Reading Through Trauma:
How Story Helped Us Navigate Challenging Days

by Lauren Davis

Photographs Courtesy of Lauren Davis

A new baby is coming! Which means the clock is ticking, and it’s time to start planning, stat. When you learn you’re expecting, it is only natural to have a sudden urge to get on top of your life and organize … everything. By week 20 you’ve figured out how to decorate the nursery, and you’ve spent hours making sure every corner of the room is designed just so. One month later, you’ve researched every baby blog imaginable and made sure to add the perfect gizmos and gadgets to your registry. By week 35, you’ve packed and repacked your hospital bag so many times that you can recite its contents as quickly as you can recite the pledge of allegiance. You know the Gymboree class schedule, where the music classes are, and which libraries have story time on which mornings. Your little one’s bookshelves are filled with beautiful stories before he even arrives.

But every once in a while, things don’t go according to your master plan. Every so often, despite the perfect ultrasounds and the easy pregnancy and the crazy research that has ensured your delivery and baby and life with a newborn will go off without a hitch, things happen that are totally and hopelessly outside any realm of possibility you’ve ever imagined. And life feels totally and hopelessly out of control.

I should know. It happened to me.

When my newborn baby had a perinatal stroke at just ten days old, everything I had planned during the nine months of my pregnancy went out the window. Instead of Mommy and Me classes, I was dragging my infant across town from therapy appointments to doctor appointments and then back for more therapy. I learned more about the inner workings of the brain and gross motor and fine motor then I’d ever cared to know, and I came home every day feeling lost and scared and anxious. I could have fallen apart — stranger things have happened — but instead, I did the one thing that felt right: I turned to story. Reading to my sweet boy seemed like the one thing in our suddenly off-kilter world that I could make sense of. It was the one thing I could still control.

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Though I read every night with my older son, raising a reader became doubly important to me when it became clear that my second child could face challenges for which we had never prepared. Why? The answer is simple. Ever since I was a little girl, I found power in books, some transcendent force that plucked me from under the warm comforter in my bedroom and placed me squarely in the midst of the stories I read. Through reading, I learned how to handle challenges before I actually faced them in real life, I sorted through emotions I never realized I grappled with, and I discovered how to be brave. I found myself in every book I read: in every character, every plot, every setting. And despite my quirks — despite my twiggy legs and braces and poodle hair — every time I opened the cover of a book, I felt like the playing field had been leveled. We were all on the same first page.

This magic is what I wanted for my baby. And so we read during tummy–time, bathtime, playtime, and that magical in-between time when we snuggled together in the dim light of his bedroom before I laid him down for the night.

Through story, I believe my son has learned the power of the words “I think I can, I think I can,” (The Little Engine That Could). Our books have imparted the significance of perseverance (Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer), the power of friendship (A Sick Day for Amos McGee and Gossie), the value of empathy (A Home for Bird) and the importance of embracing our unique and beautiful characteristics (Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of the Girl Who Floated). Through story, my sweet boy will always remember how much he is loved: truly, wholly and deeply (Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You).

Now, nearly 18 months later, my warrior baby is thriving. He cruises all around the house, talks up a storm, loves to read, and is this close to walking independently. While I know we have a team of doctors and therapists to thank, I also like to think that some of his fighting spirit comes from the stories he’s been hearing on repeat since his infancy, due to his control-freakish, reading-obsessed mom.

So maybe my pre-natal planning wasn’t so far off the mark after all. And my little one’s first word?