Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Manjeet Kaur, the author of My Garden of Flowers: Miracles in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
FQ: It was an absolute honor to read your book. The layout, the artwork, and the cover speak volumes about the care you took in laying out this entire body of work. When you first decided to write the book, did you have a specific process for how you organized the stories? Was there ever a time when, while chronicling the multitude of stories, you became overwhelmed?
KAUR: For over a decade, I felt a need to put the stories of my tiny cherubs on paper, something tangible that would provide realistic support for distraught families as their babies rode the NICU roller coaster. I did begin with a specific organization process: Each story would start with a foreword, a photo, and a poem dedicated to the little one; then a card with birthweight, gestation, and diagnosis, followed by the parents’ heartwarming stories of their joys and trials. There would also be a collage of each baby: one photo while seriously ill in the NICU, and various photos depicting their growth over the years.
FQ: In line with question 1, if you did get overwhelmed, how would you “reset” and get back on track with your writing?
KAUR: It was overwhelming at times, especially considering the enormous amount of information and how to fit all of it into just a few pages, but for the most part “the moving pen wrote on.”
FQ: There is a lovely undertone of faith and spirituality throughout your book. Which of the many vignettes was particularly difficult to write, and which seemed to “write for you”?
KAUR: It’s always easier to write about the victories than about the losses; however, my emotions took over, and with God’s grace the narratives just flowed.
FQ: I was in awe of the many “flowers” you wrote of and the will and fight they each had. I was further impressed with the admirable achievements they accomplished later in life, i.e., Jacqueline Hynes playing at Carnegie Hall. Of the many babies you have blessed with your care, if you had to name the one who beat the most grievous odds, who would that be and why?
KAUR: It’s hard to name one—each one so dear, all with their own odds to beat. Do I name little Jonathan or Heidi, little Bud or Quinn and Dylan? Tiny Jonathan, however, who was born at 23 weeks and was almost the length of a pencil, was quite a challenge, as this was back in 1989. The mother of Tiny Quinn and Dylan ruptured her membranes at 20 weeks’ gestation, but she beat the odds with reaccumulation of fluid, and finally delivered at 25 weeks.
FQ: There were times throughout this read when I had to set the book down and take a deep breath. The beginnings of life for each of these babies was so heart-wrenching. Yet, even in the direst of premature births, you painted an aura of positivity. When you were in the moment of the actual births, how did you ever maintain faith and composure?
KAUR: I find each birth a tiny marvel. It’s my strong belief that we are merely puppets in the Lord’s hand. I always said, “We’ll try our best; the rest is up to Him.” That brings solace and acceptance. Believe me, we were not always calm. Many a time I’ve been in tears, holding hands with moms. Still, photos of our babies on the bulletin board in my office—a 23-week baby at age 4 doing ballet; 25-week babies at age 10 years playing lacrosse; and two-year-old preemies on hanging bars are wonderful evidence of their potential. “Our Amazing newborns,” as we call them, never fail to amaze us—and fortunately, mostly in positive ways. I always tell parents, “We need to remain realistic but positive.”
FQ: I read in your bio that your husband is a cardiologist. With two doctors in the house, were there times when you both would make a pact of “no shop talk tonight” and if so, what would trigger the sentiment?
KAUR: I can’t say I wouldn’t talk shop at home. My workplace was my extended home, and even while maintaining confidentiality I often brought my problems home. On vacations (though not always successfully) we tried not to talk about work Both of my boys are in the field of medicine, so they must have seen positivity in our extremely busy schedules.
FQ: I was taken by the account of Johnathan Sherts’ delivery. I cannot even fathom what it would be like to deliver a baby weighing only 1 pound, 7 ounces. The photo of him lying next to a pencil (and the pencil is nearly the same length as he) was shocking. What goes through your mind at that instant of delivering such a fragile being of life?
KAUR: After a while your work becomes routine, protocols to be carefully followed. “My lil’ baby,” as I still call my 6 foot tall 29-year-old young man was a challenge; however, we placed tubes and lines as per NICU routine. In those circumstances we don’t have time to think otherwise once the decision to resuscitate has been made.
FQ: Is there a particular birth that stands out still to this day that you give a sigh of relief that he/she defied the odds and thrived? Could you please share?
KAUR: Bud, a tiny baby, had his eyes fused at birth, a fact that would normally deter us from resuscitation; however, Bud continued to have a strong heartbeat, so we resuscitated him. Today, thirty years later, he is a wonderful young man, a lovely part of his family—and mine.
FQ: It’s abundantly clear the babies were a tremendous inspiration for you to write your book, but it sounds like you had amazing coworkers through the years. Who of your colleagues was your greatest cheerleader and supporter through this process, and why him or her?
KAUR: Our nursing staff, my coworkers, are awesome. I call it our NICU family. I think my greatest supporters are the NICU staff—it would be impossible to choose just one
FQ: You pay many lovely tributes to the amazing NICU nurses you worked with over the years. How often do you have reunions with these “heroes”?
KAUR: We have reunions every two to three years; in fact, we had one just this past May. It featured a book signing, and so many of our special heroes attended.
FQ: Thank you again for the pleasure of reading My Garden of Flowers. It’s a beautiful book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the life and times of the many “beautiful flowers” you brought into the world. Are you working on your next project? If so, are you able to share?
KAUR: Writing My Garden of Flowers was a privilege, never a chore, though I do need some time off from writing, so I haven’t yet begun a new project. Lest I forget, I’m delighted to say that all the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to charity.