I finally got back to work as an Artist (Writer) in Residence at the children’s hospital last week. My warm-up was an art project at a tree lighting ceremony for chronically ill kids. It went beautifully, but when I got home and discovered I just missed tucking my baby into bed, I was a wreck. All I could think was, how do moms do this? How did my mom do this? Late that night I was as actually happy to wake up at 1 and 4 and 6 a.m. to feed and snuggle my little one. I didn’t know how I was going to leave her for eight hours that day and worried over whether or not I’d left enough milk for her. This must be the Italian mama in me. You know the ones who cook the ten course meal and wonder if that’s enough. In any case, getting back into the swing of things went more smoothly than I expected. It helped that the other artist and dancer I worked with are amazing and that one of the first patients I met said she loved, loved, loved Shakespeare. What I didn’t expect was how much it would affect me to see unwell babies and their parents.
A few weeks ago, I created the word, mom-athy. Now I feel that its definition needs to be expanded. Evidently this sort of deep empathy extends not only to your own ailing child, but also to those of total strangers. You don’t usually take an infant to the hospital unless something is very wrong, so you can imagine the condition of the babies I saw when I first walked through the automatic doors.
Most of my first year working at the hospital I was pregnant. Moms loved to ask me how I was feeling and to tell me about their experiences. Several of them remembered me upon my return and were thrilled to find out that I had a little girl and to see her picture. (I always thought people carried pictures with them to show off their progeny. Now I’m convinced it’s a way to deal with missing them.) I felt so grateful that the baby waiting for me to come home at the end of the day was healthy, and I felt and so deeply compassionate toward the moms who weren’t at the hospital to write stories and paint pictures. Then, I remembered that was what I was there to do.