My book is entitled For the Love of Babies: One Doctor’s Stories About Life in the Neonatal ICU. The book tells the stories of sixteen babies and their families as they journey through the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Each story weaves together threads of medical, social, and sometimes ethical concerns that arise on a daily basis in the NICU, and shows the difficult issues confronting doctors and parents of these tiny babies. A non-fiction book, FOR THE LOVE OF BABIES contains more than 100 references that provide context and depth to each story in a “Notes” section at the end of the chapter. Some of the topics illustrated by the stories include teen pregnancy, management of babies at the “edge of viability”, chromosomal syndromes such as Down syndrome, substance abuse during pregnancy, obstetrical emergencies, postpartum depression, and much more.
WorldMaker Media is publishing the book June 1, 2011 in paperback and in ebook format.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’ve been a neonatologist—a pediatrician specializing in newborn intensive care—for more than 20 years. Prior to that, I was a master’s level social worker. My background as a social worker gives me a unique viewpoint from which to write about issues with families, and I tried to balance the medical aspects of stories with the social and emotional aspects. My career as a physician began in Los Angeles, where I was an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. However, for the past several years, I have been Medical Director of a large NICU in a community hospital in the Midwest. This book is my first.
What inspired you to write this book?
Some babies and their parents have touched my heart over the years and were simply unforgettable: the immigrant couple who lost everything in their quest to give their child a better life; the father who wrote me a heartfelt thank you note for the care I provided even after his baby lost her life and his wife ended up on a heart transplant list; the mother with limited financial resources who supported her twenty-four week gestation baby through thick and thin, enabling her baby to blossom in spite of the blindness she developed. I’ve been witness to great courage, devotion, and strength in so many parents, and this book is a testament to them.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
Although I was able to find an agent fairly quickly, the book was rejected by at least forty publishers. I heard all kinds of excuses, including that I didn’t have a platform (i.e., didn’t already write a column for The New York Times) and I wasn’t an opinion leader (i.e., was no longer a professor at a major medical school). A number of publishers thought the book would be “too sad,” although none took the time to read it to judge it on its merits. While awaiting a path to publication, I worked with a free-lance editor and continued to add to the book and to refine it. The year in between finding an agent and finding a publisher was a valuable one, as I was able to significantly improve the ultimate quality of the book during that time.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Next time I wouldn’t be in such a rush to present my work, until I had really spent lots and lots of time polishing it and making it into the best possible representation of my ability and my vision. I can begin to understand why some authors spend years on one book. I would much rather take the time to produce a great piece of writing than to rush to the marketplace with something that isn’t quite complete.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
I love to read medical memoirs and fiction books with medical themes, whether written by physicians or not. Some of my favorite physician authors are Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone), Atul Gawande (Complications), and Jerome Groopman (The Anatomy of Hope). I greatly enjoyed Rebecca Skloot’s non-fiction book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Kim Edwards’ novel, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. All these books interweave medical details into compelling and riveting stories.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I am about halfway through writing the first draft of my second book, which is called Such a Special Gift. The story is centered around a delivery room disaster that rips a family apart, as a woman serving as Surrogate Mother to her sister’s baby gives birth. Those left grieving struggle to come to terms with what happened, to resolve their guilt, and to heal their wounded spirits. Such a Special Gift is a story of love, of loss and of gratitude for the gifts we’ve been given. The book is a complex emotional drama with lots of medicine woven into it.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
My best advice is to believe in yourself, and do not take “no” for an answer. If your manuscript needs more work, then do more work. But don’t give up completely because anyone tells you it’s not good enough. Take writing classes, go to seminars, join a writer’s group; do whatever you can to improve the quality of your writing, but don’t stop writing. Eventually you will create your own success.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Parents who have had a baby go through the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and who want to learn more about the NICU and put their experience into perspective will really get a lot out of reading this book, as will their relatives and friends. It may help them to understand some of the things that were not entirely clear while they were going through their experience, and it will allow them to see what some of the other parents in the NICU at the same time were going through. Nurses, doctors, and all manner of healthcare workers will recognize and identify with the daily drama, and students in health and helping disciplines will get a glimpse into the world they may choose to enter. Hopefully, all readers will gain some insight into how doctors think, and how they handle the stressful demands continually placed on them.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
I invite readers to visit my website, at www.suehallmd.com, or my facebook page for the book (enter “For the Love of Babies” into the search bar on facebook).