... the tales of two sisters

Dana lives in Seattle, and Tracie lives in Germany. We are businesswomen, writers and humorists. We write about life, dating, and today's modern women.

Hold Me Tight!

The border problem is a crisis. Period. 

President Donald signed an order yesterday that ends his administration’s policy of separating families at the border. So at least now, immigrant parents will be detained with their children. 

The white elephant in the room is this question: What is going to happen to the 2300 kids who have already been taken away from their parents? What’s the plan to reunite them when they don’t even speak the English language? When they are too young to know Mommy or Daddy’s name? Who is comforting these “crisis tender age” children in these mysterious detention centers? Who is telling them that everything will be all right?

If you’ve had a baby, can you imagine your child be snatched away from your arms? You don’t understand the situation. You don’t speak the language. You cannot help yourself or your child. Imagine just going grocery shopping, and you look up and find your child not lingering nearby.What is the first emotion you feel? Nothing but panic.

I just can’t even imagine how someone can even come up with the idea to separate families.

It’s hard to fathom and it affects me deeply on a personal level as I have been in a somewhat similar situation. A nurse took my baby out of my arms–and I couldn’t speak the German language, the country I had just relocated to, but at least–‘at least’ I say, my son was taken from me to be admitted to a hospital because of his illness. I knew where he was. His father could call and check on him throughout that first harrowing day of admittance. He was safe. 

Despite this, I thought I would lose my mind. In fact, I almost did. I am not ashamed to say that I became hysterical. And so my heart truly breaks for these families and I can only pray, and I hope that you’ll join me, that they will all somehow, someway be reunited. 

We have laws, but this action was heartless and inhumane. “When you prosecute the children, you have to take the children away.”

Well, drop the mic.

I’m sharing chapter three of my book, Incompatible with Nature–A Mother’s Story entitled, ‘Any Moment’ today just so you can get a sense of the pure horror a parent suffers when they are forced to be separated from their child. Because many of you know me, perhaps this will bring the plight of these immigrant families a little closer to your hearts.  


  Chapter 3

                                                           Any Moment

 I didn’t realize I had collapsed into my chair. Though Helmut was right next to me, close enough to comfortably hug me, I strained to see his face clearly. And when I could, I looked at him as I had never done before. He must have lost his mind. My breath was coming to me in little hitches, the flat of my left hand pressed against the heaving of my chest.

“What do you mean something’s wrong, Helmut?”

The Professor addressed me, his face wooden, his English unsteady.

“The baby is very sick. You must leave him here. We must watch him tonight. Tomorrow I will make more tests.”

My eyes drifted away from his face and lingered upon our son, my angel child, the manifestation of true love, of my womb, Helmut’s and my everything . . . He must be kidding. My eyes locked with his. It was like looking down the barrel of a gun.

“What? What are you talking about? What do you mean leave our baby here? Why? What’s the matter with him? No! No! For what? I’m NOT leaving my baby here! Helmut! Helmut, tell him we are not leaving Marc here! He’s not sick! There can’t be something wrong! Nobody ever EVER said anything about him being sick, Helmut. Ever! His checkups were always fine! You know it! Tell him! Tell him to call the obstetrician! Tell – ”

“The baby is so ill he could die at any moment,” the Professor cut me off.

His words reverberated like ricochets around the room. 

I froze. Time stood perfectly still. Staring blankly into his face I could feel myself helplessly falling through space, slowly, ever so slowly toppling into an abyss. My – baby – is – so – ill  – he  – could  die? . . . At any moment? I looked at his face in utter disbelief, dumbfounded. I felt faint. And for the very first time that I could ever remember, I was speechless. The room fell silent. Then I burst out crying, and stepped over the edge.

I don’t remember the details of the ensuing melee. The door to the examination room had been inadvertently left ajar. But when? I was sure the Professor closed it after he first came in. Pacing. Everyone was pacing. The Professor had left the room for a moment and had come back with a nurse, they were both whispering, walking back and forth in front of me. Helmut, too, around the examination table, back and forth, pacing. Nurses, doctors and parents all were keeping up the tempo outside the door to our room unashamedly peeking inside at me as they walked past, curious to see the source of the commotion, a hysterical woman in a state of delirium. Only Marc and I remained glued to our designated places, the both of us helpless. Where was everybody going? The absolute destruction of the unnatural silence in the corridor must have relieved the other parents waiting there, for whatever problems they may have had, they were surely not as bad as the problem in the examination room at the end of the hall by the smacking door where that poor lady was screaming and crying. My wails must have reassured them. Comforted them that they weren’t alone in their woes. The nurse who had accompanied the Professor into the room was trying to explain to me in her native tongue, with sympathetic eyes and a finger pointing towards the door that she had to take our baby to another room. By now, several of the staff had entered the room. They all tried to calm me down, to no avail. Their mouths were soft pliable holes that simply moved in their faces. Babel assaulted my senses when they spoke. Even if I would have understood their language, I wouldn’t have understood what they were saying anyway. I knew I’d parked the car, turned off the ignition, but it was still rolling. Pumping the brakes did not bring it to a halt. I remember watching the nurse with the kind eyes wipe the gooey gel off of our son’s chest and dress him, then gently lift him into her arms, turn and then disappear from the room. As if jabbering and pointing towards the door presumed my permission to take my child from me. It took a moment for me to register that she had actually left the room with him. I jumped up after her, Helmut on my heels, the Professor behind him. We landed in the opposite end of the corridor past more rooms and the nurses’ station, in front of a row of connecting chairs. I was confused . . . Dazed . . . Lost. Couldn’t focus through my tears, couldn’t figure out where I was, or which way to turn. God in Heaven. Where was my baby? Another nurse suddenly appeared before me carrying a glass of water in one hand, a pill in the other. The Professor had instructed her to give me a tranquilizer. I looked at her as if she had lost her mind.


My nose was running and I could feel myself screaming, but did they hear me? Didn’t they get it? Didn’t all these highly trained medical professionals understand that a woman breastfeeding her child wasn’t going to take a goddamned tranquilizer? Did I have to spell it out?

“Where’s my baby?!” I dismissed the tranquilizer with an impatient wave of my hand. The nurse said something and raised her arms a little higher, trying once again to make me accept her offering. This is really not her fault, I managed to tell myself. She’s just trying to carry out her orders. She has really no idea that you have absolutely no intention of swallowing that pill, and that if she doesn’t hurry up and tell you where the hell your baby is you just might shove it down her throat.

“Your baby’s fine.”

I spun around. English! English! Thank you God, I sobbed. I’d been saved. Saved! I suddenly had a rope to cling to. He could speak my language. Fluently. His hospital whites told me he was a doctor. He could help me. I knew it.

“Where’s my baby?”

Dr. Gillor had been summoned by Susannah, one of the nurses of this ward.

“There’s a new patient,” she told him. “The mother is from America. The Professor needs you. You can speak English.”

Somehow, I ended up in one of the rooms off the corridor with him. We sat facing each other. My face was no longer my own; tears and snot, shock and fear masked me.

“What’s your name?” he asked me.


He looked at me and could barely conceal a kind smile.

“Not your first name. Your family name.”


I pronounced my new last name without a trace of my American accent. Mayer. One of the most common of German names, that is the last name he expected to hear tumbling from my lips as he sat there looking at me. The pieces of the puzzle didn’t fit for him. There I was: brown skin, long black hair, twenty-eight years old, and in his eyes dressed ausgefallen – differently. In my mind, one man’s sartorial splendor is another man’s favorite pair of jeans. I don’t remember what I wore that tumultuous day. He says I glittered. He told me later that they weren’t used to the likes of me. Said I looked like a pop star. Sure. With my face splotched, tear-smeared. Black eyeliner and mascara streaked the area from my eyes to my chin like burned rubber marks from ill-fated automobile tires.

“There is a problem with the baby’s heart,” he tried to make me understand, crossing his legs and leaning forward on his chair. 

My outbursts had quieted down. I had come to the realization that no matter how much I screamed and cried, these people, these doctors could not all be fools. My hysterics could not change the prognosis. Overcome by shock, I struggled to stay inside my skin. If I breathed deeply and slowly, perhaps I could stop the room from spinning. Concentrate. I had to try and get a grip on myself. There was something extremely serious going on here concerning our baby, and for him, if for no other reason, I had to pull myself together. Now.

“And it appears to be very serious,” Dr. Gillor said.

I stumbled.

“What appears to be very serious?” I said.

“The situation with the baby’s heart.”

I couldn’t yet focus, having just come from the room where the nurse had taken our son. It was just to the left of the long row of connecting chairs: the infant and small children’s cardiology ward. Babies, nurses’ station, medicines, disinfectant. The potpourri hanging in the air. The door was open. I was on my way into the room when I was distracted by a nurse. Before we could enter, she instructed Helmut and me to don green cotton sterilized hospital gowns over our clothes. I saw our son before I slipped into mine. Standing on my toes in the doorway, leaning onto its frame for support, I craned my neck looking past the maze of cribs, machines, tables and chairs and adults staring at me. I wiped my tearstained eyes and runny nose on the back of my hand, squinted, and over there to the left, on the far side of the room I saw him being cradled in the arms of a nurse and sucking . . . a bottle. I felt a twitch in my leaking breasts. It’s not important now, I told myself. At least he’s eating and she’s being careful with him. I hurriedly got into the gown. Helmut was still fumbling with the snaps on my back as we entered the room. Marc’s clothes had been removed. He was now wearing another undershirt and a white cotton knit long-armed top underneath a yellow velour cotton jumpsuit. Across the top of the little knit top and the jumpsuit were the words Universitäts Kliniken Köln (University Clinics Cologne). I did not believe this. It seemed that just moments ago we were on our way here and Helmut was saying that as soon as the checkup was over, we would stop in one of the charming confectionary houses and luxuriate over a cup or two of smooth-flavored coffee and indulge in a good-to-the-last-bite slice of freshly baked cake. Maybe even two slices. The three of us would kiss and hug and cuddle in the midst of gingerbread houses, porcelain tableware and a treasury of traditional cookies synonymous with the holiday season in this country. Cheerful waitresses and cordial patrons would smile their congratulations at us. And I would be downright giddy with glee knowing that without a doubt this would be the most wonderful Christmas of my life. How had I gone from that, the promise of cake and coffee and the most blessed time of my life not even an hour ago, to this ward with its strange smelling potpourri wafting in the air and this sterilized green gown and a nurse feeding my thirteen-day-old baby who could ‘die at any moment’? What happened?

The nurse attending to our son smiled up at Helmut and me. Did I smile back? I don’t know. I wanted to thank her for being gentle with our son and say, “Please don’t forget to burp him – he likes it the most when you run your hand up and down his back while you gently pat him, remember to wipe his mouth and since you’re there you might as well wipe his entire face, and please warm the lotion in your hands before you apply it to his face and neck and please don’t let him keep a wet diaper on too long and make sure after you’ve changed him to clean his bottom with a baby wipe and then with a warm soapy washcloth and don’t forget to smear the baby cream all over his bottom and top that off with a puff of powder before you put the fresh diaper on, and no he doesn’t need a pacifier and . . .”

Instead I looked around the room. Life-sized rectangular windows behind the cribs ran the entire length of the wall and welcomed rays of ample sunlight. The upper half of the wall on the right side of the room by the entry was actually a big double window, blue curtains slashed back on either side. White cabinets lined all the walls and every inch of available floor space in that room. There were probably ten cribs in there, safety slats all pulled up. 

Peep. Peep. Peep. Peep. Peep. Peep. Shrill, though not painfully loud, a note of warning pierced the room at regular intervals. Though several adults were talking in the room, and babies occasionally cried, I could only hear this constant steady ting-a-ling alarm. My swollen eyes drifted from wall to ceiling and from crib to crib until I figured it out: electrocardiogram monitors stationed by each bed were the cause. With each peep, a penny- sized heart with a number next to it blinked on the upper right corner of the screen. But how? I looked closely at our son still in the arms of the nurse. His chest. I thought it looked somewhat lumpy when I first saw him. And then I saw the long beige cables sinuously making a path from the back of his little jumpsuit towards the monitor by his crib. Several strips of adhesive covered the gauze which secured the needle in his tiny wrist: medication via intravenous infusion. I was confused beyond comprehension.

Sitting within the confines of the consultation room, I tried to give my mind to what Dr. Gillor was saying to me. Only problem was, it didn’t make one iota of sense. Not in English. Not in German. Not in Swahili. Not at all. Period. You can pistol-whip the fates later, I told myself. Now you must pay attention pay attention pay attention.

You know, it’s the strangest feeling trying to hold on when there’s nothing to hold on to. Over the edge, you’re so far out there that you know veering round is not an option. So you start groping because you can’t see. Reaching out, taking timid steps, afraid to move but knowing you must, you only grab a hold of nothingness in a fog so thick you can cut it with a knife, but you keep reaching, sure that you will come upon a tree or a wall or a shoulder or something to help you find your bearings. But there is . . . nothing. It’s a sensation that I imagine akin to the seconds before drowning and desperately trying to come up for air, but no matter how fiercely you fight the torrents, you remain submerged in a fury of impotence until you finally succumb and let go and you slip away into the depths of unawareness because you have no compass, you are un-engined; there . . . is . . . nothing . . . you . . . can do. In letting go, you let the monster devour you. But for some reason, somewhere, somewhere deep, deep inside, you still feel a flicker of hope; maybe it’s the wishful thinking that the monster doesn’t devour you in one gulp, but it’s hope nonetheless. Hope revolving around futility. The blessing and the curse of it all.

“So . . . um, what appears to be so serious about it?” I said.

“From the ultrasound examination the Professor made, there appear to be some serious anomalies.”

“Uh-huh.” I blew and wiped my nose. “What are anomalies?” 

“Irregularities. Abnormalities.”

“Oh . . . like what?”

“Well, instead of four chambers to the heart, it appears that he has only two.”

“Um-hmm. Two . . . I see.” I didn’t see anything. 

“But we’ll know tomorrow after the heart catheterization,” he said.


His words hung in the air for a time while I tried to weigh their meaning. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Heart catheterization,” I repeated.

Helmut and the Professor entered the room sometime around that point. We’d somehow become separated between the ward and me finding my way into this chair. Seeing him did not snap me out of my zombie-like state. He looked as wretched as I did. He plopped into the chair next to me, pulled my hand to his lap and sadly sighed over and again. A nurse brought in Marc’s empty carry-cot. My heart skipped a beat and I was distinctly aware of a tightening in my stomach. The Professor picked up where Doctor Gillor left off. Half English. Half German. After carrying out the catheterization tomorrow, he would be able to tell us more. We should go home and try to get some rest. We could call him tonight at eight o’clock to see if there were any changes.

We looked in on Marc before we left. A wave of relief washed over me to see no apparent sign of distress in his unconsciousness; he was in a deep peaceful sleep. This, despite the medicine flowing through the tube intravenously in his arm, the high-pitched tone of the monitors and the cables snaking out from underneath his clothes. Thank God all this didn’t seem to dramatically disturb him. It nearly killed me. Looking down at my flesh and blood lying there in that crib I did not believe my eyes. “Could die at any moment.” I flinched each time the Professor’s words hammered in my ears. He can’t be serious! I couldn’t grasp the reality of the situation. I gripped the slats of the crib, trying to bend the metal until my fingertips hurt. My heart had been broken, but maybe if I could hurt myself externally, somewhere that I could see it, maybe break my fingers or begin to bleed, this moment would become real for me. My eyes drifted down to the floor. Reflexively, I stomped on it a couple of times and was keenly aware of the fact that it didn’t move. Okay, I thought. Okay. Hanging on to the slats of the crib with my right hand, I steadied myself into an upright position and raised the palm of my left hand and held it before my face. Beneath a furrowed brow my eyes followed the contour. I then slowly turned my hand around as if seeing it for the first time and observed the oval-shaped tips of red nails extending over the end of my fingers. Yes, this is your hand. You’re making progress, I told myself. You recognize your own hand and the floor is not moving. You are here, instead of not here. This is real. I lowered my hand so that I could grip the slats with both hands again and peered through them at our son. My heart lurched and I needed to swallow and breathe at the same time. I turned away so that my choking wouldn’t wake him. Helmut gently patted my back.

“Are you okay, sweetie?”

“Yes, I’m . . . I’m fine.”

And in that moment before I turned back towards our son, standing there struggling to shake off the disbelief and draw an even breath, I was overcome by such a swell of harrowing emotion that I didn’t give a damn about the babies, the nurses, the parents, or the doctors. I just wanted to scream that it was simply not possible that the fates could so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and so mercilessly attack. Just not possible! Not by any stretch of the imagination! For a split second I thought it was too late. It took every bit of self-restraint not to let go. 

Helmut left my side for a few moments. He’d gone to ask the nurse who had taken care of Marc to keep an eye out on him, and when she left her shift, to please ask her colleague to do the same. She promised she would. I had lowered the slats and was lightly drifting a finger over Marc’s fingers. Helmut had returned. We kissed our son again and again. I quietly lifted the slat. Helmut took my hand in his. With the other he picked up the carry-cot and carried it in one hand to the car. The weight must have been unbearable.

Outside, the skies threatened. Though it was very late in the afternoon, almost evening, it wasn’t the serene twilight of dusk that would be easing into a peaceful nightfall. I was quite sure the sun was shining when we got there. Sunless, moonless, starless, the atmosphere had changed to accommodate the absolute fracturing of my spirit. Of our spirits. We dragged each other to the car, clinging to one another in utter and profound devastation.

We drove to Maytex, the floor-covering store Helmut opened two years before. It was the closest place where we could stop and make a phone call. We had no cell phones then. Home was another few blocks away. Searching for an explanation, the first call was to my obstetrician/gynecologist; it was brief. Helmut spoke with him. What did he say? I don’t really know . . .  Maybe I don’t remember. I guess it wasn’t important. After all, what could he do? Yes, of course, he was shocked . . .  Yes, of course.

The next call Helmut made was to our insurance company. He’d had the very good sense to insure Marc right at his birth, so his medical care was covered. Thank God.

Then we called my family in Seattle, Washington. Helmut dialed the number. Since we’d been given the devastating news, my uncontrollable quivering had never stopped and breathing came to me in pants or deep sighs. I was like a marionette with strings attached to my limbs that were being manipulated by demented demons. Daddy answered the phone. When I heard his voice, the dam broke releasing my sobs. Again.

“Daddy,” I wailed, “Something’s wrong with Marc!”

He didn’t say anything to me. Instead, he yelled over the receiver, “One of you better pick up the phone! Something’s wrong with the baby!” Daddy’s cry spread panic like a wildfire in the house. In seconds my mother and my two sisters picked up the telephone extensions. We hadn’t seen each other since I’d left home seven months before.

“Tracie! What’s the matter?!”

They didn’t believe me.

And then Helmut and I drove home. We called the hospital every hour or so until the wee hours of the morning. Marc was fine. Eating, sleeping.

“Herr Mayer, you and your wife should get some rest.”

Um-hmm. Right. I didn’t think I’d ever rest again. Ever.

I stood in Marc’s room that night. Looked around at all the furnishings, the toys, the stuffed animals, all the happiness and welcomeness that had greeted his homecoming the day before. With the smell of baby powder and lotion hanging in the air, his empty crib looked so odd, the room so silent. Without him, everything was out of place. Home sweet home cancelled. I wrapped my arms around my stomach. A sense of hollowness engulfed me and there was absolutely nothing to fill the void. I knew I’d been pregnant. Knew I really had given birth to my precious child. I wasn’t dreaming that I was in this house, in this city, in this country, married. I fell to my knees by his crib and begged God to help me and to take care of our child, to lift this burden of grief that was slowly killing me, to fill this empty room with the joy and happiness deserving of it. My baby, my baby, my baby. “Sweet Jesus,” I prayed, “please take care of our baby, take care of our baby . . . and help Helmut and me through this night.”


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