound frame. My body was literally gouged with holes. Yet, these physical punctures didn’t hold a candle to the infinite hole in my heart.
Much of the time I was away from my kids was spent in the Intensive Care Unit. To the outside world, I was non-responsive; unable to speak, move, eat, or breathe on my own. I survived many months being locked in a world of hallucinations, which I recall with vivid clarity. In my alternate universe, I would see my son being kidnapped. Tears staining his cheeks, he would cry for me, but I couldn’t move to help him. Other times, I felt as though I were home doing everyday things like putting my kids to bed. Whether petrifying or pleasant, even in a rabbit hole of delusions, my children were always on my mind.
As I slowly climbed out of my delirium, I grappled with how long I had been separated from my children. What were they were doing at that precise moment? What first milestones of my daughter’s life had I missed? My days and nights were devoured by thoughts of my children. Would I ever hold my daughter in my arms, snuggle with my son, or sing them to sleep? There was hardly a moment when tears were not soaking my pillow. Visions of my children growing up without me plagued my every waking moment and haunted my restless sleep.
The excruciating pain of being separated from one’s children transcends racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic borders. But I still can’t honestly say that I understand what the parents in detention centers are enduring. During my 218 days away from my kids, I knew exactly where they were. They were at home being cared for by my husband and the team of people supporting us. Our vast network of friends and family wrapped around us; providing meals, childcare, hospital visits, and anything else we needed. Friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, community members, and strangers heard there was a mother with two young children who was tragically separated from her kids and they all sprang into action.
There was something about my circumstances that resonated deeply with people. I’m guessing it had something to do with the thought of a newborn and toddler never knowing their mother that struck a chord. Prayer circles representing multiple religions sprouted up around the country. Friends of friends heard my story and sent me healing bracelets and mystic blessings to place by my bedside. No stone was left unturned to ensure I would be reunited with my children. Doctors canceled vacations, multiple life-saving hospital transfers were approved by my health insurance, and I received physical, occupational, respiratory, and speech therapy from a world renown rehabilitation center. It was as if I had the force of the universe pulling me back toward my children.
There are a lot of people out there who will pick apart my writing and find flaws in every parallel I’ve tried to draw. They’ll call me a bleeding-heart liberal, or worse. They’ll say I’ve offered an “apples and oranges” comparison meant to tug at the heartstrings of my fellow snowflakes. They’ll say I’m offering a mushy anecdote void of logical arguments or tangible solutions.
To these critics I say, you’re right. Personal stories don’t solve the world’s problems. But they do connect us and allow a glimpse into someone else’s struggles. Personal stories break down barriers in ways that data and statistics never can. So, I ask you to put aside my faulty reasoning for a moment. Imagine me lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines, unable to move, wishing for a miracle; to hold my children again. Now visualize the parents in those detention centers. They too are wishing for that same miracle.
What’s the difference?