“Hush Little Baby”

Short fiction contest: third prize winner

They cling to life, but just barely. Their miniature chests move up and down, a tube rhythmically filling their pre-mature lungs with oxygen. Wires send electrical pulses directly to their empty hearts to force the blood to circulate.

A warmer surrounds them, providing the temperature control they lack. Feeding tubes supply the necessary nutrients to survive.

They are twins, although at the moment no resemblance can be distinguished.

They look like all babies do, except far more fragile. Their fingers don’t clench and unclench, they remain slightly open, devoid of the energy to move.

Flaky white covers their tiny eyelids and tiny eyelashes. They have never opened their eyes.

Their skin is not rosy pink, it is purple, almost blue.

Around them, 20 other babies on the brink of death are kept alive by machines. Their miniature lungs and hearts aren’t ready for our world.

Their delicate bodies were forced into the light before they could develop to sustain themselves.

They do not cry, they have never cried. They aren’t strong enough. If they did, their lungs would explode.

Instead the small room overflows with the tears of parents — parents forced to watch the child they’ve been protecting for months struggle to survive; helpless parents, who can only pray for tiny bodies, tiny brains, tiny hearts; parents struggling to remain conscious, to be the first ones to hear the next update, good or bad.

They cling to each other, desperately hoping the human beside them with a full heart and healthy lungs can comfort the sickly child they can barely look at.

Most are “Baby X” or “Smith Baby.” They can’t have names yet. If they did, it would somehow hurt more if their desperate fight to stay alive failed and they slowly slipped away. If they did, every time that name were used the parent would return to this room, to this hell, where 20 babies remain suspended between life and death.

I stand in the same place every day, my right leg braced against the smooth wall, my left firmly planted on the line between two tiles. There was no particular reason in the beginning, but now it has become a routine. A routine amongst the chaos, something small to hold onto.

There is a hand print on the glass which separates the unstable parents from the motionless children. It looms, grotesquely large over the babies, some of which are just barely the size of the strong fingers’ shadow. It has been there for weeks.

The cleaning staff doesn’t even bother to wash it away anymore. Or maybe they leave it there for me. I can’t hold my babies, so instead I hold this ghost of a handprint, trying desperately to imagine soft flesh beneath my fingers.

Most of the time I only think about my children, but sometimes my selfish thoughts seep between the cracks of my good intentions.

You see, instead of sitting in a high school classroom, I’m standing outside the Natal Intensive Care Unit. Instead of mini skirts, I’m wearing scrubs. Instead of being surrounded by teenagers battling insecurity, I’m surrounded by babies battling death. My friends talk about being lonely. They cry over breakups, moan about the intense darkness they are surrounded by, complain about their lives being shattered. Their Facebook statuses are dramatic, they call me with their arbitrary problems, they battle hormones.

I should be crying over every update. I should moan about the intense darkness which no amount of light can dissipate.

The way I always pictured my future has been shattered and yet, I feel nothing. I should be terrified, I should be lonely, I should be incredibly sad, but I am not. I am empty, purposeless in this life, except for those two sets of miniature hands, feet, ears, hearts, fighting for me.

So I stand here. I stand here and pray, hope, wait.

I stand here until my legs are wobbly and my body refuses to hold itself up anymore.

I stand here until my mother comes to take over so my innocent, innocent babies will never be alone. And every night, before I leave, I sing them a lullaby, the same lullaby they’ll hear when they finally come home.

“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird …”

They tell me, “it isn’t your fault, you can’t blame yourself,” because there is nothing else to say.

The truth is, I am too young. I am a child having a child. I can’t walk into a bar for a drink, I can’t sign legal documents without my parents, I can’t even vote, and yet here I am, responsible for other human beings.

I wasn’t ready for the stick to turn blue. I didn’t know I was pregnant until after I had exposed the fetuses to alcohol, drugs, caffeine. I didn’t know they existed before I had ripped apart their cells, before I had irreparably damaged their brain and spinal cells, before I had stomped on the innocence inherent in children. I failed as a mother before I knew I was a mother. Now, because of me, they must battle for just one more breath, for another heart beat, for their lives.

My little baby Sarah.

My blameless, fragile girl.

My little baby Rhys.

My blameless, fragile boy.

“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird …”

I remember the night. It was the same as all the others: the beeping, the crying, the heart-break, the acceptance.

My mother came, and with a swift kiss on the cheek it was my turn to sleep. I crawled into bed, immediately drifting into the unconscious world, softly humming.

I woke up to her standing over my bed, tears glistening in her exhausted eyes.

She didn’t have to say it, I already knew.

I stood, deluding myself into thinking that somehow I could fight the news that the doctor told me was inevitable from the beginning. But there was no fight left in me. Instead, I crumpled.

She pulled me into her arms, gently rocking me back and forth.

“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.”


Fiction, Short

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Queen's Journal

© All rights reserved.

Back to Top
Skip to content