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  • Renee Burns

What's in a name? How to "Raise Peaceful Warriors" during such un-peaceful times...

Our twins were warriors before they even entered this world. When my water broke at 22 weeks and I was told there was about a 50% chance of going into labor, I was prepared to say good-bye to two creatures I loved before even meeting them. Our local hospital was not equipped medically support a baby born that prematurely. I was told that if the twins did come, the only thing I could do was hold them until they passed. Well, the twins fought hard to make sure this world would know them! They fought, and got, 4 more weeks of development in utero, before their birth at 26 weeks. Arguably the most important few weeks of their little lives so far.

The fall season in northern Minnesota can bring some wild weather. Over the past few years Lake Superior has wreaked havoc on the local community during Fall; flooding, tearing apart streets, sidewalks, and even closing roads. The fall day that I woke up in the hospital the night after my water broke was one of those days- Lake Superior was angry. Strong winds and sideways rain caused the lake to swell to the point that the bridge going over the canal to my in-laws house was closed, streets were flooding, and people were being turned away from driving in a certain part of town. It was also the day that I was deemed stable enough to be transported to a hospital in the twin citied with a higher level of care if I was to go into labor.

I remember listening to the wind and rain hit the window in my hospital room, waiting, alone, for the ambulance to arrive to transport me. My husband had left to go home and gather a few items for me to take, and his plan was to drive following the ambulance. When they came to my room, ready to load me up on the stretched, I had to fight to stay put until my husband returned. No way was I going to get into an ambulance with a 50% chance of giving birth, maybe on the side of highway, in a storm, without saying good-bye to my husband!! He returned just in time to see me off. However he was unable to follow the ambulance due to the rapid timing of my departure, so I made the impossible promise to him that I was not going to give birth without him by my side.

I remember laying strapped on the stretcher in the ambulance, hooked up to my IV (that would eventually live in my arm for 4 more weeks), feeling every pothole, bump, and divot in the road as we made the climb up the hill, out of city, away from the lake, the storm, and into calmer weather, closer to appropriate medical care. I remember the sense of calm, the focus, and the awareness of the battle I was heading into to give my twins a “fighting chance” at survival.

Really, my only job from that point on was to remain calm. Thus started the mantra “keep the babies in.”

I’ve received plenty of praise for how well I handled it all, and what a _____(insert miracle, blessing, luck, etc..) it was that I was able to “keep the babies in” for those four weeks. I know it was- but I know I wasn’t the only one in the battle. Yes, I stayed calm. Yes I used my years of mindfulness trainings, my resilience, my own ‘piss-and-vinegar' to keep the babies in as long as possible, but from day 1 I knew that my children would have twice the fight in them than I ever would.

During the month I spent in hospital, hooked up to machines monitoring contractions, heartbeats and vitals, finding calm was a moment-to-moment task. Part of my inspiration was hearing the daily sound of two tiny warrior heartbeats- my little fighters, fighting to grow, and stay, inside of me.

I had multiple ultrasounds at the time, especially due to baby “A” losing all her amniotic fluid. They were monitored for everything from limb, to digits, to all internal organ development. That’s when they identified that baby “A”’s intestines had not attached to her stomach, so she would need at least 1 corrective surgery at birth. A battle she was already fighting, even without the luxury of amniotic fluid. Warrior.

Then, at 26 weeks pregnant- Baby "A" had to call it quits- and within 19 minutes of the doctor walking into my room and telling my husband he was about to be a dad- we welcomed 2 teeny, tiny little 1.5 pound warrior princesses.

There was no holding, or picture taking, or hearing first cries (that would actually come weeks later upon extubation). They were immediately handed off to their own separate team who would work to intubate, heat, and place lines for fluid and nutrients into them. My husband recalls 12+ providers in the surgery room, 3 for each baby, along with the delivery team.

If I thought the twins were fighters by staying in utero for as long as they did after my water broke, I was wrong. They were just warming up for the big game- life in the NICU. Watching them go through surgeries, spinal taps, multiple blood transfusions, different breathing apparatuses, needles, pokes, bandages, etc for their fist 3 months of life on earth….gave them the true title of warriors.

They fought like hell to do the basic tasks that keep us all alive- the ability to eat, breath, and yes even shit, on their own before being discharged into our arms, free of wires.

They joined the exclusive 100+ day NICU warrior club. They were gifted “Little Warrior” and “NICU Warrior” shirts. So, it only made sense when starting this blog, that the term “Warrior” be part of the title.

Anyway, fast forward to today- almost a year and half post-birth. Our little warriors have already weathered quite a few storms- both figuratively and literally. Last summer, as the pandemic reared its ugly head, hate crimes continued to rise, racial profiling and senseless acts of killing became the norm, and the twisted words of a president who embodied all of the “isms” only became more divisive, I was personally ready to go to war. Living in Minnesota, watching the George Floyd protests take place in the neighborhood we called home for months while our girls were fighting for their lives in the NICU, I was filled with anger, sadness, feelings of hopelessness, and a desire to put on a suit of armor and go to war alongside my fellow social justice advocates.

However, as I’ve grown into my current state of motherhood, I’ve also grown into my place as a warrior myself. What does my fight look like these days? How to I fight for peace? How do I fight for injustice? How do I show up and do what I can to help create a world that my daughters will thrive in? How will my actions impact their future? I often look to them, their curious, happy, wide-eyed view of the world for answers. I am lucky. They do not know the global pain that has bubbled up around us during their first year on this planet. Do I raise them to not know what this time was like? Do I “protect” and shelter them from the “bad” and the “difficult” that we endured and witnessed in their infancy?

For all the though questions- the answers are glaringly easy. NO.

No I will not shield them from the hard, the reality of our world today. This blog is not “Raising rainbows and fluffy unicorns of peace”. However, it’s also not just “Raising Warriors”. Besides, they are already warriors. This is Raising PEACEFUL Warriors. So- what does that mean to me today, especially as we are continuously faced with social unrest, inequities, and failed systems (just to name a few).

It means talking about current events, offering up science, resources, and facts. It means that it may not always look ‘peaceful’ in the “do-yoga-take-a-deep-breath-sit-quietly-zen-out-burn-some-sage-and-throw-a-peace-sign” kinda way. It also means being a warrior doesn’t always have to look like put on a suite if armor, war paint, and yelling the loudest at the front of the line.

It may look as simple as teaching my daughters how to decipher fact from fiction, what evidence-based research looks like, exposing them to the “other”- cultures, smells, tastes, dialects, etc. It may look like teaching them to understand how the macro impacts the micro and vice-a-versa. It may look like supporting them when they need to be loud with their opinions, how to not back down, how to not apologize gracefully, and how to show up as an ally, friend, listener, and learner. It may look like teaching them how to ask questions. It may also look like modeling how to say “I don’t know” when I don’t have the answers, and allowing that vulnerability to speak for itself.

Right now, in the age of COVID, what we can do is read books. We can listen to music, eat food, and participate in ceremonies that are of different backgrounds from ours. Just because we cannot travel due to COVID, doesn’t mean that we can’t start expanding our daughters’ world-views. It’s never too early to learn something new.

As I woke up this morning, feeling the similar exhaustion from sadness and anger while listening to the news of yet another young black man having his life taken from him, I look to my tiny warriors- laughing, rolling around on the ground, surrounded by their books. They are truly the lucky ones. They are loved, they are warm, they are fed; they are white. As they shift from babies to toddlers, and I shift from front-line fighter into my ever-changing role of parent, I aspire to teach them how to use their privilege to not just be the warriors I knew they would, and have already shown up as - but grow into the PEACEFUL Warriors I know the world needs now more than ever. And sometimes even the most peaceful of Warriors need to stand up and fight.


Mama Burns, aka: the mama of some warriors



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