Holding onto life: the breath of a child

Far away, a five-month-old baby is struggling for breath. Each in, each out is a victory won with the help of a ventilator. Ordinary life milestones have been replaced by daily notations whether he has opened his eyes, whether he moves his arms or legs in response to stimuli (arms sometimes, legs not yet). Watching, hoping for the day when he will show signs of a gag reflex. Reducing the ventilator gradually, going too fast, and having to return to previous levels.

Far away, a young mother and father massage this baby’s limbs, rubbing and squeezing in an attempt to relieve the spastic tightening of his muscles. Wondering whether to thank the heavy sedation for its success in–so far–stalling repeat experiences of the extensive, debilitating seizures that rocked his body and robbed his breath. Or whether they should curse the overpowering drugs for the inevitable short and long term effects they will have on this baby’s emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

One day, someone dear to me had a newborn baby who smiled, laughed, and gurgled like most newborn babies do.

The next, our family transformed into an unceasing prayer vigil.

One day, this baby’s parents delighted in feeding him cereal for the first time, wondering when he would begin crawling, and perhaps fussing that he was too short, too skinny, too chubby, or too slow. The way parents always are able to do, no matter how perfect their baby might be.

The next, there was only one thought on everyone’s minds:

Let him live.

And as the days passed and the hope for improvement grew steadily less, perhaps only I was the one to wonder:

Are we praying for the wrong thing? How can a five-month-old body go through this and come out all right?

The human body has an amazing capacity to heal, and yet in many cases it can not.

The human soul has an amazing capacity to heal, and yet in many cases it can not.

We can look on the positive, we can preach sermons about faith and miracles and not giving up, but when it comes right down to it?

Losing my child would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me. People have healed from such a loss. I could not.

I read about a society in which parents who lost children were considered bad luck. The bodies of the children were not allowed to be buried, and they were left to rot.

One of the cruelest things about human nature is our tendency to isolate, shame, and blame those who have already suffered. It makes us feel a tiny less uncomfortable. To face the unspeakable loss of another, we must convince ourselves that we are different, we deserve better, and our relative good fortune is due to something we did or did not do. The thought of undeserved, completely random suffering sends fear to the strongest of hearts.

Yet if we face our own fears of the worst things that could happen to us, we find a strength, a resiliency, and a compassion that enables us to understand each other. We are all terrified of what could happen to our loved ones. If we acknowledge that fear, acknowledge the randomness of who experiences these losses…we affirm what it means to be human. To be human, at its most basic level, is to love one another.

Today, I hold onto the news that this five-month-old baby was able to draw a breath on his own. In between using the ventilator, he had one unassisted breath of air. His lungs and body cooperated in order to draw in air, filter out the unnecessary components, and send oxygen coursing through his body to keep his vital organs functioning.

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know what eighteen years from now will bring, or what kind of quality we will have.

For now, we simply have the breath of a child.

And we are grateful.

36 thoughts on “Holding onto life: the breath of a child

  1. Casey McKay says:

    My heart is breaking. I know you feel helpless and this baby’s parents feel helpless. It’s so random and unexplainable the things some people go through. Sounds like a positive turn of events today, I hope things remain going in the positive direction.


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      It’s all perspective, isn’t it? To have a baby in intensive care for this long would not be a hopeful sign to many people…but that he is still here is a sign of hope. Or at least I want to think it is. 🙂 Thank you, Casey.


  2. Katie says:

    Awww Ana! I am sending huge prayers your way! For many years I worked, caring for critically ill babies. While there was always this quandary of “if yes, then what”?, it is important to realize that you are talking about a baby. They continued to surprise us time and time again. In fact, I still receive cards from some parents of these kids who are now in high school and beyond, who beat the odds. My heart goes out to you and I send you big hugs!

    ❤ Katie


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Thank you so much, Katie. I’d love to hear more about your experience working with babies who are so sick. I love that you have seen so many positive outcomes. I guess you’d have to focus on those in order to keep working in that kind of job. Thank you for such positive words today. 🙂


  3. Mona Lisa says:

    Never underestimate the child’s ability to repair what can be repaired.
    I worked 6 years at UIC for premature and newborn babies.
    I have seen miracles happen several times. I’ve seen what the children’s brain is capable of and the child’s body is capable of.
    Do not give up, Ana!


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      What is UIC? Is it a kind of neonatal ICU? You are right not to give up…but it is hard not to think of other cases where the long-term results were not good. But yes, mental energies should go toward the positive. Thank you for the reminder and the encouragement. 🙂


  4. Irishey says:

    Ana, I’ll pray for your family’s little one. That breath he took tells me he is fighting. I celebrate today’s victory with you. We’ll be here with you to face whatever tomorrow delivers.

    I’m sending big hugs and healing energy to this little guy. Sending positive thoughts and hugs for you and your family, too.

    Irishey ♡


  5. Sunny Girl says:

    Why do these things happen? It’s not for us to know, just trust that God is holding this child in the palm of his hands.

    I’m sending prayers and positive thoughts your way.


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Thank you, Sunny. It’s important to focus on the positive, but sometimes we (or at least I) need to pause and absorb what’s been going on. Thank you for letting me do that, and for pausing with me.


  6. pao says:

    I hope he keeps on breathing. I’d like to think that him being still there is a sign of hope. If random suffering can happen, then miracles can happen too. Hold on to hope. Ana, you’ll be in my thoughts *hug*


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      That’s what we keep trying to focus on–he is still here, and he has taken a few breaths on his own. Wow, that gives a whole new perspective to things, doesn’t it? Thank you and hugs back.


  7. Roz says:

    Awe Ana, this is such a beautifully written and very touching post. Sending much love, hugs and prayers to you.



  8. Ami says:

    Sending you my prayers and blessings for this little babe. It is something alas, that I have seen several times with friends and family over the years. For me, it is in the hands of God and his angels. I hope with all my might that this small one is sent the strength to live and thrive.

    Many hugs



    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      In the hands of God and angels…for sure. Sometimes I ask myself who am I to ask for the life of this child, when so many have not been spared? Then I heard the news about Emily being back in the ICU, and I don’t know what to think any more. But then I think about our wonderful friends who give support, and then I take comfort. We have to believe in the better good…we have to.


  9. catrouble says:

    I don’t know why this did not show up on my blog roll until just now! I am so sorry I have not commented sooner! Sending lots of prayers, hugs, healing energy and positive thoughts that this special little baby survives and thrives. That one breath is definitely a sign of hope from this little fighter.

    Hugs and Blessings,


  10. Natasha Knight says:

    Just sad, any way you look at it, all of it. Things change on a dime and I’m with you, I could’t survive the loss of one of my kids. I don’t know how people recover from that. As for the societies who call it bad luck or shun those who’ve lost kids, I think you’re right, it’s all fear based. Again, sad, sad, sad.


    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      If it were to happen, we would find some way to slug through life because there would be no other choice–but I couldn’t ever actually heal. And it’s just plain cruel to heap blame on top of people who have suffered already.

      Thanks for visiting, Natasha.


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