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IMAGINING MY DAUGHTER INTO EXISTENCE:
Nearly 30 years ago, I went into labor with my beautiful daughter Sunshine Brady.
I was directing a show at The Second City in London. She was only 25.5 weeks along ( 3 months early) and barely viable. As the team of Dr.’s prepared for her arrival, her father went to the washroom and got on his knees and prayed.
But I did not.
I went numb and let the faint labor pains come and go as I stared off into the distance.
They had to do a C section but had run out of my kind of blood. Four hours went by before the Red Cross could make the right combination of antibodies to give me.
A nurse held my hand and kept telling me to take it one breath at a time.
The family began to begin the drive to London. We imagined only death.
But the Dr’s and nurses on the NICU at St. Joe’s in London, had already imagined other outcomes. Months before we arrived scientists had imagined intricate machines into being. I was at a hospital that was using Surfactant on a trial basis. The nurses had simple techniques to keep her alive.
They knew how terrified preemie mothers could be, so they even imagined ways for me to bond with her. Simple instructions like, ” Touch her. Tickle her feet. Say, I love you.”
Yes, I had to be told to touch my baby.
For the mind, protects itself and wants to retreat from getting hurt.
For, I didn’t hold her after she was born.
They took her to the NICU, the nether world of transfusions and bradycardia and mini toques knitted for her. When I finally was able to get out of bed and maneuver my IV pole down the hall to the NICU it had already had been two days she was born.
Her head was smushed. Her eyes taped shut. She was so premature she could fit in her dad’s hand.
Some friends couldn’t imagine her existence, either. There was no, ” Congratulation on the birth of your daughter cards. They were only, “I am sorry, get better soon cards.” That is except for one dear friend Victor, who gave her a music box because he imagined her listening to it as a small child.
I could not imagine a reality where I could handle a sick daughter. But family and friends imagined prayers of healing her. I was so ill I had to return to Napanee to recover. ( and to take care of my 9-month-old son—yes NINE months old)
And so a woman in London who had been babysitting my son visited Laurel daily. This was before the days of texting and so wrote me a handwritten note every other day and mailed it to me via snail mail.
When things were tenuous, I clung to my AA meetings to hold me up. One night I sat in a meeting in a small Northern town and 2 men, whose last names I didn’t know re-imagined for me how to be the mother of a sick child. Their sage advice, “Love her for as long as she is here.’ ” All you can do is show up for her.”
She got off the ventilator and was transferred to Toronto. I was used to this new reality by then. After one night of directing the touring company for Second City, I visited the NICU late at night so I could bond with her and she was out of her incubator.
I looked over near the nurse’s station and they were playing rock and roll getting her to dance.
Then she got better and began hitting targets. She came home and grew into a normal healthy child. I could not imagine how this was possible. Every time she did something that a normal child would do, I would say “She was premature you know?”
She grew into this droll, considerate little girl who placated many of my requests with a classic Sunshine Brady sentence, “Maybe later.” Which in our family came to mean, “maybe never.”
From the get-go, she could outlast me in her resolve. It seemed she came into this world as a quiet warrior. If she likes you, she will defend you to the death. If you are off base she will hurt you!
She is funny and a fabulous writer and great actress. She has sass and compassion.
Sometimes she is my daughter and I comfort her. But often she is a teacher for me. She has shown me how to listen a bit better. She has taught me most of all how little we know of our own children.
Her birth is still is one of the most astounding things that happened to me. Because it cut a swath for a new loo on life. I exchanged my old begging and receiving a model of living to one of more acceptance. ( for the most part)
I believe I can’t change much what happens to me but I can control if, “I show up.”
I show up broken and doubtful or sometimes I show up full of faith it doesn’t matter. The showing up is what is important.
These beings we birth to, these children we call our own, have plans for us. They always test our own limits of imagination. We blame ourselves when our kids don’t do what we want. We take the praise when they turn out all right.
But isn’t this unimaginative?
It seems their lives have a trajectory quite separate from us
Sometimes we are their leaders, other times we walk alongside them hoping they will let us tag along on the path.
P.S. In 1992, my play Miracle Mother about this harrowing event was produced across Canada ( Tarragon Theatre, Vancouver Arts Club, Washington Stage U.S.) The Miracle Mother monologue became the go-to monologue for female acting students and my own daughter used this monologue to get into theatre school. Many theatres still produce this 4-hander. And now it’s in a movie development with a producer! If you would like to read it click below. If you want to produce it send me an email for rights: https://