It’s been a long, slow labor and the moment is finally here. Our baby girl emerges at 5:04 am with that final push, and her silence fills the room. As she is rushed to the warming table, Richard turns off the video camera. The joyous birth of our first child is turning into something we will not want to watch again and again, perhaps ever again. What is going on? We didn’t learn about this scenario in birthing class. I had envisioned having her handed directly to me for immediate skin on skin contact. Richard would cut the cord, and I’d offer her my breast right away. I wanted the bonding to begin from the first seconds of her life. I wanted to gaze into her little eyes and feel that indescribable connection. I had become fixated on a picture in my birthing book of a tiny newborn held in dad’s strong hands. There was something so dreamy about those eyes, and I’ve really been looking forward to getting lost in her gaze. Would they be blue like mine? Or brown like daddy? I would have to wait to find out. I put my disappointment on hold as the goal of healthy baby trumps the methods it may take to achieve that goal.
Several people are tending to her, cleaning off her fresh baby skin and cleaning out her airways. I hear, “Come on baby!” as they pat her little feet, the way a coach would encourage an athlete. It’s taking too long. When will I get to hold her? At the same time people are tending to me and scurrying around the room. Exhaustion, relief, concern, disappointment, and medication cloud my senses.
Finally, someone hands me my warm little bundle. I have waited so long for this moment, too long, and it is not what I’ve imagined. Her eyes are closed and her breathing is shallow. I know she needs more help. What I do not know, is that this is my only moment to hold her while she is alive, so I hand her back to a nurse to take her to the NICU to get the additional care she needs. I think she will be fine, but she isn’t fine yet. It’s an unsettling feeling. Richard accompanies her, and I stay in bed, immobilized from the residual effects of the epidural. I learn about my second degree tear, which is about to be repaired. The room is now empty except for me, the doctor, and the heavy, awkward quiet. Time continues to drag.
Richard cycles between the NICU and my room. Each time he comes back, he is more hysterical. As her condition worsens and more staff joins the effort to help her, he is asked to leave. At this point, his hysteria is full blown. He’s a very passionate, emotional man, and I think he is overreacting. My coping methods leave me stoic. I hold it all together until the facts are in, and then fall apart in private. Besides, she will be fine right? God is faithful. Richard, Joanne, and I hold hands and I pray out loud. ”Where two or more are gathered…” We wait. Richard would later tell me how before he was asked to leave the NICU, she opened her eyes and looked at him. He was at her feet. She gave him a knowing look.
A small medical team walks slowly across the room and eventually reaches my bedside. The head of the NICU takes my hand with both of hers and speaks.
Richard and Joanne now have to call family and friends who are waiting to hear the happy news. I am desperately grateful to be spared that task. Listening to my husband tell our moms is agony. “She didn’t make it.” My mom, on the other end, is obviously unable to process what she just heard. And then he must repeat those unthinkable words, a little louder, voice broken, barely able to say it again. My mom would be on the next flight. The conversation repeats with his mom. She would arrive the next day along with his grandmother and sister. Joanne is out in the hall calling friends.
The pale hospital light has been gradually replaced with sunlight. It doesn’t fit, and I am angry at the sun for shining, and the cars going by on the street below. How dare the world continue about its business. The news spreads quickly and a dozen or so friends rush to comfort us. They actually miss work to take part in the worst day of our lives. This is just one of many acts, for which we will be forever thankful. When everyone arrives, I ask our friend Dean to pray. It’s sort of like an impromptu funeral. Would we have a funeral? How does all this work? All our thoughts have been focused on how to prepare for the arrival our baby, not her death.
I hate goodbyes. I find “until next time” much easier to accept. But Richard & I know that it’s now or never. She’s starting to look worse, and we can’t bear it. We know she’s not really in that little body anymore anyway. With heaviest hearts, we send her back for the last time.
They’ve taken blood from Richard and me to test us for a common blood clotting disorder, we’ve consented, with sadness, to an autopsy so that they can try to provide answers, we’ve visited with Trinity and friends; it’s time to leave the labor and delivery room. We are transferred to a tiny post partum room, and most friends depart due to lack of space. A few stay and walk to a nearby grocery store to pick up a pint of my favorite ice cream and a pink and white variegated azalea to brighten the room. Little did I know that I would manage to keep that azalea alive for several years, and that it would bloom for her birthday every year.
A hospital social worker arrives with some bland words and a packet of papers. I am offended that there are pamphlets for this. You mean this happens often enough for there to be literature? I’m disgusted. But stepping outside my emotion for a moment, of course I am not the first person this has happened to. That’s exactly why there is a packet of papers full of resources. I am not interested in any of it now. I’m not sure I can even read right now. And we have paperwork to fill out. How can we possibly be expected to do paperwork right now? But they need to know her name, and we need to decide. We had it narrowed down to a few favorites and wanted to see which one fit her best. Naming your child is supposed to be fun. Again, this is not how I imagined it. We decide on Trinity Layne Wons. Trinity had been our front runner all through the pregnancy, and Layne was my middle name that I gave up when I got married. She shares our last name.
We then learn that we will unfortunately receive her death certificate before we get her birth certificate, another irritating detail. This would become more upsetting several weeks later when we take her death certificate to a government building, have them issue her birth certificate and watch them pound the red stamp “DECEASED” on it. Another crushing moment.
The hospital provided us with a small keepsake box with handprints, footprints, and a lock of hair. She had dark curly hair like daddy. These I will cherish, but they are not enough. I want all of her! It feels like a lame consolation prize. You can’t have the new car, but here are some tire tracks, and a sample of the leather interior.
The sound of all the crying newborns is unbearable, when your newborn never made a sound. The hospital staff is compassionate enough to make arrangements for us to move to a different floor. Someone suggests that we should consider staying there to help us accept our new reality. Absolutely not. We are acutely aware of our situation, and do not need to be reminded. Everyone grieves differently and perhaps that would be the right choice for others, but not us.
A KEY MOMENT WITH GOD:
Now that we are settled for the night in a bigger, quieter room, I am looking forward to a long, hot shower. At last I am alone, alone with God. I don’t seem to know what I am truly thinking or feeling unless I am totally alone. Tears come again, and I want to ask God why. Why me? Why did He take her? It feels surreal like a scene out of a soap opera. People always cry and ask why. I feel stupid asking why though. What good is it asking that? It happened. There is nothing that can be done to reverse it. So “why” doesn’t seem to matter. It doesn’t appear to be anyone’s fault. There is no one to blame. I suppose a lot of people, my husband included, would be angry with God if no fingers could be pointed at people. I can’t explain it, but I am not angry. Maybe I don’t have enough energy to be angry. I just tell God that He has to do something good. We’ve all heard inspirational stories where good things come out of tragedy. That is my desperate plea and my prayer. Something good must come from this or else I won’t be able to take it. I can’t accept that she died for nothing. My mind cannot rationalize senselessness.
I would later run across a very reassuring Bible verse that would become my mantra. “And we know that all things work together for good…” Romans 8:28.
THE END OF THAT DAY:
After work hours, more friends arrive. The room is dim and quiet, full of comfort. We have a really nice visit. I am feeling a little more at peace, still exhausted and heavy with grief, but the initial shock has passed. I am starting to realize I also have the physical recovery to get through. It’s good to be out of bed, but I am moving slowly. What about post partum depression? Is that a given for me now? This is going to be really hard for a really long time.
Just before midnight my mom arrives. Julia picked her up from the airport and brought her to the hospital. She also went as far as to fill our fridge and freezer with food. We are dumbfounded at our incredible friends. How do they know what to do? We don’t feel worthy. I don’t think I would know how to be as supportive. Perhaps I will after all this.
My mom is also a very emotional person, and I knew she would feel all this deeply. I am glad she is there. We haven’t seen each other in months since we live on opposite coasts, and this is not how we expected our next visit to be. She gives me a big hug, some sympathetic words and tears. She falls into bed, and Mom, Richard, and I escape into sleep. We have survived the longest and worst day.