This is the second image in the series of illustrations of my novel, THE WILD IMPOSSIBILITY. It’s a moment from a scene in a neonatal ICU, which is where my protagonist, Kira, works. In chapter 1, she observes a phenomenon she’s seen before in dying babies. Here’s a passage from the novel where she’s thinking about it:
"Some of the babies you’d swear were going to die any second managed to wait for their mothers to arrive, and Kira had seen it happen too often to think it could be chance. But most of the babies who did cling to life for those minutes or hours had been out of the womb for a few weeks. Some had known their mother’s warmth, held skin to skin against her breast despite ventilators and tubing, the mother’s heartbeat going half time in a counterpoint to their own. These moments were all the comfort the babies would get in their brief lives, and they seemed to know it. And waited, hoping to feel that warmth one more time.”
I know I’m not alone in feeling like things that happen to our children also happen to us. We feel the traumas and losses of our children in our bodies—it’s a literal sickening feeling, both physical and emotional. It’s one of those things you simply can’t explain to a woman who asks what motherhood will be like. So I was fascinated to discover, fairly recently, what scientists have long known—that mothers can carry some of their children’s fetal cells in their own bodies for decades. (Here are smithsonian.com and sciencenews.org articles about this phenomenon.)
This explains a lot. And maybe it also explains, in a way that I can’t even begin to articulate, the extraordinary ability of some babies to delay the moment of their death until their mothers arrive. This isn’t something I fabricated for the novel. Like Kira, I was an RN in a neonatal ICU, and I saw this happen multiple times—a graphic, devastating comment on the unique physical and psychic bonds between mothers and their children.
Another explanation Kira ponders is the principle of quantum entanglement, which states that everything is connected on a molecular level, even at great distances. She reads a scientific article about new research being done into the manifestation of quantum entanglement among people who are emotionally close. (This research is real—I heard a podcast about it, which, unfortunately I can’t find anymore.) Here we are in Kira’s head again:
“Quantum entanglement came closer to explaining that phenomenon than anything else Kira could think of. If anyone was entangled, it was mothers and their children.”