Dear Isabel,

I remember the day I took you home. I was scared because I didn’t know anything about how to take care of a baby. I was only 14 years old. I was a child myself. The first day you went home, you had a seizure. It was the most frightening day of my life. I called 911. You were rushed to the hospital. After that day, everything just got worse. I remember admitting you to the hospital multiple times. I was attending middle school at that time. It was very challenging because I didn’t have much time to study. I also felt left out, being the only student with a child. I was more concerned about taking care of you because of all the special care you required. I eventually graduated from that school and went on to high school. Having to take care of you, along with the demands of the program, made it difficult to continue in school. So I left.

As the years passed, your health was declining. Doctors didn’t have much hope for you. I never really wanted to think about you not being here with me; what parent thinks about their child not being with them? Since the day you were born, I made a promise that I would always do my best to take care of you. But it isn’t easy to be a parent, let alone a teen mom.

In Mexico, Chavelita is a nickname for Isabel. My father was the one who chose the name for you. When I went for my first prenatal appointment, my doctor ordered an ultrasound. They noticed something was wrong with you. I remember getting a phone call from the doctor. She told me to bring someone with me to her office. Once I got there, she explained to me all these confusing medical terms for your problems. I was given the option to terminate my pregancy. I chose to keep you. At that point in my life, I couldn’t realize all the things you would have to go through. But I have a lot of beautiful memories. All the birthdays we celebrated with you. You were always smiling. I loved your smile and your beautiful black curly hair. I loved how you danced, moving only your head and clapping your hands. I know I promised to always take care of you. It would take a lot of dedication and love. Children’s nursing homes wouldn’t take care of you the way I would.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how things go in life. You got very sick, needing 24/7 medical care and machines I didn’t have at home. I wanted you to get well, which is why I accepted the reality that I had to put you in a children’s nursing home in Albany for better treatment. I was only able to visit you twice a month because it was too far. It wasn’t enough. I wanted to see you every day. On the first day you arrived at the home in Albany, I cried. I had failed to keep my promise to take care of you. I would never forgive myself for this. I would have to deal with this the rest of my life.

I don’t recall the date when I received the call from the nursing home that you were taken to the emergency room, but you were fine. You weren’t, but they didn’t want to tell me you were sick. Then I received a call from the doctor in the emergency room that you were very sick, and that your heart was giving out on you. He wanted to know if I should let you go or try to save your life. I told the doctor to save you, though I knew you were tired and were ready to go. I received another call, saying you had passed away. I was in shock. I didn’t know how to react. I just couldn’t process that you were no longer with me.

It’s been seven years since you left. Every time I think about you, I remember that I was not there by your side. I think about how scared and lonely you must have felt that day. You were just a child. You shouldn’t have been alone through that. I always ask myself if there was anyone by your side. I’m sorry I was not there. You must have thought I didn’t love you because I put you there. But I had no choice.

Isabelita, I love you so much, and I miss you every day of my life. You came into my life. You showed me so many things. I have always been scared of trying new things; I always doubted myself. With you, I had no time to be scared. You showed me I’m capable of doing anything in life, even when I feel I can’t. Te amo, Chavelita, siempre estarás en me corazón . . . And in all the hearts of the people who have had the opportunity to have known you.

Forever 12,
Su Madre, Anita



Author portraitBorn in Morelo, Mexico, Anita Pareja Gutierrez arrived in the United States as a child. She is close to her six siblings and their families, who also live in New York. She enjoys being outdoors with her two children, exploring New York City, and she dreams of traveling with her children to other parts of the United States. Anita Pareja Gutierrez’s goal is to become a teacher’s assistant for a class of young children. She is currently enrolled in the High School Equivalency program of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone. John Kefalas is the site adviser.