Reverb10. December 3.
Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (from Ali Edwards, Memory Keeping Idea Books).
The moment that drifted into my consciousness as I read this, the moment that I felt most alive was also the moment I was closest to death. It was a little after 8:30 am on Thursday July 29th. I had been at the hospital since 1:30 or so, wide awake, wondering who would be right, the doctor on call who thought my bleeding would clot again, or the Irish night nurse who’d already had me sign the paperwork for emergency surgery with the same shake of her head I’d seen a week and a half prior. My doctor had come in on his morning rounds, then left again. The wonderful day nurse who had taken care of me the previous visit had gone on to see her patients since her request to be with me had been denied. I was alone and felt the gush of warmth between my legs. They had taken away Benjamin’s heartbeat monitor hours earlier after struggling to find a beat that wasn’t mine. It’s likely he was already gone. I had moved from worry to peace, fear to acceptance in the early morning hours. I wanted my son to live but handed the decision to the Divine. The only hope I wasn’t giving up on was coming out of this alive.
I was lying on my back, the strange contractions coming regularly, feeling as though a vegetable peeler was taking away layers of my uterus, just behind my old Cesarean scar. The nurse returned, brown hair and tanned skin framing a warm smile and concerned eyes. I told her. She looked. I saw her face before she spun and walked out of the room. Suddenly where there had been stillness there was action. My doctor returned. My gown was lifted, the blue and white chux pad stained bright red exposed to the harsh hospital lights. He reached inside me once, twice, three times. I arched and pushed away, gasping in shock and pain. He apologized, I’m sorry I have to clear the clots, you’re full of clots, I’m almost done. He stood up, this kind, seasoned man who had once said in his heart of hearts he believed my pregnancy would be fine; this man who is disliked by many for his lack of bedside manner but who is one of the finest ob/gyn’s in town; he stood up, looked down at me and said, I don’t get nervous easily. I’m getting nervous. I nodded, understanding my life was on the line. Do what you need to do, I trust you.
I picked up the phone to call my parents back, having spoken with them only minutes before letting them know where I was. I’m going into surgery. Steve’s on an airplane coming home. I love you. I’ll call you later.
They were shaving me, a catheter was going in, my other hand was prepped in case one line wasn’t enough for blood transfusions. I heard voices, felt the whirlwind of activity that goes along with a life in danger – two lives, though at 23 weeks, no one had much hope of my baby surviving more than a few hours.
I called the friends who were taking care of Ada, who had been taking care of me. They offered company. I declined. I felt at peace, taken care of, loved. I had been feeling a hand on my left shoulder and the presence of angels all morning. Though no friend or family member was in the room, I was far from alone.
They wheeled me down the hall and into surgery. My doctor was on the phone with the specialist I had seen the previous week, trying to find out if there was any reason to believe Benjamin was big enough, strong enough, to survive. They moved me to the operating table and sat me up for the spinal. I remember cracking a joke just before the needle went into my spine. I flinched. The cocky young anesthesiologist hadn’t numbed the area well enough. He seemed shocked at his mistake. I remember everyone looking young and attractive, despite their shower cap headgear, face masks and sterile, monochromatic outfits. My doctor pushed open the door, still in his street clothes. I remember thinking, Wait a minute, aren’t you operating on me? Now? He told me that at 23 weeks gestation, the NICU wouldn’t get involved unless the mother asked them to do everything in their power to save her child. I smiled sadly and shook my head. Steve and I had talked about this after our last visit. 23 weeks was too young. My heart broke for the thousandth time.
The rest is a blur of white and blue, voices talking to me and to each other, the familiar tugging as they cut me open and began the process of removing my child. I left my body and went to my daughter, staying with her in my mind? spirit? until Carmen came to my side. He was stillborn. There were no signs of life.
They closed me up. Moved me to recovery. In that moment, everything had shifted and I began the process of healing my body and mourning my child.