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By Marisa Stokley, Director of Marketing, WhiteFire Publishing Group

The First Steps

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Never in my life had I imagined a sound would become so significant. But those beeps indicated that my newborn daughter was breathing, and thus in her ability to stabilize her breaths, my own could follow suit. Sophia merely was hours old, but already her ability to do something on her own dictated how my life and my husband’s would play out. Our daughter had to become independent much sooner than she should have, and I have no doubt that forever will influence her future.  

Independence, particularly for Americans, is a highly sought-after trait. Perhaps it is a call back to our patriotic roots, or perhaps it simply is because we have an inherent desire to prove our capabilities. Either way, by the time most of us begin kindergarten, we already have proved our ability to be independent. We have taken our first steps without holding a parent’s hand. We have entertained ourselves with our toys. We have demonstrated that even the littlest person can take care of themselves (to some degree) and influence others.

To progress in life, every person must have some degree of independence. With every passing year, children are entrusted with more tasks to complete. Grade levels and employment are contingent upon individuals successfully executing assignments without supervision or micromanagement. In the case of my premature daughter, she had to breathe, drink her milk without a feeding tube, and remain at a certain body temperature on her own before she could leave the hospital. No matter the age, income level, education level, or lifestyle, everyone encounters the choice to be independent or not.

As with most traits, independence can be overused or implemented in right and wrong ways. While independence is a positive quality, too much of it can be detrimental. Children who are overly independent may find themselves in harmful situations. Adults who are too keen to show their worth may not consider the thoughts of others despite that teamwork is essential in the workplace. Nevertheless, too much dependence upon others is equally detrimental. Those who are not independent often are timid, afraid, or lack confidence. The key to executing independence the right way is balance. With balance, we can know our own minds, have confidence in our abilities, and know ourselves while still respecting others and recognizing boundaries.

From Stepping to Walking

The world was closing in around me. Only three weeks remained until my wedding, and while I should have been focusing upon making the final preparations, instead I was staring at a bookshelf. Panic ran rampant from my head to my toes as I considered which books I needed to box away. I couldn’t make the choice. Changing anything on my bookshelves felt akin to traitorous behavior. I’d lived alone for four years, and I counted my books among my closest of friends. Despite that my then-fiance had lived with me for a few months, our apartment still looked and felt like mine. I’d not put away my figurines, my dresses filled most of our closet, and everything pink and flowered decorated our walls. I was in a relationship, but I’d yet to experience to change from an independent life to one shared fully with another.

With every change in life, independence rears its head. The transition from living a single life to living one in partnership with another can be particularly difficult. With the emphasis on independence known for so long in children and young adults, to go from a focus primarily upon ourselves to another person is jarring. A life of thinking only of doing what we want to do, when we want to do it, and how we want to do it switches to one of how our choices will affect someone else—and sometimes in a big way. In addition, when we transition from singlehood into a relationship, we likely are going to give up a part of ourselves for the good of the other.

As I contemplated whether my bookshelf of classics and contemporary romance would stay or go, I actually was considering whether or not I slowly was losing what had made me who I was for so long. Never mind that my husband was—and remains—a reader. Never mind that he’d never once asked me to box away any of books. I was choosing to do so to help him feel more of a part of our life together. With each book placed in the box, though, thoughts of what I’d already given up came to mind. I was willingly putting aside a piece of my single life in lieu of the good that was coming, but in doing so, I also was losing part of my independence. It was a surreal moment for someone who’d always dreamed of marriage, and it is a lesson I recall often as a moment of growth as I reflect upon how easily merging our lives has become. I might have lost shelf space and the pretty aesthetic of hardback Jane Austen novels for the neon paperbacks of Stephen King, but I gained a new independence of knowing I am still me even if my books aren’t on display.

From Walking to Running

Demonstrating independence is about proving your ability to do something on your own. We all need to be self-sufficient, but there is a line between being so due to situational necessity and being so due to stubbornness. My husband, Paul, and I learned this lesson the hard way as navigated the early days of our marriage. While both of our families preached the value of independence during our childhood years, he and I took away different meanings of it as we became adults. My family is one that does not mind asking for help, whereas Paul’s is stubborn to the core about doing things individually. Many times he and I debate about the situations we feel in which it is appropriate to ask others for help. I am much more willing to reach out for assistance if I don’t know what I’m doing. Paul often refuses to ask for help even if he does not know the answer to a question or has spent an inordinate amount of time on a task that someone else could complete in five minutes. Neither way is right or wrong, although the number of times we’ve attempted to put together a bathroom vanity may indicate when to throw in the proverbial towel. We have yet to know which way our daughter will tend to lean, but between her stubborn mother and father and what we saw in the NICU, I imagine that trait has been passed down to her. Our job as her parents will be encourage her to be strong and capable while also gracious in accepting help when needed. There is a time to learn, a time to ask for support, and time to prove our own self-worth and show that our best is our personal best even if it is not perfect. 

Crossing the Finish Line

The sound of a handful of voices reverberated in the otherwise quiet NICU neighborhood. Nurses, doctors, and therapists popped in to congratulate Sophia on her last day in the unit. The incessant beep of the heart monitor no longer called my attention. My baby girl was coming home, and nothing could stop me from celebrating.

Sophia might have done the hard work to survive in those first five weeks of her life, but she would not have made it home without the hospital staff to help get her there. Never has a situation so aptly demonstrated the balance between independence and support than a NICU unit. Those tiny babies fighting for their lives have no choice other than that if they are going to make it out of their incubators. But they do not do it alone. Doctors make difficult choices daily about how to treat babies in perilous conditions. Nurses prick tiny heels, delicately push tubes down noses and throats, and keep conditions in perfect silence to allow for the ultimate rest a baby would get in its mother’s belly. Therapists teach babies how to do the most natural actions that those infants cannot do alone. The babies determine the outcome, and the support staff is there to be with them along the way.


The sound of the elevator door opening signaled the final change. I wrapped my hand around the handle of Sophia’s car seat, gently pushing Paul’s fingers out of the way. I was five weeks postpartum and shouldn’t have been lifting anything heavier than my daughter, but I was determined to carry her—car seat and all—out of the hospital. With one final quick glance over my shoulder, I took in the NICU that had been our home during the biggest transition yet of our married life. Most of the nurses had returned to their stations, but hidden behind the curtain of Sophia’s old room, one remained. Nurse Janet peeked her head around the panel and smiled at me. A sense of peace washed over me as I returned the gesture then looked at my daughter. Sophia had proven she could live despite the many odds against her. She was wholly independent and ready to live life on her own terms. And we were going home, yet we were anything but alone.