I knew it was going to be an amazing day when I woke to another Texas sunrise.
And it was game day.
I had to have my table of books ready by 7:00 am and at 6:30 am, a young bell hop arrived to move my boxes down to the conference hall.
By 7:30 am, I had sold my first book. I said to the neonatal therapist who’d bought it, “Look out! Confetti’s gonna fall from the ceiling!”
She actually looked up, but no confetti fell.
Then I sold my second book.
And a third.
And so on, until I’d lost count.
(I even kind of got over the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to give away every copy and by-pass the whole exchange of money thing.)
When the morning workshops began and the NICU therapists found their designated rooms, my mind seized the opportunity to panic about my talk.
And I ran to pee for the hundredth time that morning.
By noon, the morning sessions had ended, and most of the attendees had headed to the other side of the hotel for lunch.
I ran across the street to the Fort Worth Water Gardens (gorgeous!!) to practice my talk one last time. (I also wanted to warm up because the hotel air conditioner was set at 20 below zero!)
I stood in the sun, in front of a cascading waterfall, and spoke aloud the lines I’d nearly memorized from my talk: My story doesn’t begin with the birth of my premature daughter, but with the birth of my son, who arrived on his due date weighing a hefty 8 pounds.
And then I pretended to push the power point button to reveal this photo –
And I paused for a moment, imagining the Ahhhs I’d hear from the audience.
It was 12:35 by the time I’d done my final run through, and I needed to hustle back to the hotel to set up the room.
Pleased with my calm and collected manner, I took one last deep breath in front of the waterfall, reflecting on the fact that I had not had one single “running-with-scissors- moment” throughout that entire morning.
I gathered up my materials, and began a sure stride across the park toward the hotel.
I was near the park’s entrance when I saw a baby blue jay all alone on a cement bench.
I knew immediately it was a sign.
I recalled the line from my book, Her eyes were like the eyes of a baby bird I’d discovered as a girl in a fallen nest…
I leaned down toward the scared little guy, wondering if I’d have time to get someone from the hotel over to help. “You ok little man?” I asked. He titled his little head in response, and I felt certain we’d made a connection. Then I heard a loud squawk and felt something whoosh by my head. I looked up just in time to see the big-ass mama jay begin her second dive-bomb, and I ran for my life, screaming and hollering all the way back to the hotel.
With sweat pouring from my arm pits, I stood gasping in the hotel lobby, all at once utterly grateful for the frigid a/c. Then I looked up at the clock behind the reception desk, and my stomach lurched. I ran up the escalator steps to the ballroom where my talk was being held.
In a flurry, I raced around the room dropping all the materials I needed for my talk; colored markers, shipping labels and blank paper, on each table.
At 1:27, I stood breathlessly in the back of the room with the tech guy attaching a microphone to my bra and the video guy attaching the back up mike to my undies and realized I’d never changed into my heels or put on mascara.
“Glad I wore a bra and undies today,” I said as the guys struggled to zip up my dress.
Then I heard a woman at the front podium say, please welcome… followed by my name and the clapping sound of the audience; the audience that I suddenly noticed had filled up the entire room. And I felt a nudge on my lower back, and before I knew it, I was standing at the podium in the front of the room, hearing my own voice echo through the microphone.
“I am so honored and grateful to be speaking to the group of people whose work ensured my daughter became who she is today…”
And I read several passages from my book.
And then I shifted gears and walked around the room and talked about labels and asked the NICU therapists to think about all the labels that had ever been put on them by others or themselves. And I asked them to write those labels down on the shipping labels on their table and then stick them all over themselves.
One woman put a sticker right between her eyebrows, and I told her she’d thank me later for the free waxing.
And then I asked the audience members to peel off any of the labels they didn’t want to wear anymore. To keep or add only those labels that made them feel like their very best self; the self they wanted to take back to their home and work life.
And after that, I asked them to label me, and every other preemie parent they’d ever known. I strode around the room and let them plaster my arms, legs, back, chest, belly and bum, until I was completely covered in white shipping labels.
And there I stood in the front of the room and read each label and then peeled them off and asked the audience to try and see me, and all those other preemie parents, for who we were without any additional, preconceived labels.
And I answered several questions. And when a therapist asked me what was the turning point in my story, I talked about Andie contracting RSV and how we’d almost lost her, and I completely choked up and could hardly talk.
And suddenly I noticed people milling outside the door to the room and a quick glance at my watch revealed that I was completely out of time. And there I was in the back of the room, apologizing to the next speaker, and people were hugging me and crying themselves, and I remembered I’d forgotten my last power point slide, and the tech guy was taking off my mike and before I walked out of the room, he put both his big hands on each of my shoulders and said, “Girl, you got me right here,” and pointed to his heart.
And then my talk was over.
And somehow, in spite of myself, I’d actually managed to pull it off.
What about you? Any labels you carry around that aren’t serving you?