Humility, Advocacy and “The Greatest Love.”

This post is a combination of emotions today. I am humbled to put myself in front of you.  I am advocating for a cause I believe in so strongly because I have lived it and I am sharing a piece of writing I submitted for a contest that captures both of these things and all of which makes me highly uncomfortable. But I am sharing this today,  because it feels like it’s time.

As I said, I actually submitted this piece for a writing competition and although I didn’t win, I did win something;, the confidence to do it again.  As you might imagine, I am not really a big fan of ‘not winning.’ Of putting myself out there and not being successful, either by my own standards or those of others.  But then over the past 2 weeks a couple of things happened that allowed me to step back from “winning” and remind me that really it’s all about trying.

1.  I was on a plane and ended up reading the winning essay from contest for which I submitted this piece, the “Real Simple Life Lessons” contest and I felt gratitude wash over me. That we are where we are on our journey, all here, all together, all moving forward each day. Winning is really a matter of perspective.

2. I kicked off our “Pruitt Wondertwins” March of Dimes, “March for Babies” team, for which we are this year’s Los Angeles Ambassador Family!  This is  HUGE honor for us and goes so deep into my core of wanting to do our small part to eradicate premature birth and take care of all moms during their pregnancies so they might never have to go through what we have, and those that have had it worse than we have.

Our little family as the "March for Babies" Ambassador Family. Such a HUGE honor.

As the Ambassador Family we have set a lofty goal of $15,000.  It’s aggressive but I feel doable.  We also have had a VERY generous matching offer that if we can get to our goal in the next 33 days, they will make a gift of an incremental $5,000 putting us at $20,000 to support The March of Dimes, but only if we hit our goal.  I hope that as you read the only words I could even begin to find to communicate the depth of my feelings, that you might consider supporting our team with $5, $20 or $100. Anything and everything helps and if you need something tangible to pinpoint, look at the faces of E and Q and know that the discovery of  Surfactant (which the minis were given as soon as they were born because their lungs we not developed) was funded by The March of Dimes and saved their precious lives.  If you would like to share this post, please please do, on Facebook, your own blog, Twitter, skywriting, whatever, we are so grateful!  Our family, E and Q belong not only to us as their mama and dada, but also to their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and our friends.  Like all babies, they are not in isolation which is what makes them so incredible and it is my hope we can do our own small part to help make sure that all babies can stay with their families.  And, if any of you want to join our team, I welcome you with open arms!   Whatever you can give of your time, financial support,  fundraising or plain simple words of encouragement is lovely.

My heart is on my sleeve by sharing this as by attempting and putting myself out there, I took the first step in what will be subsequent tries of submissions for publishing and I will continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone of fundraising for this cause which has become part of my soul and my entire being.  This particular post was based on theme, tell us about the first time you understood ‘Love.’ For me this entry is the purest form of love I have ever known.  I called it “The Greatest Love.”

“The Greatest Love”

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”.  ~ Helen Keller

“I stood at the threshold of the NICU waiting to enter Bay 3. Somewhere in the depths of my memory, I recalled the words of a friend whose baby had been in the NICU and had told me at the time, that the Bay you were in is based on the severity of the condition of the baby.  I would come to know all too well over the next 113 days that this was not entirely true.  The placement of a baby in the NICU is actually based on the ratio of nurses to babies. So yes, technically the smaller the ratio, 1:1 being for the most acute conditions, the lower the bay number. However, depending on staffing, cleaning, and the number of babies in the NICU at any given time, babies can end up anywhere in the NICU, it’s really all about the ratio. On the 4th floor, in Bay 3, at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles on October 18, 2009, we had one nurse to our two precious angels. Her name was Lora.  Although I didn’t remember it at the time, she had been on the admit team for our children, which meant she was in the room when I prematurely delivered my babies in an Operating Room 2 hours earlier.  Lora was medium height, slight yet lean and strong. She wore no makeup and her hair was severely pulled back on her head.  She felt secure and capable and I hadn’t even said two words to her yet. Her movements around my babies’ incubators seemed swift and sure as if it was just another day at the office, and in her case it was.

As I stood there with my husband Scott by my side, we didn’t say a word. I could feel myself being drawn to them by a magnetic force. Even as I walked toward them, I did not know for sure which beds they were in, but my heart pulled me to them.  I was trembling and frightened yet serene and strong. Ever so strong, until I saw them.

First, Baby A, our baby boy. We had chosen 2 names if we had a boy. As our tiny baby boy traveled by incubator from the OR to his new home in the NICU with his daddy by his side, the committee of nurses and doctors guiding him chose his name.  Then and there, without me, Baby Boy 1 Pruitt, became Quinn Ellis Pruitt.

My legs felt heavy with each footstep, as if there was wet cement attached to my shoes.  I inched closer to see his barely visible frame through the clear plastic case.  According to all the folks in the OR, he was apparently “good size” for a 28 weeker at 2 pounds 15 ounces. The light glistened off his blond hair on both his head and body. Tubes and gauze overwhelmed his delicate frame.  He was 14 inches long and more fragile than anything I had ever seen. As he lay there under the bright Bilirubin lights used to treat jaundice, Lora reminded me he had taken long time to “get going” (read, they were worried that he wasn’t going to make it when he was born) and now, that he was breathing on a ventilator there were two things I needed to understand.  Quinn needed to rest and I would not be able to hold him.  My heart started aching.

What was she saying?  I couldn’t hold my baby? This was not part of the perfect picture I had seen in so many baby books and websites I had used to prepare me for this day.  The day had come 11.5 weeks too early.  We were no longer talking about the size of fruit my babies would be at week 28, but rather their chances of survival. Lora looked at me with compassion in her soft brown eyes and told me the only way I could touch Quinn would be to put my now gigantic-looking hands through the two holes in his incubator and wrap them gently around his tiny head and feet, this was called the containment touch.  It felt like a dream.  Like when you hear someone talking under water. While you think you understand what they are saying, it’s not quite clear so you listen but your mind wanders. And in that moment, as I listened to her and tried to focus on what she was saying, my mind wandered because I knew I wasn’t done yet, I had one more baby to meet.  I placed my hand protectively on Quinn’s incubator and moved my way around to meet Baby Girl 2 Pruitt, now known as Emma Grace Pruitt.

Little Q 7 days old. I did not want to share his first photo as he was intubated and in some ways those photos still tear at my heart.

Emma had striking dark hair, pale olive skin and closely resembled an 80-year-old man.  She also bore an amazing resemblance to Scott, and in spite of myself I thought instantly that I now knew what my husband might look like in our old age.  Despite looking like a little old man, she was beautiful, as she lay there with her incubator open. Lora was in the process of measuring her stomach, changing her diaper, administering her medications and adjusting her position when I had walked into the bay. Even in her short time there, Emma was already known as a fighter, for she wasn’t yet ready to be out in the great big world and she was going strong.  She was all of 2 pounds, 8 ounces and 12.5 inches long.  As I stood over her and she lay there, I asked Lora if it would be okay for me to kiss her, she said yes.

Slowly and ever so gently, I leaned over the clear siding of her new home and looked through her transparent skin where I could see every ridge in her frailty. I took a deep breath.  The soft scent of her wafted through my nose and my heart broke into a hundred little pieces.   It was in that moment, that I met my baby girl for the first time. I knew then what it truly meant to love with all of your heart and soul.  My senses ignited and everything that was happening settled over me a like a ton of bricks. My babies were here. No longer in my belly that I had cradled protectively in my hands for 7 months, Emma and Quinn were close enough to touch and smell.  It was not the ideal picturesque sequence you see in the movies, it was raw and pure and full of certain uncertainty.  They were not pretty like the babies you see in birth announcements, but they were alive, and in their very short lives they had transformed mine.

This is me and E on her 7th day. It is a most intimate moment for us but allows you see my description of her outside of the sterility of her incubator. My heart outside my body.

It was time for Emma to rest and so as Lora readjusted her to her other side, I went back to meet Quinn. My hands shook as I tried to open the latches to the two holes in the side of his incubator.  Finally, after some struggle, I managed to open them and sit quietly on the stool.  I was not prepared for this to be our first meeting. So close, yet so far apart.  I tentatively put my hands through the holes and held my breath as I wrapped my right hand around his head and my left around his feet.  My hands seemed to engulf him, and he only moved ever so slightly, but I knew in an instant that he knew it was me.  I could not fathom it, this love was different. Equally as strong, but totally different.  My baby boy. With the arrival of these two babies, I had begun two very powerful and yet completely different love affairs. I would do anything for them and they would have to give me nothing in return, nothing but to stay alive and grow.

This love I felt was so different than anything I had ever known and when I met my children in these very fearful, unpredictable and challenging circumstances, it was like capturing lightening in a bottle.  Seeing and knowing this love captured my heart, my imagination and even now pervades every ounce of my being.

Perhaps it was the fear, or uncertainty I felt that made that day so marked in my heart and mind, or perhaps, it was just because as Helen Keller so eloquently states, this pure unconditional love was not something that could be seen or touched, but rather something that I felt so deeply in my heart it forever changed how I think about the meaning of love.  Whatever the reason, this love continues to be the rock that provides our family with the strength, hope, faith and perseverance we need to greet each new day with a grateful heart in what has been our most challenging journey.”

Thank you for sharing in our journey, and thank you for being the support system on which I can continue to develop the confidence to keep trying. I hope that the warmth in my heart will spill over into yours and make today ‘yournewfavoriteday.’

Copyright March 26, 2012 by Shannon Pruitt

30 thoughts on “Humility, Advocacy and “The Greatest Love.”

  1. I admire your strenght and courage, It must have taken a lot of it to share such an intimate and emotional experience. My eyes were tearing up as I was reading this. You write about something so big, pure and genuine in such a moving way. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  2. Oh Shannon. You win everything as far as I’m concerned. To say I am weepy and so touched by yor writing and your story of hope and love, well it’s inadequate. I’m sharing right now. So much love to you. And I’m donating tomorrow.

  3. This was so beautiful. I love the March of Dimes and all they do. I just ran the L.A Marathon a few weeks ago for Team Dibble, which is part of March of Dimes. Team Dibble was started by my best friend who lost one of his twins at the end of a long 5 month struggle after being born premature. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Dearest Shannon, Thank you for sharing such an intimate glimpse of your first moments into motherhood, you write a realization as to why we should support the causes that help our beautiful babies. As parents we are their biggest advocate no matter what, thank you for being a leader in this difficult role! Thank you for writing and putting it out there for us, I’m sending you hugs filled with thank you’s and love! Michelle

  5. You are such a beautiful writer Shannon. Motherhood is so wonderful to experience but so hard to put into words. you did it beautifully.

  6. This is a very powerful and emotional piece of motherhood. And it is heartbreaking, yet beautiful at the same time. Thank you for sharing your story with us. The picture of you holding your daughter above with the words “my heart outside my body” brought hot tears to my eyes. Even though I never experienced this with my own babies (they were born at 39 weeks), I felt like I was with you at that moment experiencing it. That’s truly magical writing.

    1. Thank you so much! It was a huge deal for me to go back to these moments but cathartic in it’s own way. I am glad to hear your babies (how many?) were a healthy 39 weeks and doing well! Thank you for your very sweet words about this piece and my writing, it means a ton to me. I am looking forward to visiting your blog. I hope you will come back as well:)

  7. Amazing. Truly. I thought about entering that contest too (I really liked the winnng essay) but was afraid to put myself out there. Thanks for inspiring me to try!

  8. Aww. I was 2 pounds 5 ounces when I was born nearly 30 years ago. Caring so much about someone else makes us stronger than we knew we were.

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