While in my graduate program, I spent a semester as an intern in the NICU of a local children’s hospital.
I have no medical background. My position was strictly developmental.
I watched the doctors and nurses assess and care for the tiniest of infants.
I wrote a lengthy paper about the care of such infants. I wondered in my paper if it was worth it. Why would a parent put their child through all of that? If they truly loved them, wouldn’t they just let them go? No tubes, no needles, no x-rays, no loud noises and bright lights. Perhaps the gestational age at which an infant is considered viable should be changed.
8 years ago today I became one of those parents.
My world turned upside down when the doctor came in to check on me because I kept telling the nurses that I just needed to go to the bathroom.
I’d been on bed rest in the hospital for several days. I was started on brethene immediately after being admitted. It didn’t work. I was moved to magnesium sulfate within a day or two of being admitted.
I was spotting. I was cramping. I was 23 weeks pregnant with 2 sweet boys and a beautiful little girl.
The doctor checked me. I was dilated and there was a sac bulging out of my uterus. I was going to deliver my babies.
I was rushed to the OR – the doctors were unsure if an emergency c-section would have to be performed. There were doctors and nurses for me. There were doctors and nurses for each of my babies. There were incubators for each of my babies. The lights were bright. My OB/GYN spoke to me in the softest voice and told me it was time to push.
My baby girl was born first followed by one of her brothers only moments later. He had his arm wrapped around her as she was delivered. Contractions stopped with a baby still inside. Steroids were given to help his lungs. Prayers were said that this was over, that he would grow for weeks and months inside me and be delivered a healthy baby.
The question was asked – the question I thought parents should never answer the way that I did that morning. Did I want my babies to be saved? Yes! Yes I wanted all life saving measures to be attempted.
My daughter was intubated. Her color was good. Her APGARs were great. She was thriving. She was taken to the NICU – wheeled by me so that I could see her.
My son was small. Too small. Only 11oz. There were no tubes small enough to save him. No way to get him nutrition or air. He was wrapped in a blanket and the tiniest of hats placed on his head. He was badly bruised from wrapping himself around his sister. He looked just like my Papa. He was beautiful. We held him. We cried and we smiled. It was so very surreal to feel such joy and such devastation all at the same time. We held him as he took his final breaths. We kissed him and held him close and said goodbye.
In those moments the lights and sounds of the OR ceased to exist. There was only the 3 of us. He was alive for only minutes but melted our hearts for eternity.
My daughter continued to thrive. The doctors warned me that she was in the “honeymoon” period. Most babies do well in their first 24 hours but can crash quickly. We prayed and hoped for her good health and survival. I sent my honey and family to visit her often. I was stuck in bed with her brother, hoping to keep him healthy and safe for as long as possible. I needed her to know that I was there for her even though I couldn’t see her.
In the early hours of 7/1 the contractions started again. Once again I was rushed to the same OR. Once again there were doctors and nurses for me. Once again there were doctors and nurses for him. Only for him this time. He was delivered quickly. He was intubated. He was pink. He was thriving.
I was cleaned up and my bed was wheeled back to my room. When I arrived, a nurse was waiting with a wheelchair. The honeymoon was over. There was something wrong with my daughter.
Somehow I got from my bed to the wheelchair. I have no memory of that transfer. I was transported to the NICU in rapid time. There were nurses and a doctor working on my baby girl. My 1lb 4oz baby girl. She wasn’t breathing. Her heart had stopped beating. The medical staff was administering CPR. Only 1 finger for chest compressions – she was too tiny for 2. Her body was lifeless. I asked them to stop. They had been working on her for 20 minutes. I couldn’t ask them to keep going. She would have no quality of life, no brain function. The nurse stopped squeezing breaths into her body through the small ambu bag. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and simply said thank you. She didn’t want my daughter to suffer but was willing to do whatever I wanted as a mother. I wanted my daughter to know peace.
All tubes were removed. She was handed to us wrapped in a blanket. We held her. I rocked her and sang to her. We cried and we smiled. That same surreal feeling washing over us all over again. She took her last breaths. We kissed her. We said goodbye. She had joined her brother in heaven.
One little man remained. He was struggling. X-rays were done. He had blood in his lungs. He was essentially drowning. There was nothing to be done.
We watched as his tubes were removed. He was wrapped in a blanket and handed to us. We held him. We hugged him. He took his last breaths. We kissed him and said goodbye. The 3 were together once again. As it should be.
Months later I would come across the paper I had written. I would read the words I had so carefully typed. I would cry tears beyond belief at how naive I was when I wrote those words. I would cry at the wonder of how I could believe that a life was not worth saving.
I would cry at the lessons I learned of the powerful love and strength that comes with being a parent.