Dixie Heiss, a 30 year old woman from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, found out at 12 weeks she was going to be a mother. Due to medical issues she was told she could never have children so this baby boy was a miracle in her eyes. She feared complications with the birth, but nevertheless continued doing all the right things to ensure her baby boy would be healthy. Unfortunately, Dixie started experiencing a lot of pain six months into the pregnancy and then gave birth prematurely at 26 weeks. Her new baby boy weighed 1 lb. and 15 oz. and was placed in Erlanger’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Dixie wanted to be with her baby boy, CJ, every step of the way but lived almost an hour away from Erlanger hospital. Hotels were not an option because of expenses, so she came across Chattanooga’s very own Ronald McDonald House. Ronald McDonald House provides private bedrooms, showers, health products, toiletries, and food to families who have children in intensive care. Dixie lived in Ronald McDonald House for three months while CJ was being taken care of by Erlanger’s NICU staff. After being in the NICU for 82 days, CJ was finally discharged then weighing 5 lbs. and 14 oz.
The Heart of Dixie
Dixie ran her fingers through her dark thin and matted hair. She looked over at her mother sitting in a chair beside the hospital bed texting anxiously on her cell-phone. Dixie pinched her pale skin on her arm hoping she’d wake up from this bad dream. It was what she feared from the moment she found out she was pregnant, having a premature baby. Dixie always wanted a child, but not like this. She pictured two loving parents attending doctors visits and planning a gender reveal party when they found out it was a boy. Instead, she found herself alone in a hospital bed at 30 years old wondering if she should even tell the father of the baby she was pregnant. She shook her head, and decided against it. She barely knew the guy, he doesn’t even deserve to know her last name.
The Doctor had just walked in the room and explained that at 23 weeks, there’s a large chance the baby could come anytime now, resulting in complications with his birth. Those two words kept ringing in her ears, 23 weeks. She grabbed her journal out from under her pillow and began to write down her thoughts. Her sentences jumbled together as she tried to make sense of what was happening. Dixie found herself writing the same sentence over and over again.
Please just last a little longer Cj.
3 weeks later she jolted up in her hospital bed with an unbearable pain. Her eyes watered and she called out for the nearest nurse. An older woman wearing scrubs rushed into her hospital room and laid her down to check and see if she was going into labor. Dixie prayed it wasn’t that, anything but that. Her mother wasn’t here, and 26 weeks still wasn’t enough time for her baby boy to survive. She tried resisting looking at the nurse, but couldn’t help herself any longer. Dixie lifted her head up and made eye contact with the older woman, and the look on her face told Dixie all she needed to know, so she began to weep. She could see the nurse’s mouth moving, but couldn’t comprehend any words because her thoughts were ringing in her head. Eventually, Dixie yelled out “Call my Mom!” and the pain gradually became so bad, everything went black.
When Dixie woke up, the light above her head was blinding and all she could hear were the murmur of nurses and doctors around her. Her right arm was swollen from IV but she was numb from the waist down. Her nurse made eye contact with her and showed a sign of relief that she was awake.
“Push Dixie,” she said. “A couple pushes and he’ll be here just please bear with us.”
Dixie didn’t know anything about pushing except from what she’d seen in movies. It was so early, nobody had even taught her to do so. She pushed with everything she had and felt her vision go blurry. The nurse yelled again, “One more push!! One more and he’ll be here, you can do this!”. Dixie wasn’t so sure, until she found a clammy hand grab hers and squeeze. Her mother’s perfume hit her nostrils and Dixie found a sense of courage. She pushed harder than she did the first time. She watched as her doctor pulled out a tiny baby boy, the size of her hand. She heard the nurse say “1 lb. and 15 oz.” and felt herself get nauseous. The only thought that ran through her mind was, how can something that tiny live?
Dixie watched as her tiny human was pulled away by doctors and nurses. She didn’t even get to hold him first. She felt hot tears running down her cheeks. Isn’t that what new mothers do, hold the baby and cry? Unfortunately her tears weren’t coming from holding her newborn son, but from the emptiness of her chest when she watched them hand her child away. She looked around to see her mother standing in a corner discussing something with her doctor. She in that moment decided she didn’t want to know if her son was dead or alive. She didn’t want to know what the chances were of him making it. She didn’t want to know if he was going to live a normal life. She just wanted to sleep, and never wake up.
When Dixie awoke, she found her mother sitting next to her hospital bed doing a crossword puzzle and her 25 year old sister playing on her cellphone. She tried to sit up but the pain in her stomach was unbearable.
“Where is CJ?” she asked aloud.
Her mother closed her crossword puzzle and grabbed Dixie’s arm.
“Oh my God, you’re awake!” Dixie’s mother exclaimed. “Honey CJ is okay, he’s born a few months early, but he’s gonna make it.
Dixie watched as her mother grabbed her Crimson Tide purse with an Alabama emblem on it and searched for her cellphone. She lifted the cellphone close to Dixie’s face, “this is him sweetie. Isn’t he so beautiful? Tiny, but so magnificent.” Dixie felt those hot tears welp in her eyes again. “When will I get to see him?” she asked.
Dixie’s mother made eye contact with her sister and she looked back at Dixie. “I don’t know honey. He needs a lot of care right now. They’re taking him to the NICU, and it seems like he’ll be in there a while. We’ll all see him soon enough, I promise”.
A week passed by, and Dixie and her mother grabbed all her belongings out of the van and started walking towards their new home. A place called Ronald McDonald House sits across from Erlanger where parents can stay while their children endure critical care. It asks for a donation of $10 a night, and if the parents are unable to pay, they just ask you help clean up around the house in exchange. The Ronald McDonald House is perfect for any families who live thirty minutes or more away from Erlanger and need somewhere to live while their child endures care in the hospital. Dixie was nervous about moving into RMH, it was nice and plenty big enough, but lacked the comfort of her home in Dunlap, Tennessee. She was glad she had her own bed and bathroom though, and it saved her and her mom money from an expensive hotel. Dixie had been wearing the same few shirts the past month, there was no way her family could afford another option. She started packing her new bedroom with things that reminded her of home, and hanging her few clothing items in the closet. Her mother stocked the shower with razors and shampoos.
“Dixie, I know it’s not ideal but this place is perfect. They feed their guests breakfast luch and dinner every night. There’s four stories of bedrooms, and the staff is so nice. Plus it seems as if you’ll be spending up to 8 hours a day visiting CJ in the NICU, there really is no other option”. Dixie knew her mother was right. She missed her dog back home and wanted her own fridge, and her own sheets but she had it better than most premature mothers. CJ made it out alive in 26 weeks, she could not be more thankful for that. Not to mention, she was sure she would meet other families staying here with the same issues, and they would sure be nice to talk to.
82 days went by and CJ started to progress. Dixie hadn’t even spoken to CJ’s father, to the point she wasn’t even sure if he knew CJ was born. She didn’t care. She reconnected with an old high school guy friend of hers a couple weeks before she was in the hospital for pain, and he continued to talk to her since. His name was Jimmy, and he had become so serious about Dixie that he moved into the Ronald McDonald House with her, and began helping her prepare for Cj’s homecoming. Jimmy did the little things for her, and that’s why she fell in love with him. Dixie had no baby to nurse, but had to pump eight times a day. She found Jimmy washing her pump parts without asking, cleaning their room in RMH when she was in the NICU till 2 am, and sitting in the NICU waiting room for hours at a time until she could come out. He was good to her, and he loved CJ without ever even knowing him. He loved CJ like his own, even though all he’d seen of CJ was a tiny ball of skin wrapped up in tubes and wires. 82 days went by, and Dixie got the call that it was time for CJ to come home.
Jimmy picked up Dixie and spun her around in their RMH bedroom. The hot tears Dixie had felt many times within the past few months, whelped up again but this time for a different reason. This time the liquid streaming down her cheeks was from happiness. Jimmy left the room to call their friends and family, and Dixie walked towards her bed. Underneath were her stack of journals she had written in ever since she found out she was pregnant with CJ. She wrote him every night, begging him to make it a little while longer. Her hand shook as she opened a fresh, blank page. The black pen she used had never written so smoothly, until she wrote the words:
April 9th, 2019. Let’s go home, CJ.
Meet the Storytellers
Madison is a recent graduate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in Communication. She currently works as an Editorial Coordinator for a local magazine called Chattanooga Lifestyle and also does freelance photography work. Besides photography, she has a passion for journalism and storytelling. When she’s not working, she enjoys concerts, coffee, and hanging out with her dog, Blue. See more of her work on her Instagram @madzfrazphotography and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.