Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Father's Humble Wish

Dear Ellie,

Five days ago, you were born.  As of now, you are too young to read any of the letters I'll be writing you, but that’s okay.  I’m writing them to the Ellie of the future.  It’s my sincerest hope that, one day, I will hand you a thumb drive filled with these letters.  And then, I hope, you will browse through them casually and conclude that they are all very dull and tedious.  I hope that you will sigh and roll your eyes and say, “Uggh, why does Dad always make me read all this stuff?” and then, to your mother and father's horror, you’ll go back to playing with Barbie Dolls, obsessing about boys, and slacking off in school.  

Yeah, I know.  There are many greater things that I could wish for you.  I could wish that, like your mother and father, you might have an insatiable sense of curiosity.  I could wish that you might love science and literature.  That you might never grow tired of fun and play.  That you might always search for excuses to be joyous.  At this moment, though, it seems greedy to wish for much more than one simple thing: that you will live at least one more day.  To wish for anything more than that seems like a lot to ask for.              

You see, you were born four months ahead of time at 24 weeks gestation.  Born at the eerie twilight between viability and non-viability, between life and death.  At this moment, your mother and I should be sitting at home, feeling her belly for your very first kicks.  Instead, you are here in front of us, no longer surrounded by the warmth of your mother but instead by an airtight force-field of acrylic.  Your eyes are fused shut.  A mask of fabric covers your face and ears.  There is a tangled mass of wires and IV’s and tubes strapped to (and piercing!) your body.  At first glance one might actually doubt that there is somehow a baby beneath it all.  There is a respirator in your trachea to give you air because your lungs are too young.  Two wires snake through your belly button: a bionic replacement to the umbilical cord which we were forced to sever far, far too early.

Your mother and I don’t dare touch you or get too close.  We’re too afraid.  An untrained stroke or pat could rake away your skin or damage your brain.  A stray breath could expose your fragile immune system to a fatal infection.  A legion of doctors, nurses, and machines work frantically to keep you alive, yet they are all a poor substitute for your mother's womb and your mother's love.

There are many terrifying coin tosses ahead of you.  A 50/50 chance that you will live or die.  And if you survive, a 50/50 chance that you will endure some grievous disability.  Blindness.  Deafness.  Cerebral Palsy.  What's more, a litany of things can, and will, go wrong.  It's not a question of whether or not you will survive unscathed.  Instead, it is a question of how, and how badly.  If we are lucky, the level 3 NeoNatal Intensive Care Unit will continue to be your home for months and months to come.  And ours.  If you, your mother, and I are still here many months from now, then it means you have endured. 

I’ll be writing many more letters for you, but I wonder whether I am actually instead writing with you.  After all, it is you that has inspired me to put my thoughts to paper.  You, that has turned up fresh, vast new tracts of my mind that I never knew existed.  A thousand new thoughts flit through my brain.  My heart is resident to a host of emotions that were never meant to dwell together.  Love and anger.  Pride and fear.  Tenderness.  Bitterness.  Whenever I look down at you, I find that I have never had more things to say, and for every word I write to you, it is joined by a tear of joy from one eye and a tear of grief from the other.

I love you, and I’ll write to you again soon.


  1. I have read all your "Letters to Ellie" and they are so incredible. My thoughts are with you and hope for the best for you.

  2. Thank you, Joe. Talking with you always puts us at ease. Say hello to the Humanists for me.

  3. Dear Dana and Rani:
    Both Rani Aunty and I are happy for you both. I can very well understand the pain and fear that the two of you are going through. Believe me, I have been there. When my twins (Amar & Dilip) were born more that 50 years ago, they too were preemies. Both a little heavier than Ellie. Remember, science has come a long way since then. Amar and Dilip were also tiny like your Ellie. We prayed and hoped for the best. Now. they are grown, and one with a family of his own. Both of them were fighters. They fought like warriors, a great battle for their lives, and they won.

    We are sure that Ellie also has the fight in her to succeed, and succeed she will. Have faith. Don't be discouraged. There will possibly be many frightening episodes she will go through; overcome them she will. Be positive, only good things can come out of this trial you both are going through.

    Our prayers and good wishes are with you three, especially for little Ellie.

    Uncle Tony and Aunty Rani Kottiath

  4. Thank you Toni and Rani. I remember hearing stories about Amar and Dilip and their troubled first few months of life. You are right about good things coming from hard times. I know that for every month she is here and for every struggle she faces, we'll love her that much more.