This morning though seemed strangely familiar. I was taken back to a year before and without warning, the tears began to flood my eyes. I remembered lying in the hospital bed and had been telling my night nurse that I was having some pains. When they put the baby monitors on me, they didn’t get serious contractions so she gave me an Ambien and told me to go to sleep. My husband had surprised me with a visit as he wasn’t supposed to be there this particular night due to his late law school night class. The nurse even suggested that he go home and get some sleep.
All of a sudden, I was dreaming of excruciating pain and screams coming from somewhere and realized…it was me! I opened my eyes and for some reason began counting…there were 7 nurses all around me and the one closest to me was telling me that the doctor needed to check me. I was in so much pain, I think. The funny thing is that I believe God makes you forget exactly how the pain felt. Otherwise, I don’t think women would give birth more than once. I can only remember that I was screaming repeatedly about how much it hurt. I think in my mind, I was hoping they would just give me some extreme pain medicine and I would go back to sleep. My babies were not supposed to be born this day. I still had over 8 weeks to go!
After the doctor checked me and said I was fully dilated, they began rolling me down the hall. I vaguely remember a nurse asking me where my cell phone was so they could call my husband and in the midst of my screams, stabbing my finger at #2 on my button as this was his speed dial #. It was all kind of blurry but I remember how fast the pain came and went and then I heard the doctor say, “take her to L&D. We are going to have to take one vaginal and one Caesarean”. What!!!! Oh dear Lord! Apparently, Eli was ready to come out naturally as he had made a comfortable spot resting on top of my cervix while Joey was transverse. As they started to turn my bed, she changed her mind and ordered me to be taken straight to the OR.
There was a nurse by my head who suddenly reminded me that I was still screaming, which I hadn’t noticed and that the screaming was causing one baby (Eli) to start pushing through. I replied by telling her, “oh I didn’t know, I didn’t get to attend the childbirth class! What do I do?!?!” She helped me to breathe and slow down my anxiety a little bit.
In no time at all, we were in the operating room and a sweet and very short anesthesiologist came to my head and said that they were going to put an epidural in my back as it would be best for me and the babies. Doing my best, I began turning slightly and began frantically repeating, “go ahead, go, I’m ready…” But he continued with his explanation of side effects and reasons why he felt this was best for me. I simply kept repeating my catch phrase while turning my body slightly, “go ahead, no really, let's go, I’m ready…”.
The nurses chatted about lifting me over to the surgery table and I began apologizing for being so heavy. They didn’t seem concerned and finally told me I was going to have to bend in half for the epidural. I really don’t know how they got me into the position I ended up being in as I not only had this huge baby bump as a deterrent but I have always struggled with flexibility when it came to bending forward. But somehow, here I was, bent over almost completely in half and as I lay there enduring the intense pain that I can now barely remember or describe, this needle that I had been warned about went into my back and I thought, “that was nothing”. I realized I was thinking out loud and when the meds started,
Suddenly there was a sheet in front of my face and the anesthesiologist was standing next to my head. I asked about my husband and they said he was on his way. And then I heard it...the softest most beautiful baby cry. It was Joey. I asked the doctor, “is that my baby?” He turned to me and said ever so gently, “yes it is”. A nurse to my left shouted, “Momma, look over here” and sweet Joey was whisked by looking so tiny and very purple. He seemed like a million miles away.
In what seemed like hours, I heard another nurse shout, “Momma, look over here”, and sweet angel Eli was also whisked by, also so tiny and very purple. I felt so useless and such joy all at once. I didn’t get to hold them. This was not the movie version I had pictured for myself where they place the baby on your chest and he opens his eyes and looks at you for the first time. My babies couldn’t even open their eyes yet, I would learn later.
My husband came in at that moment. He missed it. And I knew he would be so sad about missing it. He came and took the place of the anesthesiologist and from what I was told, I began chattering to him, while he stood and watched the doctor clean and rearrange my internal organs. His expression was one of awe and disgust combined with a weak attempt at looking at me warmly with reassurance. He told me later that I awarded everyone in the surgery room “merits” for doing such a great job (something related to my teaching job) and that when they lifted and moved me off the surgery table, I shouted “weeeeeeeee….” to which they all giggled. I don’t remember this at all. Drugs.
The next thing I know, I was alone. I had drifted asleep and was in a recovery area and Thomas was gone, they had taken him with the babies to the NICU. I didn’t know this and I just felt scared and so lonely. I didn’t even have my babies in my tummy anymore. There was a nurse next to me and she said my husband would be back soon.
When he returned, I was drifting in and out of consciousness but I do remember when they brought my babies to me…one at a time. They were each in their little own travelling isolet. They were so tiny and I was scared to touch them. The nurse had to tell me that it was ok before I even dared to reach out. It seemed like they were so far away, as if barely within reach and I wondered why the nurse wouldn’t bring them closer. I think in reality, my arm was heavy and tired and I couldn’t extend it fully. So an hour after they were born, I was allowed to “touch” each of my babies. My sweet angels who were not even supposed to be here yet…Joey born at 1:50AM weighing 1 pound 10 ounces and Eli, born at 1:52AM weighing 1 pound 7 ounces.
They took them from me very quickly.
Eventually I was taken to a room, a shared room with another patient. I was terrified because I heard the other woman talking as she had just given birth also. I told Thomas I had to get a different room. I knew they were going to bring her baby to her soon and I knew they were NOT going to bring me my babies. Thomas was very persistent and kept leaving the room to explain this to the nurses. Sure enough, it happened. They brought the baby to the other woman. When I burst into tears, she and her husband began talking angrily in a foreign language. Apparently, I was interrupting their happiness and they also wanted their own room. I can’t say that I blamed them…but what else could I do? My heart was broken.
They finally came and took me to a private room and it was almost 6AM. I desperately wanted to go see my babies, I needed to see them…but no one seemed to understand how that was far more important that getting any sleep. I was told that I had to wait until the doctor came to see me, which could very well be anytime between now and Noon. I wasn’t sleeping, I was frantic. It was so unfair. And to my surprise, the doctor arrived right at 6AM and was so kind and sad for me. As soon as I asked if I could go see my babies, he got this shocked look on his face and looked at the nurse and said somewhat angrily, “what?!? Take this new mommy to see her babies! Of course! You go see your babies, right away!” I began crying at his kindness, at his understanding.
And so we were off to the NICU, to begin one of the craziest roller coaster rides I have ever been on, one that doesn’t quite seem to be ending, one that many people have followed and encouraged me through. I have wanted to write this down for a long time and today, the day of their first birthday, February 4, 2010, it all became more vivid, as if it had just happened.
So on this morning, I lay here, thinking of that day, thinking of Eli. I remember holding him, singing to him, his eyes, his skin, everything. It seems as if he was just with me yesterday. I had this insatiable urge to get up and drive to the hospital as I had every day. It’s still so fresh.
I began to weep.
Thomas stirred and then sat up and held me. He knew. It was going to be a hard day for him as well.
We decided to plant a tree for Eli. I picked a Bradford flowering Pear Tree and Thomas planted it that night. I also got an ornament to hang on the tree. The three of us hung Eli’s ornament and huddled in the cold night on this, their first birthday. I felt a little numb at first and then I began to loosen up and let myself soak in the memories I had for my baby boy who passed away on June 22, 2009. He was known by many from hospital staff to family and friends to strangers all over the world. And yet, few had ever met him. He was a fighter, like Joey, who’s little body just couldn’t take much more. Only when I finally told that sweet angel boy that it was ok, that he could let go, did he ever even stop fighting. I know he did it all for me, his Mommy, because I asked him too. Little did I know, God had plans from the beginning to have Eli by his side and only allowed his physical self to be with us for 139 days. When I think about that, I do feel blessed as Eli was so special, and I got 139 days of his life on earth to love on him, pray for him, talk to him, hold him, sing to him, read to him, teach him things, to be his Mommy...and I got such a punkin full of love and joy and I truly believed he impacted so many people.
My support group (MEND – Mothers Enduring Neonatal Death) sent a single white rose in remembrance of Eli’s birthday and I wept at the idea of the compassion and understanding of that gesture. It was such a beautiful idea and I treasure that rose. It sits next to Eli's Christmas tree (that I haven't had the heart to put away) and next to his cake (returned to its pachaging and sealed), all on top of his trunk of memories.
We celebrated Joey’s birthday that night after we planted Joey’s tree and he was such sweetness. He laughed and played in his cake and was the joy of our life, as usual. I don’t know what I would do without that sweet boy and I love and adore him more than I could have ever imagined.
So this day of their first birthday was bittersweet but I survived it and look forward to many more. Healing does happen…and faith returns…and love and grace is unending. Thank you God for that!
Mommy, Daddy and Joey
Joey gets a Braille birthday card from one of his visual therapist
Nana loves on Joey on his 1st birthday
Joey says, "oooohhh, what's this?"
Joey likes his beaded abacus
Joey thinks birthdays are pretty fun!
What's up Daddy?
Joey loves his new music/sound toys!
Joey and Eli's birthday cakes
Joey enjoys and destroys his birthday cake
Happy Birthday Joey!