This post is part of the Support Stories blog round robin started by Karen Caterson of Square-Peg People. You can read about the origin of the idea here, and find links to the other stories.
The night Benjamin died Ada and I were staying with friends. Steve was on the road, working, and I was on bed rest, unable to do more than move gingerly from the bed to the couch and back to the bed. I’d had a Reiki treatment a few days before and my bleeding had slowed, as it always did afterward, but I was in immense pain. At the time I thought it was a ligament strain. In reality it was the placenta slowly pulling away from the uterine wall, cutting off Benjamin’s lifeline.
I woke from a fitful sleep around midnight to use the restroom. As I sat back down in bed, next to my daughter, I could tell something was seriously wrong. I went back to the bathroom and filled the toilet with blood again and again.
When I’d gone in to the emergency room the week before, my doctor sat at the edge of my bed and said, “If the bleeding doesn’t stop, your life is on the line.” Shaken, I ran downstairs to find Tom still working at his computer. I told him I needed to go to the hospital. He ran to tell his wife and I went back upstairs to grab what I could put my hands on in the dark. Looking at my sleeping daughter with tears in my eyes I promised her I’d come back, willing it to be true.
I debated calling 911 but decided that at 1 am, Tom could get me there fast enough. I remember the blurred white of the lines against black pavement as I called labor and delivery to tell them I was on my way. I called my husband in Dallas and asked him to come home.
As Tom wheeled me through the emergency room doors and up to the second floor, the security guard smiled and congratulated me. I guess he was used to ashen faced, terrified women being pushed past him, not knowing exactly what lay ahead. Only I wasn’t with my husband and I wasn’t supposed to be there. Not yet.
After making sure I was settled, Tom went home to get sleep. I was left alone, an IV in my arm, my eyes avoiding the unplugged fetal heart monitor and my mind trying to ignore the pain that began to come every 3 minutes, as though someone was scraping the inside of my uterus with a cheese grater.
The doctor on call was calm. She thought my body was going to be able to stop the bleeding and wasn’t terribly worried that we couldn’t find a heartbeat. Moments after she left, the night nurse, an Irish woman whose negativity I’d experienced the week before, presented me with the paperwork for emergency surgery. Just in case.
Then I was alone again. Waiting for my doctor to come in on his rounds. Waiting for the day nurses who had become my friends in previous visits. Waiting for my husband to tell me which flight he was on.
I talked with Benjamin. I prayed. I cried. I let go. I told him he could leave if he wasn’t meant to be here. I told him I loved him but I would be okay. The only thing I couldn’t let go of was my will to live, to go home to my daughter, to kiss my husband again. I knew the bleeding was serious and I wasn’t ready to die.
I closed my eyes and imagined the room filled with golden light. I felt a beam of love envelope me from above, and the weight of a gentle, invisible hand on my shoulder. I turned inward and found peace.
The day nurse who’d taken care of me the week before came in to sit with me even though I wasn’t her patient. She timed my contractions and looked at me with warm, sad eyes. My doctor came in, hopeful that my body was controlling the blood loss. He left and my body gave me a clear no. As my new nurse walked through the door, I told her I was bleeding again. She checked the pad underneath me and I watched her face change. The room became a hurricane of activity and at its eye my doctor stood over me, telling me it was time.
Steve was on the plane so I called my parents, thousands of miles away. They told me later that they put the phone down and held each other, so far from their daughter and only grandson. I called the friends who were taking care of us. Tom offered to come back. I told them no, I was fine. Strangely, I didn’t mind being alone. It’s not what I would have chosen, but I was no longer scared.
They prepped me for blood transfusions in both arms and wheeled me into the operating room. I was calm, managing to crack a joke with the cocky young anesthesiologist who didn’t believe he hadn’t numbed me properly until I flinched when he put the needle in my spine. I knew what to expect in a sense, since I’d had to deliver Ada surgically. But this time instead of a loud, “It’s a girl, and she’s beautiful!” the nurse quietly came over and told me there were no signs of life.
Steve arrived several hours later and together we held our son for the first and last time. I had three hours with his little body. Three hours to try to memorize his perfect tiny hands and feet and the way his nose looked like mine. And though I was with my husband, and friends soon followed, I knew that the internal chasm I had to cross belonged to me. After all, I was his mother and he was my child.
I cried a little just now, as I wrote this story, remembering how big and painful and frightening it was. And then I smiled at the gift it gave me – the gift of being on my own and learning that I will always be there for myself. And that there is no such thing as alone.