At this point in the story, there is something that maybe you should know: I have always been a shy person. Now, for the past ten years or so, I have pretended pretty well that I’m not. People even say that I’m confident. And actually, I am. I love myself way, way too much, possibly as a result of good parenting. But even though I’m confident, I am shy, too, and insecure, and deep down inside, as they say, I’m really unconvinced that people like me, or maybe even really convinced that they don’t. And so, sometimes—often, maybe—I have just decided—even before really knowing someone I have decided—I will not like them back.
That way I’d be, of course, invulnerable.
When I was going to the birth center for my baby appointments, the midwives there told me that I’d have to write a birth plan. I had read about birth plans but I didn’t know what to put in one, so I asked the midwife about it.
“Write about how comfortable you are with affectionate gestures from the midwives,” she said, “And about how you think you’ll react to pain.” She said that the midwives would all read it once when I gave it to them, then once again before coming to the birth.
So, that is what I did.
“…Touch and massage welcomed from David but no touching by midwife of an affectionate nature,” I wrote. “Excessive smiling also not preferred.”
After that, when we were in the hospital together going through all of this, all of the midwives would ask me for permission whenever they wanted to hold my hand or give me a hug.
And that is what I was before Jane.
Now, things are different. I’m not quite myself anymore, I’ve realized. I cry pretty often, and, a lot of the time, the tears are sudden—they come without any warning at all. Often, I am with other people when it happens and I should say now that if you’ve seen me do this already, you have been very kind to me and at least pretended very well to understand, and I have noticed, and I am grateful.
But please don’t take this as an apology. I haven’t been myself lately, but, somehow, I don’t think that that is such a bad thing.
And I should say, too, that sadness isn’t the only thing I feel more of lately. I’m more emotional about everything now. I get mad sometimes. And I get really bothered by mean things or unfair things. And I feel like I’m bleeding all the time, and needy, and I get embarrassed more easily, and I am embarrassed to even admit this right now.
And I love people more. And I see them not as just people I know: I see them as people I could really like a lot if they let me.
Overall, I think having more feelings is worth it.
And that is the first thing I learned from Jane.
The next morning, a Saturday morning, David and I got out of bed around ten o’clock. I was very stiff all over, I remember, and I was bloody, too. I stood up just long enough to take a shower and the rest of the time I was in the wheelchair. Doors felt very heavy to me and I had to move very slow.
The shower, however, was nice. It felt good to get rid of all of the blood and sweat from the day before. David’s parents had brought us some clothes and putting them on I felt even better. I looked at my deflated belly in the mirror and felt very small and very light even though I still had some pain.
For breakfast, David and I ate some bananas and apples that someone had given us the night before. As we ate, I said, “Do you think we should give her a name?” Now that we knew she’d be with us for at least a few days it seemed like the right thing to do, and he agreed.
“I was kind of thinking Lily,” I said.
“That’s nice,” he said. “I actually liked the name they gave her at the hospital, though—the first one we went to. They called her Jane.”
“Jane,” I said. “An old-fashioned name. Let’s call her that.”
And so, from then on, she was Jane. Sometimes, too, she was Baby Jane.
We liked the sound of that.
A little while later David’s visitors arrived. He went downstairs to see them while I stayed in bed and rested. I had a breast pump with me and I wondered whether I should start using it but I was too tired right then and so I decided to wait.
After a while, David came back to our room with the visitors and we all went downstairs to the NICU to see the baby together. She was still on the cooling blanket so we couldn’t hold her all the way yet but we touched her feet and hands and forehead and soft, soft skin and talked about how beautiful she was.
After a while, Andrea came into the room. I was a little surprised she was there; I knew she had a family and even though she said she’d be back I thought she wouldn’t have time.
I was also surprised by how she looked, and David must have been too because when he saw her he said, “Did you get any sleep?”
“I slept,” she replied, but we both knew what she meant. “How are you guys doing?” Her voice was very kind and caring and I thought, “Maybe she really is as nice as she pretends.”
At four o’clock there was another meeting with the doctors. This time Christine and Andrea came as well.
First, they told us that they had done the MRI. Only one doctor had looked at it so far and another one would review it the next day, they said. “So far, though, it confirms what we already suspected. There is almost no activity in the brain—just at the very base, the part that controls the heart.”
“That explains her strong heart rate during labor,” we said. “But do you know what could have caused this kind of damage?”
They did not, they said. They couldn’t even make a guess. “We have never seen anything like this before.”
Then we asked them if they at least knew when it occurred, but again the answer was no.
“We do know that it didn’t happen at the time of delivery,” they added, explaining that there was some blood on the outside of the brain that seemed to have been there for a while before birth.
Andrea and Christine went over the details of the delivery, and again the doctor assured them that they had done nothing wrong, and neither had the paramedics.
And neither, they said, had I.
“How do you know?” I said. “If you don’t know how it happened, how do you know what caused it?”
“Nothing that we know of could have caused it,” one of the doctors said. “Nothing that is within our current understanding of medicine explains it.”
Did that include genetic problems? we asked.
“There is no developmental problem that we can find,” they said. “We don’t think it was caused by genetics.”
Before the meeting ended, they told us they’d have another specialist look at the MRI the next day and that he might be able to give us more information.
When we left the meeting, we were all relieved.
It was nobody’s fault.
That evening, David and I ate dinner with some of our visitors in the hospital cafeteria. We talked about the meeting, trying to explain what the doctors had said without really understanding it ourselves.
We didn’t only talk about Jane, though. We talked about other things, too, and even joked and laughed a bit, and we took a little break and it was nice.
After dinner, around eight thirty, the nurses told us that Jane could come off the cooling blanket for a little while.
“Do you want to hold her?” they asked.
“Yes,” I said.
So they arranged a chair for me by the bed and moved all the cords and machines and after that I held my baby for the first time.
Her head was heavy and limp. The only thing that visibly moved was her chest as air was pumped into her lungs one breath at a time. I looked at her face, studied it, admired her big fish lips and enjoyed the way her body felt in my lap. I wondered about what had happened to her, and what could have caused it, but I still didn’t know what to think about it all.
And I still didn’t know what to feel.
After a while, I asked to be alone. I remember that for some reason, I thought this would be my only chance to hold her, ever, so I tried to think of everything I wanted to say.
First, I prayed that God would bring her back. Then, I asked her to come back.
I asked her many times.
I wanted her to hear me.
And yet, I did not cry.
Later that evening, David told me that he had talked to some of the nurses about breastfeeding.
“They don’t think you should start pumping,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“They said that if you do it will be very hard for you to stop. The milk will just keep coming.”
“I will ask them about it later,” I said, and the next time we went downstairs, I did.
“I don’t think you should try,” one of the nurses said. “It hurts and you could get an infection.”
Before we went to bed that night, I told David I would decide the next day.
The next day was Sunday. Once again, David and I woke up around ten o’clock and took a long time to shower and get dressed. I found that I could walk on my own again, though, and that made it easier.
Around noon, more visitors arrived. Again, I wanted to rest so I let David stay with them while I stayed in bed.
After a while, Andrea came into the room with David. At first, when I saw her, I thought, “I don’t want to see anyone right now.” I didn’t tell her that, though, so she sat on the bed and we started talking.
And as we did, suddenly, I had a thought. It was more like a feeling than a thought, though—more like a realization, and even before I was sure what the right words were to describe it I said to Andrea, “Andrea, I have to apologize to you.”
“Why do you have to apologize?” she asked.
“I have been cold,” I said.
She said she didn’t think I was cold, but I went on. “I don’t usually expect people to be so kind and really mean it. I didn’t expect you to come today.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“I am glad you’re here,” I said.
And, after that, we were friends.
And there was something else that happened in the few minutes that she and I spent in that room, too, something very important and meaningful, something that I’ll never forget, ever, and if I do, please, please remind me of this that I’m writing to you right now:
I started to feel again.
A little while later, Andrea and I went downstairs to see Jane. As I sat next to her bed, holding her foot in my hand, I wondered again what to do about breastfeeding.
“What would you do?” I asked Andrea. I was a little nervous to ask; I knew how stupid it sounded.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Why do you want to breastfeed?” She said it in a sympathetic way, a way that showed she understood but wanted me to tell her anyway.
I looked down at the floor, hiding my face with my hair.
“When David and I were making plans for the baby, the one thing I always said I would never, never do is give up on breastfeeding. No matter how hard it got, I swore that I’d keep at it. It’s the thing I looked forward to more than anything else.”
After I said that, something wonderful happened.
I started to cry. Not just a little, either.
I cried a lot.
“Now that all this has happened,” I said, “It feels like it’s the only thing I have left.
“It’s the only thing I can do that would make me feel like a mother.”
It was then that, for the first time, I knew I loved my baby.
I might have loved her before that, of course.
But I don’t think I knew it until then.
That is the advantage of having people to talk to sometimes. Without them, I don’t think I would have learned how to feel what I felt.
Without them, I may not have learned how to grieve.
And that was the beginning of my feelings—the real beginning.
And after that, I couldn’t keep them away if I tried.
But, I soon realized, I didn’t want to keep them away. No matter what I was feeling, I decided, it was better than feeling nothing at all.
Much better, actually.
It was wonderful.
At three o’clock that afternoon, we had another meeting with the doctors. They told us what we all expected to hear.
“There is no reason to continue with the cooling treatment,” they said. “She will not live.”
They still had no explanation for what happened to her, and neither did the other specialist who had looked over the MRI that morning.
“Do you want us to keep her alive if something happens during the night?” one of the doctors asked. “Would you want her resuscitated?”
We said no.
Several of us asked the doctors more questions, trying to pin down the cause of the injury, but all of our theories were ruled out; they would do an autopsy, but it was unlikely we’d ever understand what had happened.
After the meeting ended we went back to the lounge area where some of our friends were waiting for us. We told them what had happened and all I could think was, “It is settled now. She is really going to die.”
Soon after that I went back to Jane’s room and as soon as I saw her I started crying again. And I can’t quite explain it but that time, as I looked at her, something was different. Her eyes were still closed and she still did not move or breathe on her own and the respirator was still there, and she looked in every way exactly the same way she had before, but somehow, in that moment, she was a total person to me just like everyone else.
For the first time, I felt like I knew my daughter.
I knew her.
And she was mine.
That night David and I decided not to stay in the hospital anymore, but to go home to sleep instead. We went out to dinner, then came back to the hospital to pack our things. I don’t remember if we saw Jane again before we left but I know I didn’t hold her again and I regret that now.
I should have held her again.
I should have held her all night.
As we drove home we I noticed the Christmas lights that had been put up in our absence.
We went home and slept very badly and very long.
The next day, a Monday, we arrived at the hospital around noon. As soon as we got there we were ushered into another meeting. This time there were just two doctors, David’s parents, David and I. They told us that now that Jane was off the cooling blanket we could hold her as long as we wanted.
We asked them some more questions. We told them about the ultrasound I’d had the day before I went into labor and how everything was normal. They said that that may help narrow down the time period in which the damage could have been done, but nothing else about their diagnosis had changed.
When the meeting ended, we went to Jane’s room right away.
As soon as I saw her, the tears came again.
“I want to hold her,” I said, so the nurses arranged all the cords and I sat in the chair by her bed with my feet up and held her for several hours while people came in and out of the room to visit.
I stroked her back over and over. I held my lips and cheek to the top of her head. I admired her arms and legs, noticing how long they were. “You’re my little monkey,” I said. I looked at her face for a long time.
I thought, “She looks just like me.”
That afternoon there were a lot of decisions to be made. David and I had to plan Jane’s baptism, her photo session and, finally, her last moments.
“When do you want to let her go?” David asked me.
“We can do it tomorrow,” I said.
“Do you want to be there?”
“Yes,” I said, and he was surprised. “Do you want to be there?” I asked.
“No,” he said, and I was surprised, too.
Sometime after that, the nurse asked me if I wanted to change Jane’s diaper.
“Yes, I do,” I said. It was the first time I’d ever done this and she had to show me how.
A little after three o’clock, we held Jane’s baptism. Several friends and family members were there.
During the baptism, I held Jane in my lap. When the chaplain read the verse “. . . And Jesus said unto them, let the little children come unto me,” I started to cry. “I don’t want her to go to him,” I thought. Then, when he put the water on her forehead and said, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” I cried harder and Jane’s body shook with each sob.
Most of the other people there cried, too.
When the baptism was over Christine and Andrea stayed in the room with me while everyone else did other things. We talked a little, but we also stopped talking some of the time and I knew that they understood.
“We were going to hold her all the time,” I said after a silence. “I was going to hold her all day, and when David came home from work I was going to give her to him to hold, too. We weren’t even going to wear shirts when we held her so that we could be as close to her as possible and she could feel our skin on her skin all the time.” I smiled at the thought.
Then Andrea said, “Do you want to hold her like that now?” and it may have been the best thing that anyone has ever said to me.
At first, though, when she said it, I didn’t think it was a good idea. “I can’t do that here, like this,” I thought. I looked down at Jane and didn’t say anything.
But after a moment, Andrea asked me again.
“Do you want to hold her like that?” she said, quietly.
This time, I nodded.
Then I started to cry.
Andrea and Christine called the nurses in and told them what I wanted to do. They didn’t think it was strange at all and while they took the baby I took off my sweater and shirt and bra and sat back down in the chair. Then they put the baby on my chest with her head between my breasts and her arms and legs wrapped around my stomach.
After that, they left, and we were alone.
Before I met Jane, when she was just a body inside me, someone I was with all the time but never actually saw, and even before that, long before I was even expecting a baby, or expecting to ever have a baby—even back when I didn’t want a baby at all—I dreamt about babies. Not often—just often enough that I woke up during a significant number of them, thus remembering the details.
They were never good dreams. The first part was wonderful, but they never ended well.
Though the specifics varied, the general outline was always the same. First, I loved my baby more than anything else in the world. I felt the kind of feeling that I used to think you can only feel in dreams, namely, complete love. Complete surrender of every other emotion to this one of total bliss as I held the baby in my arms.
After that, though, something would happen that would take her away from me. In one dream, she grew up right before my eyes and she was too big to hold. In another, I left her in the supermarket, only to remember her hours later in a sudden panic.
In all of these dreams, I never got the baby back.
Now, I don’t think these dreams were a way for the universe to warn me about what would happen to Jane—I think they were just dreams. But what I do know is that in each of them, for just a short time, I knew what it was like to be a mother. And I knew, a little, what it was like to lose a baby. And now when I remember having them, I think to myself, those feelings I had when holding the baby in my dreams don’t even compare to the feelings I had when I held my baby skin-to-skin for the first time.
And losing the baby in my dreams was not as bad.
After a while, David came into the room where I was holding Jane.
“We’re all going out to dinner,” he said. “Do you want to come?”
“No,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
He left and I stayed with Jane for about two more hours after that and they were the best two hours of my life.
Around eight thirty, the photographer came. I put my clothes back on and we had our pictures taken. After that, someone asked if I wanted to make a Christmas ornament with Jane’s hand prints on it, so I did. One of the nurses had also made one for her the day before so I put mine in the box next to hers and we gathered up our things and went home.
When we got home it was about midnight. I still wasn’t walking very well and on my way to the door I dropped one of the Christmas ornaments and it broke. David wondered what was taking so long so he came back to find me.
“Are you coming in?” he asked.
I didn’t say anything; I was just looking at the ground and crying.
He said, “Oh, the ornament broke.”
Then he took me in his arms and held me for a long time.
Later that night after we had gone to bed I told David that I wasn’t sad about losing the ornament.
“It just seemed so symbolic,” I said. “She’s broken.”
And that was the end of the fourth day I knew Jane. And that is the story of how, in a very short time and without saying one word, she taught me things I didn’t even know I needed to learn.
But that is not all that I learned from Jane.
Jane’s short life of only four days not only taught me greater love and greater feeling; it taught me to expect miracles.
Babies come. But babies don't go. Get Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Story on Amazon now.