On July 31, 2009, she received word from the US Embassy in Baghdad that her son, Shane Bauer, had been detained by Iran while hiking with his girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, a friend from college.
Initially, the trio's families were deliberately respectful, conciliatory even, in their public statements. They studied the Iranian calendar and tried to honor the country's culture. They were anxious to get their children home, but willing to be patient.
However, as their children mark one year behind bars in Tehran, the families are replacing demure requests – for phone calls home, consular visits, or medical exams – with frustration and firm demands. Iran must put their children on trial or send them home, they say.
"We've listened, we've accommodated, we've allowed for time, and now we need the kids released," says Laura Fattal, Josh's mother.
Nora Shourd is especially angry that her daughter remains in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in a cell with only a metal bed, a thin mattress, and a small window eight feet off the ground. She sees Josh and Shane, who are kept together, twice a day for 30 minutes in the prison's courtyard, where Shane proposed to her in January. It's the only time they see the sky.
As much as the prisoners' lives have changed in the past year, so, too, have their mothers' lives. They have given up jobs to devote themselves to securing their children's release. Ms. Shourd – who previously lived in California – has moved in with Ms. Hickey for greater support.
They write letters to Iranian leaders, conduct countless media interviews, and stay close to the phone.
Fattal didn't leave the house for two days around Iranian Mother's Day and her son's birthday, thinking he might be allowed to call home. She told friends and family not to ring the house in case Josh was trying to get through. But Josh didn't call.
Fattal's older son, Alex, has tried to fill the void by signing notes as "Jalex" and planting a pear tree in the yard, which Josh – a localvore – had planned to do upon his return.
The mothers' situation is not as severe as their children's situation, they say, but it's their own prison.
"I've always raised my children and proceeded in my life with respect for other people," says Hickey. "But for us to maintain that respect is really difficult. We feel like we've done our part here and we want that to be noticed."