a Mother's Story
""This captivating memoir about a mother’s fight to save her baby's life who was born with only half of his heart in a foreign country where the mother neither knew no one, nor could speak the language, will inspire you to persevere, be determined and never give up when confronting any challenge. This is a story you will never forget!"
Dean Ornish, M.D.
Founder & President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute
Clinical Professor of Medicine, UCSF
author, The Spectrum
"Tracie is a hero. May many parents learn from her experience."
Dr. med. Dipl. Psych. Alex Gillor
"This story of Marc offers an example of how a determined mother never lost hope and how she pursued a worldwide search to provide the best possible options to save the life of her suffering child. I am certain this narrative will move the reader of this well written, compassionate and compelling human story."
Aldo Castañeda, M.D. Ph.D.
"A parent’s inspiring memoir, full of love, humor, and heartache. . . linguistic richness to be found throughout the text."
"Beautiful phrasing throughout. Author’s emotional recounting of this story, showing great strength in re-living it, springs from some lovely wording and visual descriptions such as bridging over their challenges. Author conveys emotion in tremendously sensory and experiential descriptions, such as roaring from the pit of her stomach. We feel her confusion, her shock, her fear, and we are hit experientially with her description of the doctor’s words as instruments of torture. Very well put. Author paints settings very well, adding sensory details that make scenes come to life, and dialogue is instilled with energy and connection. Very well done. We learn from her experience the difference between changing one’s mind and not accepting the minds of others. That’s very powerful and one of the greatest gifts of this book. Very well done. The doctor’s resistance to releasing her son to American physicians’ care moves the reader, since our hearts sink at the idea that they would be concerned with a sense of admission that they cannot handle her son’s case well enough. Author uses all caps in her reaction so well. We’re screaming alongside her. Author has crafted a moving account, one that can be of great guidance to any readers facing a similar situation. Well done. Author’s writing voice carries us confidently through some unthinkably difficult moments, yet still embraces us. "
25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards judge's commentary
"Unconditional love paired with drive and courage characterize the overwhelming life story of Marc. Through this I get energy for my work and my life."
Sonja Klima - President of the Ronald McDonald House, Austria
"Tracie Frank Mayer’s INCOMPATIBLE WITH NATURE is simultaneously a well-told tearjerker and heartwarmer, full of poignancy and passion that will have readers crying, laughing, and celebrating all at the same time."
Heather McNamara for IndieReader
"I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your contribution to the collection of the Biomedical Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Your book will be a great asset to the collection and will help our medical students to connect with patient and parent experiences. Additionally, since we are the default library for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, your book will be able to reach a highly targeted audience, pediatric cardiologists.
Thank you again for your generous donation and I will be sure to have your name listed as the donor in the cataloging record."
Melanie E. Cedrone - University of Pennsylvania
"Please accept this letter of thanks for the book “Incompatible with Nature: a Mother’s Story” that you recently donated to the Countway Library. Donations like this are one of the many ways the Countway Library of Medicine is able to maintain such a rich and comprehensive collection of materials to assist us in supporting the students, faculty and staff that use this library for their learning and research needs."
Leonard L. Levin - Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
"Congenital heart defects are a leading cause of infant illness and death. There is certainly an urgent need for more public awareness. I wish I would have had an inspirational story to read some thirty plus years ago when my journey began. We can research facts and figures, but stories are how we learn best.
We live for inspiration.
Life is full of disappointments and none of us is immune. The improbable seems a lifetime away, but the truth is that we win some, we lose some, and sometimes we lose a lot. We struggle daily to navigate existence and regardless of the magnitude of our challenges, we seek inspirational stories of faith and hope, especially when courage is tested.
Incompatible with Nature–a Mother’s Story is a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.
My message: Never give up!
It is my hope that Marc’s and my story will encourage you to never give up when you have to fight for something in your life–whether it be a health issue or or any other challenge! Hang in there! Be courageous in your conviction and be convinced of your courage.
To achieve our highest potential in life, sometimes we have to be fighters. So be driven. Push. Understand that character is developed in difficult times. Life is too short and too valuable to be nonchalant.
We can defy adversity. We can develop our ability to be resilient in the storm. EVERYTHING is possible because, as my daddy used to say, “It ain’t no givin’ up and no givin’ out” and that is the heart of everything!
My fight with adversity is a tale that will give hope and encouragement to anyone facing any battle not of their own choosing.
Here’s to life. Never give up!"
Tracie Frank Mayer
Marc had been relatively quiet lying upon the hard flat surface of the examination table, the two snaps on his undershirt open, exposing his tender stomach and tiny chest. I was thankful the small room was warm. Having positioned my chair as close to him as possible, I sat forward on its edge, and leaning over him, gently began stroking his head, his face, his left arm and leg, as it was the left side of his body that was closest to me. I would have gobbled him up completely if I’d known it wouldn’t interrupt the examination. Comforting and reassuring him, I whispered my love to him.
“Everything’s fine, sweetheart. Yes, yes, you are Mama’s precious baby. You’re being such a good boy, yes, darling. Mommy and Papa love you. Everything’s fine, everything’s fine. Mama’s sweetie thing.”
His precious mutterings fluttered like colorful butterflies in the air. Occasionally he would wiggle or thrust his tiny legs. All the while I stroked and kissed and patted him, completely enthralled. Every time I looked at him I was overwhelmed by that “I can’t believe my baby is here in front of my eyes and I love him so much I can’t stand it!” feeling. My heart and soul burned with intense devotion to him. Watching him turn his head from time to time, I could swear he looked as if he were observing the world around him, perhaps curious about the intruder zigzagging across his chest. Thirteen days old. I wondered how large his thoughts were.
His almond eyes widened when he turned his head towards my voice, his tiny rosebud mouth open, searching for my index finger that caressed his cheek. Having become so personally acquainted with him the last thirteen days, I was well aware of his strong sucking instinct. I recalled the picture safely tucked away of him taken at twelve weeks: an ultrasound image of him floating on his back, feet in the air, his thumb in his mouth.
I had already decided before his birth that I would not use a Schnuller as a magic wand to instantly quiet his cries, or encourage his contentment. I was there for him. What on earth would he need a pacifier for? My finger, at the ready, was bent into position; it would be the smooth arch of the crook of that finger that he would welcome into his mouth. I knew that he wasn’t yet hungry, and was sure that this appeasement would help to allay any discomfort. It pleased me: mother, satisfier. Inundated with an overwhelming rush of love, I had more than a desire to nurture, protect and provide for him; I wanted to be his everything.
Though completely new to babies and their needs, I wasn’t at all nervous, in fact I felt at home with being my son’s mother. Besides the fact that God had blessed me with child, I found further reward in the absolute joy I felt when my baby was at peace, sated and content. Funny what we find gratifying at different stages of our lives.
From the moment the Professor opened his undershirt and squirted a gel on his tiny chest and began carefully sliding the scanner of the ultrasound machine back and forth in the gooey mass, he had neither fretted nor fussed. And he never cried. He mesmerized me.
Helmut sat to the left of me, his hand on my lap, his fingers every now and again lightly tapping. His touch reassured me, just as his touching me reassured him, just as I was sure my touch reassured Marc. My husband’s hand on me, my hand on our son; a chain linked by touch, by love.
We looked attentively at the scanner sliding slowly back and forth, observed it making its way under each side of our son’s neck, inching toward his chest, hesitating on the left side, then the right. It slid down toward his stomach, pausing. Up again toward his chest. Left, then right. Back and forth. Up and down. Side to side. Slowly.
The images on the monitor that the scanner produced told us nothing. It might as well have been Greek. Helmut covered my left fist with his right hand and pulled it to the folds of his lap. He held it a few moments there, tight and still. I don’t know if it was the throbbing of his pulse that I felt or mine. Soon I was aware of him unpeeling my clammy fingers and opening my hand, pressing it flat against his pant leg. He squeezed it for but a moment, patted it twice, then crowned it with his palm.
The squeeze and the pats implied that even if he were to remove his hand, I was not to remove mine. Though I couldn’t speak German and he struggled with English, we had our own language; a certain touch, look or movement spoke volumes that only we understood. I glanced at the side of his face. It immediately revealed the tension that was gnawing at the both of us.
Prior to our marriage six months earlier, that time when we each lived on different continents, the very thought of him would quicken my pulse. And in my mind’s eye, his eyes and his lips, indeed his very spirit was always smiling. His lips were now an incision in a face rigid and sober. His upper jaw jutted in and out as if he were clenching his teeth. Clenching and releasing. Clenching and releasing. I had never seen him this way and I didn’t like it. I began squirming in my seat. Why was this taking so long?
I looked expectantly at the Professor. Sitting on the opposite side of the examination table, he was within reach.
“Is this your first baby? So what brought you all the way to Germany from America? Oh, I see! Now that is true love. How long have you lived here now? Um-hmm... Well, I speak a bit of English, but I prefer of course to speak German... Is there a big difference living here compared with living in America? Which city do you come from? It is a beautiful day today, isn’t it? Don’t worry. The examination won’t hurt your son.”
Small talk that happened only in my mind. His sharply chiseled profile never cracked to emit a sound, not even a goo-goo gaga to our son. Too hard-boiled to even clear his throat, he stayed the course, continuously gliding the scanner. Removing his eyes from the monitor only long enough to check his hand position, his gaze remained fixed on the screen.
I wanted to reach out and tap him on the shoulder and ask, “Doctor, so what is it exactly that you’re looking for? How many times have you done this? Why is it taking so long? Why haven’t we been told by somebody, by – ANYBODY – why we’re here? Do all new born babies here in Germany get this examination or is this an international procedure? Is this the last stop? What is that little dot pulsating there?” But I didn’t dare. He had an impenetrable aura. Reserved. Cool as granite. Maybe it was his title that stopped me in my tracks; maybe one shouldn’t speak with the Professor unless spoken to. Perhaps it was his crisp white doctor’s coat. Out of nowhere the question of etiquette between doctor and patient popped into my mind. Is there such a thing I wondered? How does it work? Should my questions wait until the end of the exam, would it be rude to ask for an explanation during? Would it irritate? Make him angry? And then there was the language matter. I didn’t know if he understood English and if he didn’t, the resulting chopped up English and disjointed German “did I understand him” – “did she understand me” – “did I understand her” – “and he me” problem was not worth the headache. I wasn’t up to Germanic aerobics. “Just let him get on with it,” I told myself. “In a little while this will all be over. He’s going to tell you everything’s fine anyway – so just let him have his peace so he can hurry up and get finished and we can pack up and get out of here.” He never comforted me, never told me to relax, so I didn’t. I couldn’t. You see, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, if someone is sent to a hospital he or she is sent there for a reason, but I had no clue as to why we’d been sent here. And I was absolutely certain everything was fine with our baby. So what was going on? Jesus. There were no cushions to adjust on this uncomfortable chair.
Thirty minutes had passed; a journey from the cradle to the grave. No one had said a word and I was growing wearier by the minute. Aside from Marc’s sweet murmurs and my whispers, an eerie, uncomfortable silence pervaded the room. It provided no indication of the volcano about to erupt. He continued to guide the scanner. Then, with his eyes still fixed on the monitor, his German accent thick and heavy, the Professor finally uttered, “Was ich sehe ist leider nicht gut.”
Smacking his palm to his forehead, his face twisted in pain, Helmut released an anguished sigh and slumped back in his chair. I stiffened ramrod straight in mine. An undefined feeling of fear gripped me with such force I could barely breathe. Without thinking, I snatched a fistful of Helmut’s jacket sleeve with one hand while my other clutched at Marc. My voice suddenly hoarse, as if my vocal chords had been seared, I could at first only muster a whisper.
“What did he say, Helmut?”
Though it was only a moment, it seemed a lifetime before he answered me. From where he was sitting, he could not really see the Professor’s face. I could. Leaning slightly to the right and stretching my neck to look over his shoulder, I could see that his face revealed nothing other than a stable equilibrium. A moment...Perhaps he was waiting for the Professor to say that he’d erred, that we could in fact breathe again. Perhaps he just didn’t believe his ears or thought he had misun-derstood him. The Professor continued sliding the scanner. Grating my chair against the floor, I released Helmut’s arm and grabbed his shoulder as I jumped to my feet, the chain still linked to our son. I panicked as I tried to blink away the blinding flashes of light that distorted my vision. The walls were closing in. I had to stay calm. This would all be cleared up. Trapped in a sudden heat of terror that ripped at my gut and weakened my bowels, I couldn’t have screamed if I wanted to. The dampness rising in my armpits assured me that a war was about to erupt in the heavens and it would be out of my control. I was defenseless against the “Was ich sehe ist leider nicht gut” ringing in my ears. I didn’t understand the words but Helmut’s outburst destabilized me. Scared me senseless. I could hear myself trying to breathe. I nearly tore off the leather skin of the jacket at his shoulder. Trying to keep myself under control my voice broke.
“What did he say, Helmut?”
I sensed the Professor’s eyes on me.
“Spricht Ihre Frau Deutsch?” (“Does your wife speak German?”)
Helmut shook his head. “No,” he said.
With his hand still to his forehead, his elbow now supported by the examination table, Helmut raised his free hand and groped for mine. He turned and looked up at me, tears brimmed his eyes.
He winced before he spoke and when he finally did, his voice sounded as if it belonged to someone else.
“Something’s wrong,” he whispered.
© 2018-2019 Tracie Frank Mayer