Ten years ago I went into Shore Memorial Hospital with some labor pains, but I had false labor throughout the last trimester and I was still ten days away from my due date. Sheepdog was working in Philadelphia at the time and he had (rather inconveniently) taken the train to work that day, so he was hours away from being by my side. Being a patient in the hospital brings feelings of helplessness, but being nine months pregnant and clumsy in your own body just makes it worse. The staff was so helpful – hydrating me to stave off labor, even for just a little while longer, but they still didn’t discharge me. Later in the day a new nurse came in and checked my monitors. She then called my doctor and calmly told me that she was advising him to do a c-section sooner rather than later. There was nothing blatantly wrong – no fetal distress – but this nurse had been doing her job for a long time and her experience told her that this baby should be delivered.
The rest of the afternoon was kind of a big blur to me. I remember Sheepdog rushing in to hold my hand, frantic after his long day on mass transit. At the nurse’s insistence, my doctor had arrived and was checking on me too. They all agreed that this baby was being delivered on this day, but there was still no sense of urgency. Then I felt like I had been stabbed in the side with a giant machete. And again. I remember being taken into the operating room and I remember getting an epidural. I remember everybody coming and going from the room, but still not feeling like this was an actual emergency. I even remember thinking that it would be cool to watch the surgery in the reflective ring around the operating light above me. I felt the pressure of the incision, but I was no longer in any pain.
Then I heard a splashing kind of noise, followed by a frighteningly insistent, “Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!” I think it was the normally very calm and soothing voice of my almost hippie-like obstetrician, but I wasn’t really sure because I had never heard him speak with any kind of urgency. The rest of the surgery was controlled chaos, everyone in the room busily doing their jobs with single-minded focus. I was asking (out loud, I thought), “Is it a boy or a girl?” over and over and over again, but I never got an answer. After what seemed like an eternity, Sheepdog (who had been at the head of the table with me the whole time) told me that we had a beautiful baby girl. I was so very cold and tired, but joyful over the birth of our third daughter.
I never passed out completely, but I do remember coming to in the recovery room afterwards. The doctor explained to Sheepdog and I that the stabbing pain was a concealed abruption, wherein the placenta had torn away from my uterus. That had caused significant bleeding in me and the baby had ingested some blood before she could be delivered. She was having some difficulty breathing, but she was in the intermediary nursery (Shore is a community hospital and they did not have a N.I.C.U.) so they could monitor her respiration and the oxygen in her blood. They never had to intubate her, so he was cautiously optimistic. Sheepdog went to be with her immediately, but I was stuck in recovery, unable to see my helpless, sick new baby until the next morning.
Two very worrisome days of sitting by her side (me in a wheelchair… hospital rules), holding her tiny little hands and telling her all about the crazy family that she had been born into, and many tubes, monitors and tests later, Kid C finally was released from specialized care. Her oxygen levels were stable and she was breathing very well on her own. They even let us go home shortly thereafter, but I would forever be affected by this incredibly complicated weekend.
I kept Kid C close, even closer than I did with the other kids as newborns. She slept in a bassinet by my bedside for over five months (I said it was because I was more convenient for breastfeeding, but I was secretly checking to make sure she was still breathing every five minutes). I was intensely overprotective of her, even for a Type-A, control-freak, compulsively sheltering Mama Bear who was getting little sleep and had two other little active chickens in the coop to look after. And Sheepdog? He might as well have lived somewhere else, as he was still commuting to Philadelphia every day and I never had time for him anyway.
Then came September 11th, and everybody was holding their families a little closer, so I fit right in. Then came The Story for Another Day, and Sheepdog and I moved our family to Atlanta. By now, Kid C was just over a year old and she was running and playing and developing ahead of schedule. She was fun and charming and silly. I had started to relax my vigilant watch over her a slight bit, but it wasn’t until a specific day in the Fall of 2002 that I really was able to let go. That was when I read the surgical report from the day she was born.
Because we had moved, I needed a new doctor. I didn’t have one confirmed yet, so I had my old doctor send my file directly to me. I was curious, so I looked through it and found the report. It was technical and medical and official and void of any emotion, as any proper surgical report should be. I read it many times over, always more stunned than the last time I read it. I had done some research on concealed abruptions in my dad’s Gray’s Anatomy book the summer after she was born and I learned how dangerous they can be to both the mother and baby because they are usually undetected until it is too late (the concealed part is really bad). I went over the report again, mixing in what I knew to be the facts and trying to make sense of the foggy parts from my memory. Do you know how something can be staring you right in the face, but you are blind to seeing it until you finally get lucky and actually do? Well, I finally got lucky.
I realized that my doctor and the surgeon who was assisting him, and especially the nurse were all angels disguised as medical personnel on that day ten years ago. Yes, those people were experienced and talented and just doing their jobs, but mistakes happen and sometimes things are not clear while they are happening as they may be in hindsight, and there was no real reason that I should have been so close to the critical and capable medical intervention that I and Kid C so desperately needed when my placenta tore without warning. Angels, lucky stars, fairy godmothers/ godfathers, guardians… call them what you want. I believe that they were on duty for us that day. And that realization gave me such a sense of peace. So I backed off on the overprotective Mama Bear thing (not totally – I am still a classic Type-A, duh), and gave my daughters more room to grow and make mistakes and learn things on their own.
Often, and especially on this day – which Kid C has so lovingly called “Mayteenth” since she was little – I think about those angels. I thank God for them and the so many others who have watched out for Kid C and the rest of our family over the years. I am so incredibly grateful for all of the little and big miracles that happened the way they did in order to bring such a vivacious, crazy-haired, creative, kooky, burst of joy into our family. Happy Tenth Birthday, Kid C. Let’s go high-five some angels.