I’m not a mother, nor have I read many childbirth books, but I snapped up a review copy of Deanna Fei’s 2015 memoir “Girl in Glass: How My ‘Distressed Baby’ Defied the Odds, Shamed a CEO, and Taught Me the Essence of Love, Heartbreak, and Miracles” because I was curious about what the author and her family had endured and had to say. I wasn’t aware beforehand that she and her baby had been in the news in 2014 after AOL’s CEO had signaled out her baby’s healthcare costs, along with another’s, as a reason why he was cutting the company’s employee benefits. (More on this in a bit.)
Instead I picked up the book blind, whipping through the first half of the memoir, which is a nail-bitting account of how the pregnant author woke up one morning to find herself in labor at 25 weeks — over three months ahead of her due date. It hadn’t been a high-risk pregnancy; she had given birth to a healthy boy just a year earlier, and the new baby, a girl, was on schedule and healthy, according to her doctors. But for unknown reasons, the baby girl came very prematurely, weighing just 1 lb, 9 oz after being delivered by an emergency caesarean section. As a result, she was kept in intensive care for months and underwent various health complications.
“Girl in Glass” navigates the parents’ journey, specifically the mom’s, through these incredibly difficult and uncertain times. It’s very open and personal about her fears, her marriage, and the guilt over why the premature birth happened and her thoughts of whether the baby should be “let go.” She describes her and her husband’s harried lives commuting back and forth from their Brooklyn home caring for their lively boy, back to the Manhattan hospital where their daughter lay in a glass isolette hooked up to a contraption of wires. There’s times the author seems to be on the verge of a breakdown, unable to sleep and endlessly pumping milk to try and feed her tiny daughter. You can only hope beyond hope for the baby’s survival and improvement.
Towards the end of “Girl in Glass,” the author delves into a 2012 incident at a town hall meeting in which her husband’s then-employer, the CEO of AOL, blamed the healthcare costs of covering two “distressed babies” for the reason the company was cutting employee retirement benefits. Many surmised he was talking about their daughter, which he was. The whole thing, which seems terribly offensive and illegal — that of a CEO meddling in employees’ health expenditures and disclosing others’ medical information under the label of “distressed babies” — caused a national uproar and led the author to rebut him in an essay on Slate, ultimately earning the CEO’s apology.
At the end, “Girl in Glass” raises a lot of pertinent issues surrounding both premature babies and medical privacy infractions, which I found quite illuminating and relevant considering both are on the rise. Author Deanna Fei also lays out the history of neonatal care and today’s guidelines on which preemies are usually saved; at her daughter’s birth at 25 weeks, only half of the babies are said to survive, and many of those are disabled. Fei’s story packs a wallop for her candor during her daughter’s struggles, and is informative about issues that many of us never imagine, or plan on, could happen to our families.
What about you — have you heard of “Girl in Glass” or this author’s circumstances — and if so, what do you think? Or do you know of similar circumstances?
Thanks to Tandem Literary and Bloomsbury for providing me with a copy Of “Girl in Glass” to review.
For those interested in the book, I have one copy to giveaway, just leave your interest in the comments and I will randomly draw a winner.