I'd like to post a couple of chapters of my non fiction memoir on here to get some feedback. It is in need of a good hook to keep the reader invested in the story, but since it's something I've lived, it's hard for me to decide how to 'cut and paste' things to develop that tight hook.
Can I post a chapter or two on here for feedback?
Just remember to put an extra space between paragraphs so it doesn't all run together--maybe.
I suggest you don't post more than one chapter. A couple of pages is even better. The less you post, the more feedback you'll get.
This is the first chapter. This story is about how we cope with a medically fragile, severely disabled (both mentally and physically) child. It's meant to be an inspirational memoir. I have thick skin and really need a third person point of view on this...someone who doesn't already know my story....please pick away. (I know I need work on the grammar, I'm just looking for suggestions on my hook)
We saw Chloe’s little face on the screen. She was beautiful. She was looking straight at us. We saw both her little eyes wide open just staring right at us. After a while, the nurse came in and said she got a perfect score on the Biophysical profile and we could go home. I was to return at 8 the next morning for more tests. I still didn't feel quite right, but I just wanted to go home.
Earlier that day, I’d been at the hospital for pre registration paperwork when I told the nurse that I really didn’t feel well. I’d been having diarrhea all day, feeling lots of pressure on my cervix and was very miserable. She walked me to the Labor and Delivery unit to be checked and the nurses became concerned when the baby’s heartrate remained flat, that is, it didn’t vary much and was abnormally low. The nurses tried all kinds of things to stimulate her to move, but nothing seemed to work. After the reassuring ultrasound that measured several key factors, I was sent home.
That night was a miserable one. I had been tossing and turning for hours. I even tried soaking in a warm bath several times. I gave up on ever getting to sleep and ended up watching Saturday Night Live reruns. Finally, I called the doctor and he said that I needed to come in and be checked.
I woke Corey up and told him I needed to go to the hospital. He just lay there and groaned that it was one in the morning and asked if it could wait. Before I even had a chance to respond, he realized what I was saying and shot up out of bed as if I'd thrown a bucket of cold water on him! On his way out the door, he grabbed the car seat. I told him, "Honey, we're not going to need that seat right now". How I wish I hadn't been right about that.
We arrived at the hospital about 2 in the morning. It was actually quite busy. The triage area in Labor and Delivery was nearly full with pregnant women and their partners. When the nurses hooked me up to the monitors and after they did a quick exam, it was determined that, yes, I was indeed in labor. The problem was that the baby's heart rate was still 'flat', that was the term they used the day before to describe the fact that she wasn't moving around a lot. It wasn't until about 6 a.m. that I finally was examined by the doctor. He was concerned because the baby's heartbeat was still flat, so he went ahead and admitted me to the unit and told me that my doctor would be in to see me shortly.
As my nurse was settling me into my room, I remember asking her if all the buzz about the baby's heart rate increased my chances for a C Section. She looked at me almost stunned that I would ask that question and answered in a fashion that convinced me that this baby was definitely coming out surgically. I remember saying, "I don't mean to sound selfish, because if this is what's best for the baby then we're doing it, but what does that mean for me and my body?” I was horrified at what I would look like after a C Section. I’ve never been overwhelmingly concerned about my appearance, what you see is what you get, but the thought of a C-Section would make me remember all the horror stories of ruined stomach muscles, incontinence and saggy skin. As soon as I asked the question, I was almost ashamed that I'd verbalized it. She just gently told me that it is a major surgery but we needed to be focused on what the baby needs now.
I was all settled into the room when my doctor finally showed up to see me a couple of hours later. He looked at the printout from the monitor, asked about the night before and then smiled and said, "Looks like we're having a baby today!"
I replied. "Who is this we? I'm the only pregnant person in this room!" We all laughed.
"You, me and Dad," he said.
"Well, ok. As long as I don't have to share the epidural with anyone, I guess we can have a baby today!" That was about the very last lighthearted moment for many, many weeks, and it was only 8 a. m. on August 25th.
My room was right outside of the nurse's station and I could hear my doctor chatting away. As he began to leave, I heard someone tell him to have a good day. Seconds later, he burst into my room and urgently asked, "did you move?” I assured him that I hadn't and asked him why he was asking.
"You just had a contraction," he answered.
"I did?" I thought, well, if that's all there is to it, this labor thing isn't a big deal.
"Yes, you did and if you didn't move then the baby's heart rate dipped" the doctor explained. As he stared intently at the monitors, he told us that he was going to ask the perinatologist to come and talk to me. Honestly, we really didn’t think much of it at the time. I really didn't feel like anything was wrong, it was all going to be ok so there wasn't any use in worrying about it.
I remember calling a dear friend of mine, Dorothy, leaving message on her machine that said we were having a few snags here and there but we were at the hospital having a baby. Looking back now, I'm glad I left her that little tidbit of information about some complications, because we hadn't said anything to anyone else about it yet. Little did I know, as soon as she got the message later that morning, she would rush to the hospital to be there for us.
Two and a half years prior to that, Dorothy had given birth to a stillborn baby boy named Jonathan. She'd gone through hell with that experience and 10 months prior to this day she gave birth to a baby girl with very severe lung problems. When she heard the word complication, she immediately reacted. She became our spokesperson, fielding the calls we didn’t really want to take. She relayed the news to everyone we couldn’t face. She played the ‘bad guy’ when needed and cleared out our room when she saw we were getting too overwhelmed. What she did for us that day was so profoundly meaningful, I doubt she could ever know just how much it meant to us that she was there.
Not long after my doctor left to return to his practice, the perinatologist came to talk to us. She asked us a million questions about the pregnancy history. She grilled me on how many times I would feel the baby move during the day. She was frustrated with my vague answers. I was frustrated because I didn’t know what she was getting at. I felt like I was being forced in a corner. She wanted answers that I didn't have. She wanted to know which way the baby was lying and if she moved enough during the day.
I didn't know what to tell her. I tried to answer her questions as best I could, but she would snap back with ‘that’s not what you told me when I asked you that same question a minute ago'. I finally seemed to get through to her that this was my first pregnancy. I didn't know how to answer her questions because I didn't know what was and wasn’t normal. Yes, I had felt the baby moving during the day periodically and sometimes at night. At the time, that's what I thought was normal. I'd had such and easy pregnancy so I assumed all was well within the womb. Apparently, I was wrong.
The doctor went on to explain that from what she had seen and heard, she feared our baby's brain was not functioning properly. Her brain was not functioning properly. Her brain was not functioning properly….those words seemed to echo over and over again in the room. Before we even had a chance to process much of what she was saying, suddenly the room began to fill with nurses and techs. The specialist had ordered a more detailed ultrasound of our baby girl. This would give us an idea of how big she was and give the doctor a closer look to see if she could tell if there were any obvious problems.
Right after the specialist left the room, there was a soft knock at the door. Corey answered it while the nurses began to rearrange the room for the ultrasound machine. A minute or so later, Corey returned to my side and said that someone from our church was checking in to see how things were going. Wow, I thought, I wonder how they knew we were here. He told Don, the individual from our church, that they were getting ready to do an ultrasound and he'd meet him in the waiting room in a few minutes.
As the staff prepared for the ultrasound Corey looked at me and asked "How much do you think she weighs?” I simply replied I didn't know because I didn't have the heart to tell him that her weight was the least of our worries right now. It obviously wasn’t sinking into him that this was getting pretty serious. Even though I was still in the land of 'these things don't happen to people like me, they happen to other people', I could tell that things were getting a little off course here. I could tell this is not how a normal birth was supposed to go.
As the tech started the ultrasound, we heard the specialist gasp, "Look at all that fluid".
"How much does she weigh?" Corey asked. The specialist signaled to us that she'd have our answer soon.
"This baby is three pounds and twelve ounces". The news dropped like an atom bomb in the room. Suddenly, time stopped and the room was silent. Corey was standing on the left side of my bed holding my hand. I looked over at him and saw his face turn pale. I fought a hard fight, but despite all my best efforts, I felt a large tear escape from my right eye and crash down my cheek until it finally dripped from my chin like a melting icicle.
After the techs and nurses gathered their things and left the room, the specialist turned to us and said that our baby girl wouldn't survive a normal delivery and she needed to be delivered by C Section as soon as possible. She was going to do an amniocentesis to make sure her lungs were developed enough to come into this world, but that no matter what, she knew this baby was safer outside of my body than it was inside of me. If I hadn't been in such shock at the time that statement would have cut to the core but so many things were starting to go so wrong, I didn't have time to absorb the little details like that. She quickly did the procedure and sent the specimen off to the lab to be analyzed warning us it would be a four hour wait for the results.
Not long after the specialist left, my doctor came back to check on me. He asked me if the specialist told us everything. I quickly said yes and then realized that was somewhat of a loaded question. I think he realized that as well, because then he asked us to repeat to him everything the specialist told us, so we diligently repeated what we knew at that point.
"Did she tell you about the cleft?" He asked.
"No!" I replied.
"What's a cleft?" Corey asked. He'd never heard of it before, so the doctor and I explained to him that a cleft lip results when the lip and nose don’t form properly and basicly there’s a hole left in it’s place.
"But that's completely fixable," I asked the doctor as I was looking at Corey trying to offer him some reassurance as well as find some comfort for myself.
"Yes," the doctor continued. "A cleft by itself is not a big deal, but there are some other things that I'm concerned about." He went on to explain that we had a tiny baby, a lot of extra fluid and a cleft. Those were three red flags for a chromosome anomaly.
Mind you, I’m not a doctor. I'm not a scientist. My background is communication and public relations. I did, however, have enough scientific education under my belt to know that a chromosome problem could be bad, very very bad.
"Is it Down's?" I asked.
"No, it's not Down's" the doctor said. "We don't know what it is and we won't know until we get her out and have a good look at her." He paused for a few moments. The silence was deafening. "Do you have any questions?"
I'm so thankful still to this day that I had such an understanding doctor, because my next remark had to sound bitchy. "Well, yeah, I have a million questions, but it doesn't sound like you have any answers to them, do you?"
"No, I don't,” he said. “We'll just have to wait and see."
Wait and see. I would come to hate that phrase. Wait and see. I still shudder and roll my eyes every time I hear that phrase to this very day. Wait and see…whatever.
When the doctor left the room, I remember drawing my legs up underneath me, putting my head down in my hands and starting to sob. Corey rushed to my side and tried to assure me that everything would be ok. NO! I shouted in my head. I will NOT loose control here. I forced myself back to 'things like this happen to other people, not me' land and stopped sobbing. At about that time, Corey fell apart. We sat there stunned for a while and then I asked him to promise me something. Even though I had no idea what we were facing, I asked him to promise me whatever happened that we would rely upon each other and keep God in our hearts. I still don't know why I asked him that at that point, it was just heavy on my heart at that particular moment. Little did I know how important that promise would become.
We pulled ourselves together and Corey left to visit with Don, the gentleman from our church who was assigned to make hospital visits, who was still in the waiting room. I started making phone calls
The hardest call I had to make was to my step mom. Cheryl answered the phone with her usual "Hi there!" when she heard my voice. She knew I was having the baby at this point, but she had no clue what I was about to say. She asked how everything was going. All I remember saying was, "Not too well. You and Dad might want to think about heading down here."
"NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" she was crying into the phone. That didn't help. I soon fell to pieces while trying to give her all the details I could at that moment. She assured me that she and my dad would be there as soon as they could.
After I got off the phone with her, the nurse came in to check on me. She grabbed my hand and said, "It's ok to cry hon, this isn't what you expected and it's ok to let it out."
"No," I said, "I don't do that." She told me that I had a long day ahead of me and I needed to think about getting some sleep. She brought me more ice chips and turned down the lights. Yeah right, like I was going to be able to sleep after the catastrophic morning we had.
I tossed and turned in the bed for a few minutes, surfed through all the channels on the TV about three times and then came a knock at my door. It was Dorothy. She told me later that her first impulse was to turn around and race out of the room. She said that the dim lights, soft hum of the TV and empty labor room reminded her of the day she lost Jonathan. You would have never known it by looking at her. She was such a rock that day. I told her what we knew at that point and she immediately swung into action.
Corey and I looked like deer in the headlights. Dorothy took over and became the spokesperson for us as the news started spreading and the phone started to ring.
One phone call I did take was from an aunt. She and my uncle were eagerly anticipating the birth of our baby girl because she was to be named Chloe Angel after their daughter Angel who died in a car wreck the previous year. She had graduated high school only two weeks before. I could hardly understand what she was saying she was crying so hard. Apparently, the news had spread so fast the facts were jumbled. She thought we were loosing the baby. I clarified by telling her that it hadn't come to that yet, but yes, it was a possibility. She said they were on their way.
Soon after that phone call, my mom and sister-in-law arrived. I remember that my mom came in the room and walked to my bedside. I couldn’t tell if she knew anything was wrong or not. I assumed she didn’t know and told her everything we knew at that time. She took it surprisingly well, probably due to the fact that the room was quickly becoming full of close friends and relatives. Shortly after, came the call from Cheryl, my step mom, saying she was on her way to pick up Dad and they were on their way.
The next few hours were a bit of a blur. On the one hand, we had a room full of spectators that we felt we had to entertain. Were we obligated to do so? No. But the simple fact of the matter was that if we fell apart, they would fall apart and vice versa, so everyone was putting on their best fake smiles for the sake of everyone else.
Two important people who weren’t there were Corey’s parents. He decided not to call his Mom and Dad because his Mom had just had a major surgery a week or so before Chloe’s birth and there’s no way she could have made the four hour journey to be there. Knowing what was going on would’ve just worried her until she was physically ill, it would have devastated her. I kept asking him to call his parents, but he said it was best not to until we knew something concrete.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. A nurse entered and announced to everyone that the test results were in and I was going back for a C-Section right then and everyone had to leave. The room started buzzing. I frantically looked around and noticed that my Dad still hadn’t arrived. I really wanted my dad there. I really really wanted him there. My Dad is my rock. No matter how awful or tragic this was going to turn out, he would be there to help me, except he wasn’t there yet. Everyone came up and kissed my forehead and wished me luck. As my mom left the room, she told the nurse that she wanted to see me before they took me back.
I turned to Corey and insisted that he call his parents. He again resisted. I said, Corey, my whole family is here. There’s a chance this baby isn’t going to make it and they deserve the chance to get to see her before she dies if it comes to that. He squeezed my arm and reluctantly picked up the phone and called his dad.
While Corey was changing for the surgery, Joani, my nursed stopped rushing through the prepping and grabbed my hand and asked if she could pray for my baby and I. I remember having tears in my eyes because I was so touched that she would care enough to do that. I responded by saying, “please…” She prayed for a safe surgery, the best outcome, and for strength for me to handle whatever lay ahead. I think I’ll remember that prayer until my dying day. I wish it would have been my Dad praying with me, but it was very touching that a virtual stranger would be so touched by this situation to offer up a prayer.
As they were wheeling me out of the room, one of the nurses commented that she was going to get the family because they requested to see me before I went back. I snapped, “NO!” I had said my goodbyes and I didn’t need that drama again. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. I’d begun to come unglued. I was shaking uncontrollably. Shivering so hard I couldn’t talk. The nurses would ask me if I was cold and all I could do was shake my head no. I couldn’t speak my teeth were chattering so hard. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a full-fledged panic attack.
This is powerful.
I have only one critical comment: Your opening sentences led me to think that Chloe was already born. Not until the end of the first paragraph did I realize my mistake. (And looking back, I still wonder where in the sequence of things the first-paragraph actions take place.) But this is easily fixed.
I'm impressed. We don't see writing like this very often.
Just a quick comment: you should spell out the numbers like in "8 the next morning" should be "eight the next morning. Also you alternate hyphenating and not hyphenating "C-section." (I'm not sure which it is, but I'm sure you can look that up.)
Thank you so much.....keep the comments coming. Please let me know if anyone would like to read more....I'm so close to the story that it's hard for me to decide what I need to cut and if there's really a hook there.
I don't want to be the only downer voice here, but please be aware that the memoir market is, according to all I've heard, tight right now -- and a story centered around the birth and life of a special needs child is going to be a hard sell.
Doesn't mean you won't be able to sell it, just be aware that the memoir market is narrow anyway, and many readers shy away from reading about real people in real pain, especially involving children.
Fictional characters in fictional pain, ironically enough, are always welcome. Go figure.
Thanks for the input. At this point, I'm not really concentrated on selling the story (I have eight years of stuff to cover). We've had so many highs and lows, I'm needing feedback on the first part of my story. I'm afraid that it may be too intense or scary for a reader to continue.
We've had a lot of really halarious experiences I'm going to include, but I have to give the reader a reason to keep going in order to get there.
Am I starting out in the right direction? Are my readers going to be too scared to continue....it gets very very intense.
In the age of TV shows like CSI, ER, and others, I doubt you have much to worry about.