The day I was finally cleared to visit the NICU, I’d experienced a euphoria unlike at any other time in my life. I was finally going to be able to see the daughter I had birthed with my own eyes – an event I hadn’t been convinced would ever happen.
It had been three days of more downs than ups for me physically, but my thoughts were never far from Zoë. It had disappointed me immensely that other people would get to hold her long before I ever could.
But we had both made it this far, and there was cause for an upbeat outlook.
I was still wheelchair bound, but nothing was going to stop me from making an appearance at Zoë’s bedside, and staying there until I was forced back to my own ICU bed.
Unfortunately for me, my feelings of happiness and peace wouldn’t last very long. Within a few minutes of arriving at Zoë’s bedside, I was accosted by one of the NICU nurses. She’d had such a look of disdain and hostility in her eyes as she quickly approached me. Her belligerent intent crystal clear. I’d instantly noted the security guard just behind her, but for the life of me couldn’t make out why I was in her crosshairs.
“What are you doing here?” she’d asked sternly. “Who are you? You shouldn’t be in here!”
I’d known in that very moment that this nurse had made erroneous assumptions about me. She’d assumed that I was in the wrong place. She had assumed that I didn’t belong here by Zoë’s bedside, and she had assumed that I was a threat to the hospital and to the babies in her care.
The realization was like a nick to an artery that had just barely healed.
I had remembered being made aware of the hospital’s security protocols months before on a tour. I’d had the proof that I was in the right place, and at the right bedside wrapped right around my wrist.
But she hadn’t asked to see it.
I was already tried and convicted by a jury of one, and in minutes of my arrival I’d already been emotionally executed before I could even plead my case.
When she’d finally recognized her egregious mistake, and only after my insistence that she follow her own employer’s security protocols and check the ID number on my wrist, she was unable to contain the look of surprise on her face.
To say that I felt anger, dismay and disgust at the way she had treated me would not accurately describe my emotional state.
I was rioting on the inside.
Yet, I still had the presence of mind to appear calm to her and the hospital security guard despite the murderous feelings I’d developed towards them both.
No apologies given, she’d sulked away as if I’d denied her an experience she would have relished in.
Defeated and broken down, I’d left the NICU shortly afterward. I could not understand how, when I had done everything in my power to stay alive, to make it to this precious place by my newborn daughter’s side, I had been treated with so little regard and even less civility.
Didn’t she care that I had barely survived this whole ordeal? That there was nothing I’d wanted more than to spend time with the baby who’d I’d been separated from for three days?
No, that hadn’t registered at all.
My day’s plan of holding my newborn had been thwarted by the callousness of a woman who’d supposedly dedicated her life to caring for other people. And I spent the rest of the day feeling sick and emotionally dead.
Me holding Zoë in the NICU in early May 2010.
The following day I was moved out of the ICU onto a general floor on the maternity ward. I’d barely settled into my new room when a young lady dressed in business attire and a cheery smile waltzed uninvited into my hospital room.
Holding a clipboard, she’d begun to try to convince me to let the hospital try an experimental drug on my fragile newborn – a newborn that didn’t even weigh 3 pounds yet.
Stay calm. Don’t lose it.
Stabbing her simultaneously with a deadly glare and a malicious but eerily calm tone, I declined with as much politeness as I could muster.
“No, I am not interested in enrolling my prematurely born daughter in an experimental drug trial needing Black female test subjects. I am not interested in any drug trials of any kind, now or ever. Please leave. Don’t come back again. Thank you.”
I’d sincerely wanted to take a page out of my Grandma Clotiel’s playbook and pray an imprecatory prayer over my perceived enemies. But I didn’t.
I’d wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, feeling like someone was trying to take advantage of me in my most vulnerable state. But I didn’t.
I’d honestly wanted to act like a crazy person, driven to madness and rage for the cathartic benefits alone. But instead I reacted the way I’d handled every other trauma I’d experienced up that point in my life. I seethed silently – neither praying for wrath, nor for mercy.
The foremost expert on burying my emotions, I’d never learned to fully process them at all. Banished to an unknown reservoir, they would remain there lying dormant until the day they’d bubble up from their hidden place and wreak even more damage in their latter expressions than they ever did at their inception. Smothering my feelings was a choice I repeatedly made, and a colossal mistake I’d come to both understand and lament much later.
I would soon come to think of that hospital as a prison, most of its healthcare professionals as prison guards with medical degrees, and my child as it’s hostage.
Fully comprehending that I was being evaluated as a mother every time I stepped foot into the NICU, I’d followed all instructions with perfection, and intentionally kept to myself over the coming months.
Over the next few weeks I would be incredulous to show up and find the oxygen had been left turned on in Zoë’s cannula, a mistake that could have caused irreversible brain damage.
Or that her chart had been confused with that of another baby.
Or how Zoë’d been switched to formula instead of the breast milk that I’d been providing.
Or how she’d started experiencing bradycardia, acid reflux, and difficulty breathing after being tube fed that very same formula.
It was then that I’d come to fully understand how dogmatic medical paradigms can be – so much so that they can lead highly intelligent, highly trained people to ignore irrefutable evidence that contradicts their beliefs even when the facts are staring them right in the face.
Later I’d learn that depending on how physicians were trained, they might have entirely different (and opposing) viewpoints about disease and treatment protocols. In this case, the neonatologists had an unshakeable belief that babies cannot have an immune based reaction to food, because they don’t have an immune system. But a conversation with a pediatric allergist would lead to a completely different conclusion.
Zoë would continue to suffer needlessly up until she was discharged from that hospital. Once I was able to get her under the care of different doctors, we were able to address the root causes of her symptoms, eliminate them, and get her completely off of medication.
That experience formed the foundation of my dogged questioning of the status quo and my unending search for truth about health and healing.
I was never able to reconcile being grateful on the one hand for a team of highly specialized professionals that saved my child’s life while at the same time resenting them deeply for their missteps and personal treatment of me.
Noting the hostility that I continued to be treated with by one of the doctors and several of the nurses, I bided my time patiently though anxiously.
I had also paid close attention to the sympathetic, but silent looks of one of the other NICU nurses. She’d been a quiet, intensely observant onlooker at every terse interaction I’d had in that NICU.
Finally, one day she’d approached me timidly and asked if I was a Christian.
I’d been praying daily, hourly even for Zoë’s healing and protection. I hadn’t been aware that THIS nurse would be the very generous answer to those prayers.
My curiosity piqued, I’d asked her “How did you know that?”
She told me she’d seen me praying often by Zoë’s bedside, but that there had also been a steady presence of pastoral staff from my church praying over her bedside as well. I’d never seen them there and was completely unaware that had been happening.
I drew peace and strength from that knowledge.
She would be the earth side angel that God would use to encourage me when I’d been brow beaten by her peers, the one who would acknowledge my fears about the competence of some of her colleagues, and the one who would advise me on how to designate her as Zoë’s primary nurse.
Not long after I’d ensured that only the two nurses that I had hand-selected would attend to Zoë, her for the day shift and another for the night shift, I’d learned that one of the other NICU babies had been accidentally overdosed.
My heart broke for that precious baby and his parents.
We’d had setbacks here and there but week after week Zoë’s progress continued to improve, despite my fears and generally gloomy outlook.
During that time, I’d come to know God as Jehovah Rapha – the God who heals. Zoe experienced none of the long-term damaging effects of prematurity. In fact, she exceeded expectations in every way possible.
Those few months of Zoë’s hospitalization are difficult to characterize because while I experienced relief and thankfulness often over the good news of her progress, it was also a time marked by unbearable fear, distress and anxiety.
I’d remained in something of an emotional purgatory until the day I received a phone call from the office of the head pastor of the church I’d attended.
I was just heading out the door to make my daily drive to the hospital when the phone rang. The lady on the other end let me know that our pastor was praying for Zoë personally. At that moment I felt like one of the prophets of old had paid me a personal visit on a mission direct from the Almighty. After that phone call, I’d had an unshakeable assurance that Zoë would be just fine.
And she was.
When I’d tallied up the total cost of her medical bills, it had come to a whopping sum of 1.1 million dollars. Though we’d only have to pay a fraction of that total thanks to the excellent insurance I’d had at the time, there was another looming financial quandary we’d soon find ourselves in.
As Zoë’s discharge date quickly approached, her pediatrician had gently broken the news that while Zoë was doing extremely well, her immune system could not withstand day care. Either my husband or I would need to stay home with her full time to give her the level of care she would still need.
Martin and I had agreed instantaneously that we’d find a way to make it happen.
But how would we plug the six-figure hole left by me walking away from my consulting career of 15 years in just a few short weeks?
No Excel formula was going to make up that difference in our budget, and no matter how I tried to slice and dice the numbers, things just wouldn’t add up.
But that was when Martin and I learned about God’s calculus. When 1 + 1 = a jug of oil that never runs dry.
In what can only be explained by an act of God’s providence and timing, an unexplainable series of events would lead to us receiving exactly what we needed for me to stay home full-time with Zoë.
And just like that I tendered my resignation effective immediately. I’d spent a decade and a half meticulously and dutifully building a career that I discarded without a second thought like sugar-laden bubble gum that had suddenly lost its flavor.
God was doing something new in our lives, and it was time to step out on faith on the bridge that God himself had built.
Now not only had I come to know God as Jehovah Rapha but also as Jehovah Jireh – the God who provides.
Though we’d spent considerable time in the valley of the shadow of death, by God’s grace we had emerged from it alive, well, and with barely a care in the world.
And all would be seemingly well on the health front for Zoe until about two years later.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DALILA JONES STITZ
Founder and CEO, Health Insurrection LLC
Dalila is a native Houstonian and currently lives in Switzerand with her husband and two kids. She received her health coach training through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and Hallelujah Acres and teaches in-home bible studies and online courses.