You never think it will happen to you until it happens to you.
December 19th, a Wednesday. Daddy, you and I had arrived in Texas for Christmas holiday. The festivities were starting that evening with a birthday party for your cousin, Beck. At lunch Gran brought over salads and gushed over the developing baby bump you were becoming. You see, Gran hadn’t seen you forming yet because Daddy and I live in Michigan, a land far away from the deep south. Gran rubbed you, we ate lunch, and she headed back to school. It was a beautiful day, so Daddy and I decided to catch up on some yardwork. He cleaned the gutters and fixed odd and ends, and my duty was raking and bagging the pine needles. It was tedious work at 23 weeks pregnant but for the most part you didn’t seem to mind. I would stop and pat you every few minutes between dragging bags of needles to the front. We were happy. Daddy would look over and flash us the brightest smiles. We sure loved imagining you.
Yark work is exhausting and nap time immediately followed. You and I were eager to cuddle on the couch. We had a few hours before cousin Beck’s birthday party; a few zzz’s were in order. Daddy laid you and me down, covered us with a big comfy blanket and we were out.
The dreams were always beautiful with you inside me.
I woke with panic and pain. The tightening and contracting of my belly I assumed were Braxton Hicks. Daddy looked up their length and started to count. 1 minute… 3… 7… 20 minutes passed, and you were still being squeezed. I tried resting but was beginning to grow anxious. Pacing around the living room I checked my heart rate. Mommy has a habit of this and is very aware of her beating heart. I could feel it racing but assumed it was due to my growing anxiety…
At 5:23pm my heart rate was 106 bpm. 50 beats more than normal for Mommy. I ran to the bathroom feeling the need to go. There was blood. Not once throughout carrying you had I ever experienced bleeding. Daddy called our midwife, and the nurse who answered reassured us that Braxton Hicks were normal. Spotting was normal. High heart rate was normal. You were a very normal, uneventful pregnancy and none of this suggested otherwise.
But Mommy knew.
This wasn’t right. We needed to go to a hospital right away. Sweet, patient, kind Daddy could see the fear in my eyes and loaded us up in the car. To the hospital we went. We called Auntie and Gran and Papa and said we were going for a quick check to make sure you were ok. Tell the others, and don’t wait on us to start the birthday celebration.
In murder trials I often find it fascinating and unbelievable when a killer or bystander or victim can’t seem to recall every moment of their experience. In our traumatic event I noticed my senses were very much heightened. Every detail was accounted for. Every emotion still lingers within me. I remember the lights of passing cars hurting my eyes because the tears were like magnifying glasses. I remember the panic in Daddy’s voice when we couldn’t find the entrance to the hospital; when the red lights were just a second too red. The details flood back every time I think of Wednesday, December 19, 2018.
Waddling into the emergency room, blood now running down my legs and pooling in my shoes, nurses and doctors helped us to OB trauma. You and I sat uncomfortably as we filled out paperwork and answered questions before being admitted. You were patient… like Daddy.
We all loved each other but none of us wanted to meet the other yet. Not like this.
In the trauma unit, still being squeezed, we waited. We waited for vitals and comfort and realization. We waited for the world to start spinning again.
Vitals were basically normal. Bloodwork came back indicating an infection was somewhere inside, so they started Mommy on an antibiotic IV. The ultrasound tech came in to check on you, and Daddy and I sat anxiously as she poked Mommy’s sore and aching belly and dragged her tool across your home. She couldn’t find you.
Finally, “oh, there she is!” Followed immediately by, “oh, what is that?” And without even looking at Daddy or me she calls to the nurse, “we need the doctor to come in right away.”
“Doctor is in a C-section. She can’t come now.”
“Well, go interrupt her and tell her what you see here.”
What did she see, little one? Why won’t she tell us?
And she wouldn’t tell us. We asked and asked to a point where it became a desperate plea. But she wouldn’t budge.
The doctor was older, stumpy, and obviously tired from a 24-hour shift. And rude, crass, disconnected from the patients she was delivering her news to so nonchalantly. Her cold gloved hand inside me she said, “You’re bleeding internally. The placenta looks to have detached from the uterus. Has anyone ever mentioned placenta previa to either of you?”
I locked onto the internal bleeding. “I’m dying,” I thought. Just a few hours ago I was happy and raking and napping and now I’m going to die. It’s a surreal feeling to be faced with such an overwhelming fear. And I still feel so guilty to this day because I clearly remember worrying about my own death before I ever considered yours.
My sweet baby.
You were alive. It was just a few weeks before at your Grandma’s house in Baltimore that your Aunt Sarah and I felt you kick for the first time. Strong little kicks. Kicks and wiggles that you continued to do every day. Daddy and I would laugh and relish in your squirms as you made my belly move. We were already planning your big sporting debuts. Move over Dirk Nowitzki. There’s a new all-star in town.
But Mommy’s body decided otherwise.
We were moved to a private room in ICU in the labor and delivery unit at Mother Frances Hospital. Mommy was born here 32 years earlier and many family and friends had ties to this hospital. We chose it for its familiarity.
Daddy got comfortable next to our bed as we prepared for what? What exactly were we doing here?
The outcome looked grim but there was a bit of hope. The bleeding was significant, and no one was sure if it had stopped. So, the plan was to wait. Wait and see if it stops and you attach yourself back to the uterus, or if the bleeding continues and Mommy and your lives become in grave danger.
So, we waited.
Gran and Papa and Auntie, Beck, and Ford and Big Daddy and Uncle Connor came. It was a big room; one I was happy could accommodate all your family. One that could accommodate their laughter and uplifting spirits. Your family is truly unique, and they were all so excited to meet you, little one.
Later that night in the wee hours of Thursday morning, we rejoiced. The bleeding was coming to a halt. Things were looking up! I would take trips to the bathroom, backside handing out of my gown, disheveled, but elated at the site of the humongous blood clots in the toilet bowl beneath me. It’s amazing the things that can create excitement in times of horror. It was terrifying but I knew those were good signs that our body was healing. Mommy’s safety was accounted for and you, my love, were almost in the clear.
They moved us out of ICU and into another room. The Closet, as it was so humorously called. The name could not have been more fitting. It was indeed a closet with a hospital bed, one chair that folded in to a bed, a bathroom, all shoved together in a tiny 10×10 foot space. Somehow even this was reassuring. To be tucked away, almost as if it were ok to forget about us here, because we were in the clear. We thought we were ok.
Thursday morning was filled with new faces, a new team of nurses, a new doctor, new visitors, Daddy’s new sleep deprived face. We were all waiting for bloodwork to come back showing a reduction in white blood cell count. A sign that the mysterious infection was being terminated. So, we waited. We played games. We laughed with Gran and Aunt Lin and Nana and Aunt Sheryl. We cried with Auntie. But we were all hopeful. We all were beginning to be normal again.
More waiting. More massive blood clots. More antibiotics.
Thursday came and went.
I felt so sad for Daddy. He slept without complaint on an uncomfortable, squeaky from overuse, tiny pull out bed. He stayed kind in every moment. He loved seeing you move, and he was eager to get Mommy anything she desired if it made you happy, if it helped you wiggle more, if it kept you healthy. You would have loved your daddy. He was just beginning to believe you were in there, to allow himself to imagine your existence in his life. Oh, the adventures he imagined. Oh, the places you would go.
Your daddy was there on Friday night too. The night Dr. Williams delivered the news. They hadn’t checked on Wednesday but now Mommy was dilated. Too dilated to turn back. Too dilated to fix.
You never think it will happen to you until it happens to you.
Without hesitation nurses and doctors were situating Mommy into the Trendelenburg position. Mommy’s feet were hoisted higher than her head. This was to allow gravity its chance to work its magic to keep you off my cervix. A few doors down there lied another hopeful mommy in the same position to keep her baby growing inside her belly. It was meant to allow you to keep growing at least until you were 25 weeks.
Almost as instantly as I was repositioned, a NICU doctor appeared.
She was sent to our room to talk about your chances of survival. In cases of babies born before 24 weeks 20% die within days and the rest face a lifetime of health defects and developmental issues. 1 in 2 of premature babies born before 26 weeks of gestation will have some sort of disability. This didn’t include results from an infection growing with you. You see, little one, Mommy was too riddled with infection to close you up inside me. That mysterious infection. Even if the ridiculous position worked at keeping you off my cervix for many more weeks, we would never be sure if you were also infected or not. An infection that would do you worlds of harm.
She was there to tell us you were going to die. A fear every mother-to-be holds but most don’t have to face. A fear that stays in the shadows, never one that sees the light.
You never heard the world outside, but Daddy and Mommy heard our world crash around us that night. We heard your life end in a few short moments. Two days before, this situation would never have entered our minds. We never imagined that in 72 hours our daughter’s life would change so drastically.
We were told that now we had to wait until I was fully dilated, and my body was ready to deliver you. We were told to wait for my body to go into labor. And, so we waited. We waited for things to get moving. We waited for you to die.
Waiting for a baby to die is similar to waiting for someone who is in hospice. It’s painful to bear but necessary. You want to be there to comfort and love the person who is dying, but you want so badly to leave, to take it all away, to erase the pain and anguish that grows within. This kind of waiting ignores if a person is patient, willing, or ready. This kind of waiting is disruptive, endless, and haunting. There’s no escaping the lingering presence of death.
Mother Frances is a Catholic Hospital, so they wouldn’t extinguish this pain of waiting. Even though there was no hope for you, darling. There only returned a fear for Mommy’s life. If things took a major turn for the worse then they would intervene but only then.
Auntie, Gran, Beck, and Ford were there that Friday night. They walked with Mommy and Daddy down desolate halls that were under construction. Long, torturous walks to help trigger labor. Long, harrowing walks for your death to begin.
But you weren’t ready, were you? You wanted to keep living.
Saturday morning, December 22nd, your Auntie Lou brought cookies. She came unaware of the news from the night before, but she stayed aware of its burden. She was rooting for you, love. We all were, even though we knew the truth, we rooted for you. A very humble and honest doctor advised us on our outcome again, and we all agreed spending Christmas waiting for you to die seemed unimaginable especially in a hospital bed. So, Daddy and I checked ourselves out and we waited. Gran and Papa so graciously lent us their bed that night. Daddy and I slept as peacefully as we could in the comfort of their home. It was nice to be surrounded by their warmth.
Christmas Day came, and you were still wiggling, darling daughter. You stayed active and seemingly unaware of your impending doom. We tried to fake happiness when your cousins, aunts, and uncles filtered in that jolly day, but I don’t think anyone bought it. Food was feasted on, games were played, presents were opened. Your presents were hidden. People came and went, dogs ran amuck, the birds were chirping, but Daddy and I ignored it all. You were the only one on our minds. How could you be stolen from us on such a joyous occasion? How could happiness be found? We gave up our charades and hid ourselves in bed, exhausted from every emotion. We slept wearily for 4 hours, dreaming of you.
I can never repay your family and friends for the comfort and solace they gave Daddy and me during those torturous days. They were kind and patient and understanding. Even when it hurt them to their core, they continued to shower us with love and strength. We will never forget their sacrifices. You meant so much to all of us, and they were eager to show us they cared.
The next day, December 26th, we were having breakfast with Big Daddy, your uncles, and family. It was again, a joyous occasion. We love our family get-togethers and it is always wonderful to see and laugh with each of them. No new updates on you for them that day. Although it was a celebration it was clouded with our presence. Everyone had you on their mind.
Our sweet baby.
At 2:30 in the morning, December 27th, I woke up with cramps. They were intense and radiated through my back, but I decided to try and sleep through it. After a few hours of tossing and turning, I finally headed to the bathroom to check on things. I was bleeding. I lightly caressed Daddy and he woke with a jerk. He knew why I stirred him. 5:08am. We woke Gran and told her we were headed to the hospital.
A long, wet drive. The roads were littered with puddles and limbs from a storm that had rolled through during the night. I remember being nervous as Daddy drove on those slippery backroads.
I didn’t want anything to happen to you.
The red lights were just a second too red. The night a little too dreary. I was in labor. 24 weeks with you and I was in labor.
Let me say, my love, that every step along the way you were wriggling and strong and completely healthy. You never showed any signs of discomfort or regression. You strived to grow, and you grew well. You were your Daddy’s daughter, strong in the face of adversity, resilient in the face of hardship. As days passed and you failed to make an appearance, I grew hopeful. Hopeful that your tenacity would overcome my body’s shortcomings in getting rid of you. Daddy and I would take long walks out in the pastures behind Gran’s and I would say, “What if she makes it, love? What if she’s going to prove all the doctors and all the nurses wrong? We could be the exception! She could be the miracle. Don’t you think?” Daddy wouldn’t say, but his heavy, unbreakable hugs spoke for him. He knew the waiting gave Mommy hope. Hope that would be ripped away at a moment’s notice.
We screeched into the emergency room at UT Tyler. I crawled into the waiting room while Daddy parked the car. I waited as an older woman ahead of me was checked in. I sat patiently, writhing in silent pain. Daddy ran in and immediately yelled at the receptionist,
“Why is she still sitting here?! She’s in labor!”
Being wheeled upstairs to labor and delivery seemed interminable. The nurse pushing me was distracted and giving a new hire the layout of the hospital. You were alive inside me. I could still feel you wiggling.
When we got into the room a very kind-eyed, soft-spoken nurse, Nurse Kandace, came to check your progression. With sadness in her eyes and a solemn voice she said, “I’m sorry, sweetheart. You’re fully dilated.”
You never think it will happen to you until it happens to you.
The room filled quickly. Another sweet nurse, Nurse Vickie, took her place on my left alongside Daddy and Gran. On my right stood Nurse Kandace, another nurse in training, and Dr. Charest. They’re asking me to push; if I need anything for pain; telling me I’m doing a good job.
I’m delivering a baby who has no future. A baby who won’t get to experience these wonderful and sad moments of love and life. I’m doing a good job.
I heard the sounds of you dying all around me. With every contraction your heart rate would drop, 150 to 120 to 80 to 50, and then my body would let go and you would climb your way back to normal. But my body was killing you, sweet girl, and I’m so sorry you had to endure that. I finally asked Nurse Kandace to turn your monitor off. I couldn’t bear to hear your pain, especially since I couldn’t take it away.
“Here’s some medication for the pain. It’s just a quick shot. It may make you feel drunk and out of it for a bit.”
No. No drugs. It isn’t a happy delivery but it’s still one I don’t want to miss. I’d rather have been able to fully assess and experience the moment.
And just like that the urge to push came over me. Daddy’s hand was on my forehead. Doctor Charest’s fingers were directing me where to push. Daddy whispered in Mommy’s ear and kissed me on my cheek. He said he loved us. He said he was sorry. But he stayed strong. He played ocean waves behind my head and in that moment, I knew your daddy knew the way to Mommy’s heart.
I gave 3 pushes. 3 heart-stopping, please no, I don’t want to be here, pushes.
And you were here.
Our 15.8-ounce, 10.25-inch baby girl. It was 7:25 in the morning, December 27th. 8 days after arriving in Texas for Christmas.
And you were gone.
Your birth wasn’t filled with joyous cries of congratulations and elation and expectations of the future. Your birth was crushing and forbidding and torturous. No one smiled. No one said a word. You and your world were quiet, and we all gave you your peace.