My God, those cheeks—that sweet, bright smile stretched across that bubbling brown sugar pie face. Jahi McMath’s pictures, full of energy and girlpie goodness are all-at-once beautiful and heartbreaking—the sad last chapter of her young life, a brutal tale of surgery gone awry and seeming medical indifference. I want to hug her. And wrap her mother, Nailah Winkfield, into a warm embrace.
No mother should bury her child.
Not in this way.
Not in a hail of uncertainty and doubt, begging and fighting, court orders and press conferences and clandestine exchanges between emotionless hospital officials and coroners and people who promise miracles, even when miracles totter precariously on the impossible.
When I first read the story of Jahi’s horrific medical descent, I couldn’t believe the words splayed across my phone. A 13-year-old girl went into surgery at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland to have her tonsils removed, afraid that she wouldn’t wake up from the routine procedure. She came out of the anesthesia asking for popsicles, but then started bleeding, first lightly, then profusely. According to her family’s legal petition, nurses met her mother’s queries about Jahi’s condition with blithe concern: they gave that baby paper towels and pitchers to keep Jahi’s bleeding from making a mess, but called doctors only after her grandmother, a nurse, demanded someone come tend to that child. Shortly after, Jahi went into cardiac arrest and then slipped into a coma.
The hospital declared Jahi brain-dead three days after her surgery, and three neurologists confirmed she’s unable to breathe on her own and has neither blood flow to her brain nor signs of electrical activity. But Jahi’s family has fought in the courts to keep her on life-support, insisting that Jahi still has a chance to wake up in the land of the living and removing her from a ventilator “violates her Freedom of Religion and Privacy Rights.”
For this belief, Jahi’s family has been dragged through the proverbial dirt. The hospital, insisting Jahi died on Dec. 12 when her brain stopped working, disrespectfully refer to her as “the corpse” and “the body.” Nailah Winkfield has been called stubborn and stupid and accused of being a money-grubbing shyster, using her daughter’s plight to collect cash. Words of comfort are few and far between.
No one cries for little brown girls and their mamas.
But we do.
Because we know that they are made of skin and bone and sinew and human heart, the kind that loves and holds hope when there is none. Especially so.
We know, too—intimately—the feeling that comes when something isn’t quite right. When respect is held at a reserve and callousness crowds out compassion. It’s that feeling we get when we’re being followed around the store, or when we’re led to the table in the back of the restaurant, or when the nurse and doctor take their sweet time moseying to your room then rush through your nervous questions with clipped answers and quick exits.
Not saying the latter happened to Jahi’s family, but would you believe anything Children’s Hospital of Oakland had to say if your baby bled out and had a heart attack before doctors bothered to see what was wrong with her? Would you maybe think the hospital was trying to cover up medical negligence? Would you maybe have a little contempt if hospital attorneys and publicists were on TV (and Twitter!), talking greasy about your kid, even as you deal with the shock of your baby laying on a table, hooked up to life support machines after a routine tonsillectomy?
Jahi is the child of Nailah Winkfield, a praying mother who has the right to make life-and-death decisions concerning her child. Nailah also deserves the space to recover from the shock, hysteria, hype and ugly of all that has occurred over the past month so that she can sit next to her baby, kiss those cheeks, rub her hands, then think with her brain and with her heart and make peace with herself and her daughter and her God.
While she does these things, we at MyBrownBaby offer our grace and compassion to Jahi and to her mother.
She deserves nothing less.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.