The Birth and Triumph of Madeline Alice

The early daysTwo mornings after Madeline was born, I was in a hospital room on the general patient floor, shivering. I'd checked out against medical advice the night before because my husband called to say our baby was dying. I'd only seen her for a second, and I couldn't let her pass without me. She stabilized after I arrived at the hospital she'd been transferred to (the one I'd delivered at didn't have the high-level NICU she required), and it was only then I let myself feel the physical pain that came with an emergency c-section after ten weeks of bed rest. I had to go back to the hospital for pain management and observation. Unfortunately, for reasons still unknown to me, I couldn't return to the postpartum wing.

The nurses on the general level were not prepared for a woman in my condition. When I buzzed for pain medicine, it took them 45 minutes to respond. A nun who came to bless me (it's a Catholic hospital) got more than she bargained for when I burst into tears and asked her to pray for my baby. Even if I hadn't gotten the call, I knew I couldn't stay on that floor any longer.

I was forcing myself to walk, so I could start the healing process and be well enough to go to Madeline's hospital. My mom, who was with me, had left my room to find a nurse about those pain meds. My cell phone rang, and it was Mike:

Heather. When are you coming? The doctors said Madeline isn't going to make it. Babies with her problems rarely come back. Are you coming?

I hung up with him and said to the emptiness, today is the day my baby dies...soon I will no longer be a mother. I decided she would be buried with my grandmother, her namesake. I finalized her funeral in those moments I was alone, the moments that felt like hours.

My OB discharged me, and as I stumbled past her she said, "if you don't need to breast feed, bind your chest and use ice packs." Her words were ice cold, cutting through me. So thoughtless and uncaring, but they made me feel when I had been so numb.

My memory of the four mile car ride to the hospital is lost, but I remember arriving. My mom had to drop me off to park her car, so I had to make my way to the NICU alone. It was the most I'd walked in ten weeks, but I was determined to ignore the pulling of my incision and the bleeding in my uterus. I brushed by my in-laws and walked right into the NICU to my daughter's isolette. I stood next to my husband and took his hand. I didn't expect to see my little daughter alive. I felt heavy. I wondered if I would sob.

She didn't look tiny. Her body was swollen from the medications pumped into her bloodstream through what remained of her umbilical cord. I stared at her cord and cursed my body for failing her. I prayed my husband would forgive me.

The nurses and doctors spoke to me, but all I could hear was the hum of the high frequency oscillator giving her 500 breaths per minute, and the alarms. The alarms that meant she was dying. I looked around, and all I saw were faces. All looking at us, but none making eye contact. They all knew she was going to die. The other parents were told leave the NICU. Never a good sign.

The night before, I'd been told not to speak to Madeline because preemies can't handle too much stimulus. That morning, I didn't care. I started whispering to her, even though I was far away.

Mommy's here, Maddie. Please be strong. You can do this. You are the bravest person I know. Please be strong for your mommy. She needs you.

Mike and I stood there for moments, hours, minutes. Her vital numbers improved. The doctors and nurses heaved sighs and sat, exhausted. The other parents trickled back in. We didn't dare hope, we kept holding our breath. Six months later, we still haven't exhaled.

The internet is so amazing, the endless possibilities at your fingertips. Once I had a name for the reason I was on bed rest, I spent the remainder of my pregnancy with my hands on the keyboard. I sought answers, odds, and facts before Madeline was born. After her birth, I needed stories. I needed to know how people got through it. That's when I found a whole community of women grappling with loss and the fear of the unknown.

Many of the sites I visit have experienced the loss that slipped through our fingers. I was commenting on one today, and I was struggling to find the right words. I sat back for a moment and tried to consider why I was compelled to comment in the first place. Her words were beautiful and moving, why did I think that I, as the mother of a survivor, could say anything that would make her feel better? Yet, her story was haunting. It was almost me. But it wasn't. By some miracle, my baby survived. Why was I the lucky one? Why not her? I realized then I have major survivor guilt.

I'm writing all this because, as time stretches on, the details of those early days and weeks get dim. I never want to relive that fear, but I never want to forget it. Not that I ever could. I also hope that revisiting this will help me deal with the guilt I feel. The world is so random. I will never know why our baby survived where others don't. I can't change the outcome but I hope that I can comfort those who suffer. I ache for them. I touched their loss. I briefly let it envelop me when I walked into the NICU on the day my baby was supposed to die.

I will try not to feel guilty anymore.


hollibobolli said...

I think this was beautiful, Heather. I'm so glad you shared this story. You are such a strong Mommy.. and I'm so glad Maddie had you.

hollibobolli said...

has you - my gosh I am tired.

Gemini Girl said...

OK- 9:48AM and you are making me cry?!
Come on now!

I think that I feel such a strong connection to you and maddie bec we went through the same exact thing- at the same exact time. I wish I would have known you back then... we would have helped each other through.
I too sat in my hospital bed weeks b4 the girls were born, reading up on preemies and all that entails. The unknown is a scary son of a bitch.
It's hard when you feel that your body has failed you, your husband, and your child. When in reality- you dont htink it should be you bec you are only in your 20's! This shouldnt be happening. But it did, and it does. And it does not discriminate.
I am so glad we have connected, bec only you truly know what we have been through.
I am so glad maddie is well. I believe she needed to hear her mother's voice that day to make it better. And you did.

Memphislis said...

You are an awesome mom and a good example of what a mother should try to be for her baby.

Kristin.... said...

I cannot fathom what you went thru with Maddie. I was blessed with 4 healthy children and the more I read blogs, the more I feel that we got so incredibly lucky. I am glad that Maddie pulled thru and is on her way to a long, healthy life.

TUWABVB said...

I'm sitting here in my office with tears streaming down my face after reading this. I'm so sorry for what you went through, and so happy that it ended up the way it did. Please don't have survivor's guilt - there is a reason that Maddy is here and that she was born to you. We don't know what this world has in store for Maddy, but I'm sure it will be wonderful things and she will make a change in this world - that's why she's here.

brough said...

heather - you are amazing and I am honored to have a friend like you. I am so excited to watch the spohr family grow and I can't wait until I can meet Maddie in person. I think about you and read your blog every day and I am so proud of you!

Tara said...

Oh my. What a story. I'm ashamed to say that I took having a regular old, uneventful delivery ending with a strong, healthy baby for granted. Maddie is a lucky girl to have a mom like you.

Anonymous said...

heather, i've loved reading your blog (picking between the dodgers and giants is a particular fave) but you have just blown me away.

it is so beautiful that you can share your experience with others and vice versa. i hang on your every word and i don't even have children.

maddie is just like her mom and dad...a fighter who will make it through the tough times with love and laughter. i'm sure big sloppy kisses from rigby don't hurt either.

moosh in indy. said...

Heh. "Someone's in the Hospital"
Girl, you're always going to feel guilty about something from now until death. You'll just have to pick better things to feel guilty about.
This was a juicy sweet ass post.

Kathy said...

I just followed the link you left in your comment at good mom bad mom. I found myself reading it and thinking the whole time "please say she lived, please say she lived." I happen to be writing about a similar issue this week. My daughter turns 3 tomorrow and while my experience was NEARLY as tramatic as yours...it was still tramatic for me.

I am so glad your baby is here. Nothing pulls at my heart like the thought of a sick baby, or of parents suffering that loss.

This was beautifully written!

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Amazing and inspiring.

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