Chapter 22. Birth & Death Announcement

Chapter 22. Birth & Death Announcement

The lab tech gone, I lay on my back, wondering again, “What now?” This was an unprecedented circumstance, understandably unaddressed in our pre-natal classes or the books I’d optimistically devoured throughout my pregnancy.

On the small dresser beside my bed I saw a New Baby Package, instructions on nursing, bathing, taking baby’s temperature, and all the rest. It must have been dropped off sometime the day before by a volunteer, ready for the new mother.

Taking the papers and a pen, I rolled onto my no-longer pregnant belly, tucked the pillow under my chest, turned the pages to their blank side, and began to write.

“Proud parents, Richard and Roberta Junior and daughter Andrea would like to announce the birth of their beautiful daughter and sister, Wendy Lorraine, born April 25, 1985 at 3:15 p.m., weighing 7 lbs., 15 oz.

            Wendy was especially precious because her Heavenly Father meant for her to live on earth for just a short time. She was here long enough to meet most of her immediate family and to spend several hours in her mother’s and father’s arms, being loved and rocked and spoken to, before her undeveloped lungs made it possible for her to slip gently back to her Heavenly Father thirty-seven hours after her birth.

            As Wendy’s parents, we are proud to have been the ones chosen to bring her into this world, and want you to know that we rejoice at her birth and her life. Wendy was a beautiful spirit and a strong fighter who permanently touched and changed our lives. We shall cherish her memory always.”

A few days later, after I was home, I wrote my announcement on good paper and sent Rick to make photocopies. Prior to Wendy’s birth, we’d addressed envelopes, ready to send out happy little, “Meet the new baby” cards. Now the cards were discarded and replaced by our birth and death announcement. It seemed the best way to get our message out.

When a Baby Dies

Join me next week for Ch. 23  Parenting Assessment
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Chapter 21. Being Awakened

Chapter 21. Being Awakened

When we first awaken from a deep sleep, there is often a blissful gap between consciousness and engagement. Whatever has accompanied us into our nocturnal world remains there for a brief, elusive moment and we are aware only that we are awake.

“Good morning, Mrs. Junior.”

A young lab tech stood beside my bed. I noticed the clock. 7:07 a.m. In her hand was a tray of tubes and syringes, ready for a routine blood collection. My eyes took in the hospital room and registered her pleasant expression.

The muscles in my face began to smile in response, and suddenly awareness ambushed my spirit. Tears welled and immediately spilled. Grief, an independent entity, reared up, flooded in and filled the vacuum in my formerly sleep-protected brain.

Emotion surged through me, but another moment had to pass before my mind could attach the wave of sorrow to knowledge.

Once knowledge came, it remained.

Our Wendy-baby had died.

Concern and confusion registered on the lab technician’s face as I broke into sobs. Did she think she’d done something wrong?

I didn’t want her to feel badly. This wasn’t her fault.

“It’s okay,” I said stupidly. “It’s just that our baby died a few hours ago. I’m alright.”

In the midst of my tears, I noted the young woman’s discomfort. Maybe this was a first for the lab tech. Maybe she was upset no one had warned her. Maybe she wanted to turn and run. Whatever her response, I came to an understanding within myself. This lesson was hers to process. It was not my job to make others feel okay. I carefully gathered this insight and tucked it into my heart.

The blood sample still to be taken, she tied off my arm with a rubber tourniquet and drew the needed blood as my tears silently soaked an already damp pillow. With my free arm, I reached for a hospital-issued tissue and scrubbed at my face.

My mind wandered in the disjointed way a mind sometimes does.

When you cry, your nose runs. When your nose runs, you use numerous tissues to stem the flow.

The more I wiped, the more my face hurt. Why did it hurt? Oh. Tissues are paper, paper made from wood fibre. Revelation! I was scrubbing my damp, salt-irritated skin with wood shavings.

This would not do. I needed something soft.

My mind slipped back to childhood admonitions. “Take a hankie with you in case your nose begins to run.”

I wondered, Who do I know who might still have a cotton hanky? Of course. My mother, Wendy’s grandma. I’ll call and ask for hankies to sooth the ravages of grief resulting from the death of her granddaughter.

Strange how thoughts, images, yesterdays and todays weave together.

The lab tech bravely made eye contact and gave a gentle nod, before leaving. I was thankful she didn’t try to speak what couldn’t be said, putting me into the position of making a polite response. I wiped my face again. So sore. I found a tube and applied some hospital cream.

It stung.

Fitting.

Dead. I practised the knowledge.

Wendy is dead. A defect undetected until birth, lungs undeveloped, she could not survive.

Our Wendy-baby is dead.

But then, unexpected, a wash of blessing filled me.

The pregnancy itself was wonderful. Wendy had been wanted, loved, safe and healthy, strong and secure within me for nine glorious months. She heard my songs. She heard her father’s voice. She heard her big sister’s giggles, felt her bumps and cuddles. She saw light filtering through her safe home in my womb, and was warm in the darkness of her mother’s sleep.

My grief was profound, but that grief was for those of us left empty-armed. It was not for Wendy.

A thought drifted by. I caught it. Turned it around. Caressed it.

Maybe our Wendy’s spirit was so perfect, she didn’t need a lifetime of lessons before she went to be with God. If that was true, it meant we were chosen to be the parents of a pure spirit.

Fanciful? Perhaps. But I liked it. I would hold my thought and keep it close as the days of grief ebbed and flowed. Time had been our enemy as we’d sat by her while her body slowly succumbed, but now I found it to be a friend as well. Time would move us slowly, steadfastly away from the heightened emotion of the event. Time would allow us to take the best of our Wendy into the future, but leave the hurt behind.

 

when-the-bough-breaks-022

Join me next week for Ch. 22. Birth & Death Announcement
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Chapter 20. Permission to Leave

Chapter 20. Permission to Leave

We held our baby.

I remember looking at the clock. It was now 4:00 a.m. Enough, I thought. The word filled my being. Enough!

I stroked the cheek of this cherished, wanted child, and in my heart, I let her go.

“We love you, Wendy,” I told her. “But you don’t have to keep fighting. You can go back to your Heavenly Father. We understand.”

Rick, his head close to mine, heard my words and nodded.

Immediately the monitor gauges began to sag, as though they had been the ones battling to live, but now could rest. Heart rate slowed. Blood pressure dropped. Oxygen levels crept down, down, down.

Twenty minutes later, Wendy was gone. All was quiet. Our nurse had been watching, ready. With a stethoscope she confirmed what we knew.

She took our Wendy-baby from my arms and laid her again in the bassinet.

“Come with me,” she said. “We’ll remove the tubes and then I’ll bring her to you.”

So we left our baby’s body, and followed this kind person across the NICU. There she showed us to a room that was little more than a large closet tucked behind a door we hadn’t noticed before. “Parents Room” the sign said.

Inside, a love-seat and a hard-backed chair filled the small area. I wondered, was it designed for this, or had it really been a closet at some point?

Still, it was sufficient. Two parents and a baby don’t take up much space.

The Parents’ Room is a place where the family of the sickest infants are directed for privacy, where they’ll have difficult, life-changing conversations with doctors.

It’s also a place for the parents of the recently deceased to retreat, to finally hold their childdead now, but their child nonetheless.

By the time they brought Wendy to us, her skin was cold. Cold and white. But, for the first time we saw her without a nose tube anchored by thick white tape to her tiny pug nose. We saw her face, whole and complete. We drank in the appearance of our little daughter, and we loved whom we had lost.

Time passed.

For us, it wasn’t long before we no longer needed to hold her body. She was firmly attached to my heart, my soul, and would never leave. I was ready to give the shell back to whatever procedures must now be followed. I asked Rick, and he concurred. Together we stood, the swaddled body still in my arms. We looked at each other. What now?

It occurred to me that there is no manual for this.

Rick opened the door and looked out into the NICU where the sickest of babies were still alive. He stood quietly, not wanting to draw a busy nurse away from a living child. Eventually one of the staff noticed, came, and gently took the bundle from my arms.

5:00 a.m. Rick went home to bed. I went back to my room in the maternity ward.

He slept. I slept.

Death of a Baby

Join me next week for Ch. 21.  Being Awakened
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Chapter 19. Open Eyes

Chapter 19. Open Eyes

Experiencing a gradual awareness that Wendy would not survive worked for us. Someone else might have wanted the facts spelled out. Another family might have wanted to seek a second opinion.

Did we give up too easily? Should we have gathered a prayer vigil together? Called other hospitals? Sought another specialist? Looking back, our only plan of action was no action at all.

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong decision in such situations. The family members need to do what they are able to do, what they feel compelled to do. That becomes what’s right.

It was now 3:00 a.m.. The needles on each dial over Wendy’s bassinet hovered near the red zone as I watched them register this tiny body’s battle.

Part of me wanted to go back to my room until Rick got there so I wouldn’t be alone, but I didn’t. Who knew what ‘it’s time’ meant?

My solitary vigil was brief. We didn’t live far from the hospital. I thanked God for that.

Rick arrived, scrubbed and gowned himself, and now we sat together.

We couldn’t help but know that Wendy was going to leave us. Still, we hadn’t spoken this out loud, and we didn’t now. The best we could do was to acknowledge that we should be with our baby in the middle of the night, for no other reason than it was time.

Two nurses were now assigned to our little one. They removed the tall stools and replaced them with chairs. Side by side, in the quiet bright light of the NICU, we sat, a silent duo, making no effort to think, choose, or decide. We were there. That was all.

“We’re going to adjust things so you can hold your baby,” one nurse said. It wasn’t a question. It was a fact.

Together our nurses carefully arranged the tubes and wires and connections, wrapped our Wendy-baby in a receiving blanket, and placed her in my arms. For the next hour her daddy and I took turns holding her, talking to her, loving her, humming lullabies, and just … looking.

One nurse lingered close by, near enough to monitor, but not intrude.

Around 3:30 a.m., something changed. Rick noticed it first.

“Her eyes,” he whispered. “Look at her eyes.”

Wendy’s eyelids were no longer shut. Half open, we saw dark orbs peering out from under her lashes.

“Excuse me?” Rick called, hesitantly. “Her eyes are open. Is that okay?”

“They’re open?” The nurse checked, as though Rick must be mistaken, but he wasn’t. She took Wendy’s chart and gave it a glance. “She’s on a powerful relaxant. I don’t know why that is.”

“Is it okay?” I asked. “Is she comfortable?”

“Yes, Mrs. Junior. I’m sure she is.”

So now, for the first time, our Wendy was seeing us and we were seeing her. Eye contact. A miracle. A gift from God before he took her home.

 

Join me next week for Chapter 20. Permission to Leave

Death of a Baby

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Chapter 18. Last Call

Chapter 18. Last Call

By evening, Rick and I were exhausted. While both of us had ostensibly slept the night before, the façade was quickly crumbling. We had been without real sleep for a few days now. We knew we had to rest.

Around 9:00 p.m. I told Rick he should go now and relieve Meredith who’d been allowed to take the day off school to babysit our healthy child. How grateful we were to Meredith’s mother for making our circumstance a priority over a day of school, so 22 month old Andrea could be in her own home, with someone she knew.

Rick left for home and bed. I felt released as well. I left our Wendy with her night nurse and went to my room a few corridors away to sleep.

At 2:00 a.m. I felt a touch, heard a voice.

“You might want to call your husband now,” a shadow softly spoke into the dark, into my sleep, “and come to be with your baby.”

In the dark, I wrapped myself in a blue hospital housecoat, the only thing that would fit over my large post-pregnancy body. I stood quietly for a few moments, not thinking, not praying, not preparing. I simply stood and breathed.

Then, one big breath and my feet began to move.

Leaving the cocoon of my quiet room, I entered the garishly lit hall, blinking myself back into reality.

I called from the patient phone by the nursing station.

Asleep, and without his hearing aids on, Rick wouldn’t hear a phone ring, so we had pre-arranged that if necessary, I would call Meredith’s home and speak to her mother. I wondered what our 14 year old babysitter thought, creeping out of her home at 2 a.m. and making her way to our house next door.

I pictured her using the key we’d given her to let herself in through the back door. She would, as instructed, tip-toe past Andrea’s room, go down the hall, reach in and turn on the bedroom light to wake Rick.

He’d dress, and then give Meredith a blanket and pillow.

I imagined Meredith settling herself on the couch as our little Andrea slept through the unfolding story of a baby sister she would never meet.

And Rick would drive through the empty Edmonton streets on that warm spring night, knowing he was going to say good-bye.

 

Join me next week for Chapter 19. Open Eyes

Death of a Baby

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