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First Embrace

She prayed for God to watch over her daughter in neonatal intensive care, and years later, it's confirmed for her that angels were indeed there.

By Sherri Derrick, Chapin, South Carolina

As appeared in

The scent of gardenias wafted through the window as a breeze billowed back the curtains. I rocked my 3-year-old daughter, Kenly, slowly in our La-Z-Boy.

Such a simple thing, holding your daughter in your arms, feeling the softness of her skin on your own, the warmth of her breath on your neck. For me it was the most precious part of being a mother–something I could never get enough of.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t get to hold her in those first moments right after I gave birth, the moments when a mother longs to keep her connection to the life that has been growing inside her for so long.

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In my case, it wasn’t long enough. Kenly was born three months premature in an emergency C-section, just two pounds, seven ounces, and 14 and a half inches long.

I got only a glimpse of her little body before the nurse whisked her away to be cared for by others. My husband, Rocky, held my hand as the doctor turned his attention to us.

“We’re going to put your daughter in an isolette–it’s a protective bubble. Her immune system isn’t fully developed. She’ll also be on a respirator until her lungs grow to normal size. You’ll be able to touch her, but only through an opening in the isolette, until she’s out of the woods.”

Dazed and drained, I tried to absorb what he was saying. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. I had read so many books about becoming a mother, sat in our great big La-Z-Boy recliner practicing the right way to hold my baby.

Now it was like I too couldn’t catch my breath, thinking of my daughter fighting to live in a world where even her mother’s touch could be dangerous.

Later that day we were taken to visit Kenly in the neonatal intensive care unit. It was an open floor with a nurse’s station in the center and dozens of babies in isolettes spaced a few feet apart. I was wheeled in on my hospital bed by one of the nurses so I could gaze at my sleeping daughter.

Her head was the size of my fist, her face almost covered by the respirator mask. IV’s were in her arms, which were no thicker than her daddy’s thumb. Her little chest was concave and her skin nearly translucent. If only she were still safe inside me where she could become strong.

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Instead she lay in this plastic bubble where I could not even touch her cheek. “Mommy’s right here, Kenly,” I said. “I love you.”

I barely left her side. Even after I was released from the hospital I spent the entire day on a chair beside her isolette, trying to see if she had gotten bigger, telling her about all the people who were praying for her, or singing lullabies and hymns.

Sometimes the nurses would let me hold the syringe for her feeding tube or let me help weigh her, so I could touch her for a moment. As soon as I got home each night, I called the nurse on duty to check on her one last time before falling into a fitful sleep.

Finally after two and a half weeks, the nurse laid Kenly gently in my arms. I longed to hug her tight but could only hold her tiny frame gingerly in my hands, like a china doll. I turned my face away so my tears would not fall on her, and the nurse soon returned Kenly to her isolette.

The windshield wipers labored against sheets of rain as Rocky and I drove home that night. “I hate to leave her too,” he said, “but she’s in the best of care.”

“What about when she cries, not because she’s hungry or wet, but because she just wants to be held? After everything she’s been through, I wish I could give her at least that much.”