February is American Heart Month. My social media feed is currently split between political postings and photographs of babies and children with scars I recognize all too well — across the shoulder blade in back or right down the middle in front. Parents and grandparents I’ve met online through our shared journey are posting information about their children’s experiences, their families’ grief or triumph, and ways that their communities can contribute toward better outcomes for anyone born with a congenital heart defect, like my vibrant, finally-healthy daughter Sammi.
These images are unrelenting. They drag me back, every time, away from the image of the grinning, singing girl I kissed goodbye this morning and closer to the sick baby covered in wires and tubes. I negotiate the difference in leaps, then think back on what to say to the parents still in the thick of it. How will they make it to my present-day?
Of course, the other half of my social media feeds are the political posts — assaults on freedom and confusing conflicts everywhere I turn. Truth is under attack there just as it was when I fought for Sammi’s care. Out of the mess tangling over and over itself in the news, however, came a surprise rallying cry intended to shut down a woman’s resolute message. To anyone who has followed US politics, the censure of Senator Elizabeth Warren by Senator Mitch McConnell is likely memorized by now, but for emphasis and clarity, it’s worth repeating:
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
It’s easy to turn this into a rallying cry for women, in general. So often, this is our only path to success, whether we’re discussing the fight for suffrage, land ownership, birth control, or just a seat at the board room table. What many women don’t know, however, is that infuriating as those indignities are, when what is at stake is our children’s lives, persisting is not a choice. It is an instinct. Continue Reading…
The house was quiet last Friday night after an evening of happy chaos. My children tucked into bed, I faced the kitchen with resolute attention.
On the stove, a nearly-empty pot of lentil stew was developing a crust. Next to it, the picked-clean brownie pan shone with spray-grease, and a cutting board with the shreds of peeled carrot and the ends of a cucumber was topped with my best chopping knife, visibly dirty. The sink was empty, but clean dishes dripped on a towel on the counter above my humming, hardworking dishwasher. Every measuring cup and spoon in the house awaited me.
I put on some quiet music and hatched a plan. First, set the oven to pre-heat. Get the next set of ingredients ready before you tackle the pots on the stove. Make some tea.
Every moment saved is vital to a mission of importance. I learned this in the years I followed this same set of late-night tactics to feed my family under a set of ridiculous dietary restrictions. In the evenings, I often made snacks, planned the next night’s meal or the next morning’s breakfast. I tried to clean my kitchen every night too, so that even I could start fresh the next morning.
It didn’t change my daughter’s diagnosis if I stayed on top of meal planning and dishes, but it contributed in a different way. When I didn’t do these things, I woke to a set of daunting tasks that kept me from pursuing the bigger issues of my daughter’s health care. If the day started with me unprepared, I played catch-up and my family absorbed that energy, too. Giving my family some sense of normality in what seemed like totally abnormal circumstances meant more work for me, but the results were worth it. As we dealt with a new set of daily routines and limited access to our previous life, whatever I could do to lengthen the fuses of my family had value.
I had to feed my family through that crisis. And now, I’m trying to feed my larger family through what’s to come. Continue Reading…
I was watching tv with my family over dinner on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week when the phone rang. The caller ID told me that it was the children’s hospital where my daughter spent years being treated for issues stemming from a congenital heart defect (even though not all of her doctors realized it). We’d not had a call from that hospital in over a year.
“Hello, is this the parent of Samara Lewis?” someone asked.
I walked several rooms away from my family and answered, “Yes, who is this?”
“Thank you ma’am, this is the gastroenterology practice at [hospital name]. We’re just calling to discuss the socioeconomic impact of Samara’s treatment for eosinophilic esophagitis. Do you have time for a quick survey?”
I paused. I paused for so long that the woman asked if I was still there. I paused long enough to talk myself through the waves of anger, heartache, and indignance that crashed over me as I pondered the audacity of that question. I paused long enough to think about how I’d like to answer that question. Continue Reading…
Most of my adult life has been propelled, in one way or another, by compassion.
As someone who began making a career in internet technology during the dot-com boom, I was always uneasy with what on earth I was doing by pushing pixels across a screen for a living. Who did I help, making web sites to prop up the egos of CEOs and corporate shareholders? It took me years to press my way into service to something with more value to humanity. By 1999, I was using the pixel-pushing skills I’d learned to support the voices of non-profit organizations. Necessarily, the budgets and the ability to innovate came later to these organizations. I could not charge them money they did not have; it was not greed that motivated their protest. My prices as a freelancer changed to reflect this. I adjusted and leaned toward compassion.
Then, when my children were born in the early 2000s, my entire life became an exercise in compassionate listening. A baby cried, unable to manage her emotions or get her needs met in any other way, and I held her. I sang to her, I soothed her. It seemed unconscionable to behave any other way. Another baby was born, this time sick and in pain, and she cried even more and for far longer than the first one had. My compassion was called upon constantly, to weigh my own needs against hers and to ask myself whether she had any other means of expressing her misery, any reserves of patience or space in her brain to make the developmental leaps a child with a full stomach and no pain can make. She did not, much of the time, and I needed to dig deep to find my own untapped wells of compassion. She needed every drop I had. Continue Reading…
When my daughter Sammi was five, Halloween could have been just horrible.
Just a few months earlier, Sammi had been diagnosed with a disease called eosinophilic esophagitis. An inflammatory condition of the esophagus — the tube that runs between the mouth and the stomach — it is poorly understood and responds to only a handful of imperfect treatments. The treatment we chose for her was called the Six Food Elimination Diet, a set of food restrictions that required her to avoid anything with dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, fish, or wheat. We were already vegetarians; this was a huge lifestyle change for our entire family.
Sammi had just started kindergarten, learning to read and write and follow instructions in a classroom that necessarily had been forced to eliminate Play-Doh (wheat) and to keep a small box with “Sammi-safe” snacks available for the days — most days — when she could not eat the shared snacks brought by her classmates. It was a rough start. And then, it was Halloween.
On this particular diet, the only kind of typical Halloween candy she could eat were Smarties and Dum-Dums. All other candies contained a forbidden item or were produced on equipment that might be shared with a forbidden item, and so I tried to figure out how to save Halloween. How would it be to walk from house to house and say, over and over again, “No, you can’t eat that one. No, you can’t eat that one either. No, no, no”?
Finally, I decided to solve our problem with a combination of money and magic. Continue Reading…