Prologue: Dear Reader
I want to write what happened to me and to my husband, David, and to our beautiful daughter, Jane (who is still with us now, I believe) as not just a story, but a letter—a long letter (much too long, probably)—but nevertheless a letter, which is sometimes essentially the same thing as a story, except that there are not only a lot of “I’s” in it, but some “you’s” as well.
And the “you’s” are important. Because I don’t want what happened to us to be only for me and for David; I want it to be for someone else, too.
And maybe that someone is you.
Anyway, even if it isn’t, for now, just because I need to, I will pretend that it is. And so today I am writing this story as a letter to you: to my “dear reader.”
And when I say “dear reader,” please know that I mean exactly that. I may not know you, personally, or I may, but either way, I do know one thing: You are dear.
You are completely and absolutely dear.
That is something that Jane taught me and I hope that I never forget it.
And I want to say it again just in case you didn’t fully hear it the first time: you are dear. You are completely and absolutely dear. If you came to the hospital and stayed with David and I during those four precious days we spent there, or if you came to the memorial service we held and greeted us as we mourned, at some point I looked at your eyes and I remember what I saw—even weeks later I remember—and it was special and precious and irreplaceable and perfect. And if you weren’t one of those people, you are dear anyway because God is in you and even if you somehow don’t see that right now, please understand that there is someone who does, and that is me. And there are probably a lot of others who see it, too, and I bet if you asked them, they would tell you themselves.
Okay. I know I promised you a story—a real story, not just a very long, very wordy, very sappy letter, so I guess I’ll begin. But first, because I just can’t help it, and because I’m still pretty sure you didn’t understand what I meant the first time, please let me say it again:
You are dear.
Jane came to us on the twenty-fifth of November, the day after Thanksgiving. She lived for four and one-third days. They were wonderful. They were indescribable, really.
They were the best days of my life.
But they were too short. They were too brief.
They were too, too short.
And so, I find that now, one month later, I want to relive those days again. And not only do I want to relive them myself, I want to have someone else who has lived them, too, with me, even if just in a way, and so I’m writing this letter to you, who is my friend, and maybe now about to become a better friend, because I want someone else to understand what happened in those days that I knew her and, maybe, a little, understand. I want to tell you about those days, which were the best and worst, as they say, that I’ve ever had, and I want explain to you why knowing Jane has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. And I want you to know that I am thankful for her coming, even if it had to be for only four and one-third days.
She made me different. And, for that, I am grateful.
There is another reason I’m writing this letter, though: I am writing it for you. Maybe you have grieved, too, and even if you haven’t, most likely, you will—someday. And maybe, someday, you, my friend, will find it comforting to read about these things that happened to me and, maybe, also, they will make you feel less alone.
It’s worth a try, anyway, I think.
But, I admit, those aren’t my number one reasons for writing this letter. My number one reason for writing about what I learned from Jane is to think more about what happened, and, in doing so, maybe—just maybe—understand it.
Ever since I met Jane, I have known there was a purpose to her life. Not a small purpose, either, like helping me “be a better person” or “learn how to let go.” Not a small thing like that.
And so, for a while now, I’ve been asking myself this question: What was this purpose? What is the meaning of her life?
It has been almost one month since she came, and in that time, I have learned a lot about grieving—definitely more than I ever used to know. And one of the things I’ve learned is that it is much easier to grieve when you think there is a reason for what happened—a good reason; that, somehow, what happened to you will make you better.
So, I search for meaning. I look for it everywhere I go. I pray. I even tried meditation. I think, and think, and think. Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting closer to an answer. But most of the time, I don’t. Most days are just days, with nothing special in them at all.
But still, I search. I pray. I read. I try to figure it out.
I ask myself why.
I even talk to Jane, and ask her why.
She may be giving me an answer, I think, but I just can’t hear it. So I listen harder, pray more.
And I write.
And, even though it’s hard to do, I’m writing this letter about her life and about what I learned from it, because even though I don’t have the whole answer yet, I think I have, at least, found part of it.
And the rest, I believe, will come.
As I said before, Jane came to us on the twenty-fifth of November, the day after Thanksgiving. The day before I went into labor—a Wednesday—I had an ultrasound and some other tests, too, and we saw the pictures and the needles on the paper and we saw that everything was perfectly fine.
We saw something else, too: I was having contractions. They were coming about every fifteen minutes, the doctor said, but until she said that and told me what to look for I did not know it was happening and even after that I still couldn’t feel them.
David could, though. While we were there at the doctor’s he touched my belly and learned how to tell when the contraction was coming and after a while I learned to feel them, too. So, that night, we sat on the couch together and watched TV and he kept his hand on my stomach and we noticed them together when they came—he by feeling outside and me by the slight tightness that happened inside.
When I woke up the next morning, I was still feeling them. I called my family and told them that finally, twelve days after my due date, I was having contractions. They thought it meant that I would be going into labor right away and they were so excited they screamed.
“But I don’t know if they’re real,” I said.
“Do they feel kind of like gas pains?” my mom asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “They are real.”
David was sitting next to me at his computer and after I got off the phone I said, “Did you hear them screaming?”
“I thought I heard something like that,” he said.
“They think I’m going into labor,” I said. “The contractions aren’t regular yet but it could be almost time.”
“It would happen on my day off,” he said.
He is dear.
A few hours later David and I decided to take a drive. The contractions had become more noticeable by then and by about three in the afternoon while we were still in the car I was really hurting.
Around that time, my sister called again to ask about how I was feeling. While talking to her I had to take a couple of breaks to breathe better, and after that I knew it was time to go home.
We drove back home and as soon as we got there I went to bed. After that I felt pretty good; there was pain but it was a normal kind of pain. David and I timed my contractions for a while but even though they were getting stronger they still weren’t regular so we thought we had plenty of time.
Sometime that evening, we called the midwife, Christine. She told me to relax my breathing more and to call again when the pain was less manageable.
During the night the pain got much worse. David came to bed but I didn’t want to keep him up so I took a bath then walked around the living room for a while. When I went back to bed he woke up and we decided to call Christine again.
When we called her, though, she gave us some unexpected news.
“I am at another birth,” she said. “I’m not going to be done in time. Is it okay if Andrea goes instead?”
“Of course,” we said. I knew all of the midwives at the birth center so I thought it wouldn’t really matter either way.
As it turned out, though, it did matter.
It mattered a lot.
David and I got ready to go. While I put on my shoes, he packed up my things and a few things for the baby. Then he helped me to the car.
When we arrived at the birth center it was about six forty-five in the morning. Andrea and her assistant, Jamie, were already there. They helped me onto the bed and even though my head was at the wrong end when I lay down it was so hard to move that I didn’t turn around. Right after that, Andrea and Jamie both did an exam and said I was nine centimeters already and I was ready to get into the tub. David and I had planned a water birth so we took this as a good sign.
I undressed and got into the water. People brought me ice and wet towels and I had a few more contractions but they seemed to be coming less often. So, after an hour or more of this, Andrea tried to speed things up. She told me to move to other places and positions, and that is when the pushing started and it got really hard. I won’t describe all of the positions to you but the midwives were taking pictures so there is evidence anyway.
During the labor, David was so strong. I gripped his hands and arms constantly. I pushed the bottoms of my feet against his hands and body. He held up my head and neck from behind. Each time I had to get up and move to another place in the room, he had to lift me almost entirely on his own.
For each of the positions, Andrea told me everything to do: how to breathe, how to push, even what to imagine as I did so. At one point, she said she wanted me to push the baby up to the ceiling, kind of like a yoga instructor would say to try to improve your form and even though I hate yoga—and visualization, too—it worked. She was calm and precise, but used urgency in her voice to show me how I needed to push.
“I need you to push harder, even harder,” she said many times. “Push through the pain.” Then, on a good push, she would say, “There you go. I want you to do that again, just like that.”
Also, whenever the baby made some progress, she made sure to tell me about it. She would say the baby was “plus one” or “plus four,” but I didn’t want to ask what the last number was. Eventually David asked, though, and she told us that plus five is out. By that time I was already at plus four, though, so it was good news.
Sometime after getting to plus four, my legs started shaking. I tried to relax them, especially between contractions, but they would not stop—they shook and shook and breathing got harder, too. David asked Andrea if I was cold but she said I was just tired.
Between the contractions, especially for the last few hours, there was barely a minute of rest and it wasn’t really rest. I could breathe a little better but I couldn’t relax my body. Andrea said, “Use the break, use the break,” and I tried but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to stop pushing; I just wanted it to end.
By then it was afternoon and I was close. Before every contraction Andrea would tell me that the next one could be the last one and I made myself believe her, but it didn’t help. I couldn’t push hard enough to make the baby come. When my breath ran out on a push and I had to take in more air, the baby stopped moving down and sometimes even moved back up a little. Andrea said later that it was like the baby just wasn’t helping. “She could have just lifted her head up at any moment and she would have been out,” she said. Now we know why that didn’t happen.
At the time, though, Andrea still thought it would be soon. The head was showing and she told David and I that we could touch it, so we did. Jamie brought a mirror so I could see it but I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t see it very well and anyway I didn’t want to look—I just wanted to push. After that, Andrea asked David if he wanted to catch the baby and he asked some questions and said that he might. Then she told me that after the head was out she would have me ease up on the pushing for a little while so the baby didn’t come too fast. By this time they were measuring the heart rate after every push. It was always normal.
Around two o’clock, the other midwife, Christine, came into the room. She hadn’t planned on coming, she told me later. She just happened to stop by the birth center to drop something off and wanted to see how I was doing.
“I don’t ever do that,” she told me.
“You came at exactly the right time,” I said, and it was true, because soon after that we got the first sign of trouble: the baby’s heart rate dropped to ninety. At that point, we all knew we needed to get the baby out fast.
Both of the midwives and Jamie went immediately to work. First, they put an oxygen mask on me. Then, they moved me from the bed into a squatting position on a stool with arm rests that I could push down on. Someone put a bowl and some pads underneath me for the blood. David sat behind me on the bed and held me while Christine and Andrea sat on the floor in front of me. Then someone brought some scissors and other supplies.
“I’m going to give you one more push to get the baby out,” Andrea said. “If it doesn’t come, we are going to have to cut you.”
“She will have to cut me, then,” I thought. “There is nothing more I can do.”
I told her okay, though, and when the next contraction came I pushed as hard as I could.
Immediately after that, Christine took the scissors and made a cut. I thought it would hurt, but it didn’t. There was a slight burning, but it didn’t feel like I expected it to.
Another contraction came—the last one. I pushed again, as hard as I could, and this time, there was a relief at the end and the feeling of a knotty cord winding out of me. It felt like the baby had shot out very quickly and gone a long way but I don’t think my eyes were open at the time so I didn’t really see her being caught.
It was two thirty in the afternoon exactly.
I opened my eyes and looked for the baby. She was there, I knew, but I could barely tell where; I couldn’t focus my eyes. Then, someone started to hand her to me and I saw that she was near my right side.
Behind me, David said, “Hold the baby, honey.”
“I can’t,” I said, surprised that they thought I could hold anything right then.
Right then, Christine must have realized something was wrong because she pulled the baby back. I thought she was just taking her away because I couldn’t hold her but then I saw that the baby was on the floor and they were doing CPR and I, too, realized that something was wrong.
At first, David and I did not look at each other or say anything; we just watched what they were doing and wondered what was going to happen. Then Christine told us to talk to the baby so we did. We said, “You’re okay, baby. You’re okay.” There was nothing else we could think of to say.
The longer it went on the more we realized how serious it was. After a few minutes Andrea said to Jamie, “Call 9-1-1.” I don’t remember my exact thoughts but I knew that the baby had never taken a breath and I was very afraid.
At some point, I asked David for my glasses. He didn’t want to give them to me, though; he said I didn’t want to see. But I did want to see. The glasses were next to me on the bedside table so I found them easily and put them on.
And then I saw my baby for the first time.
The first thing I noticed was how gray she was. Her whole body was gray, not just her face or some part of her. Also, she was completely still. Her eyes were closed and no part of her moved on its own.
Strangely, I don’t remember being surprised at her not breathing. I think if my labor had been shorter or easier I would have been, but as it was, it must have seemed to make sense.
Something that did surprise me, though, was how big she was. She was much bigger than I’d imagined—much bigger than any doll. Then, after a while, when one of the midwives moved out of the way and I saw that she was a girl, that surprised me, too. I had guessed she would be a boy and seeing her I thought, “I don’t know this person.” I studied her face. I tried to see something I would recognize in it, but I didn’t.
She looked like a stranger.
After what seemed like a long time, the ambulance came. Four or five men rushed into the room. I was still naked and the bowl that was under me was full of blood but I don’t think anyone was looking at me anyway. Christine told Andrea and David to go with the baby and Jamie to stay and help with me. David gathered his things and went outside but Andrea was still breathing for the baby with the oxygen mask until they got into the ambulance so she had to leave without her shoes, cell phone or keys.
After they were gone I lay down on the bed and Christine told me I would need to deliver the placenta. She told me to push it out but I couldn’t—my muscles wouldn’t do what I wanted anymore.
After a while, she started looking worried. She asked Jamie how long it had been since the birth and Jamie said forty-five minutes. She felt inside me and pushed around a bit, trying to make it come out but it still didn’t, so they gave me a Pitocin drip and after that my muscles contracted and I was able to give a little push and, finally, the placenta came out. It hurt but afterwards I was relieved that all of the pain was over.
Christine said, “Do you want me to stitch you up now or do you need a break?”
I said, “I don’t need a break.”
She and Jamie prepared their things. Then she gave me some numbing shots. She said they would hurt but they didn’t, much, and I didn’t feel the stitches at all.
At some point, Christine got a phone call and I knew it was from someone at the hospital. She didn’t tell me right away what they said so I thought it must have been bad news and I didn’t ask. After she stitched me up she said that it was time to go to the hospital to see David and the baby and I was surprised.
“Is she okay?” I asked.
“She is alive and she is stable,” Christine said.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe right; I started panting really hard and couldn’t stop.
“There is still a chance,” I thought. “There is still a chance.”
There were tears in my eyes but I did not cry.
After I calmed down, Christine asked me if I wanted to take a shower.
“I won’t be able to stand,” I told her. So she wiped some of the blood off my legs and helped me get dressed. While we were doing that Jamie asked if I wanted to see the placenta and I said I did and I suggested they take a picture of it but she said they would keep it for me and David instead. They packaged it and put it in a bowl.
Then, it was time to go. Both of the women helped me to the car. I walked very slowly and when I got to the car I couldn’t sit down directly so I put my knees down on the seat first, then sat with my hip on one leg. Someone put my seatbelt on for me and Jamie and I went to the hospital while Christine stayed behind.
At the hospital, Jamie left me in the car and went inside to see what was going on. After a while she came back with some doctors and I rolled down the window and they talked to me there in the parking lot. They explained that the baby was stable on life support and she would now be transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital. I said okay and thanked them, and they left and Jamie went with them.
A little while later, David got into the car. The first thing he said was, “She is so beautiful, Mollie. Her skin is very pink now and it’s just perfect.” I asked him if he thought she would make it and he said that she wasn’t responding to any of their tests so far.
“And if she lives, she will have brain damage,” I said. I hadn’t thought of it before, but somehow right then I knew it was true.
“Yes,” he said. “There will be some, but they don’t know yet whether it will be permanent.”
Then he told me what happened at the hospital.
“They took a long time to resuscitate her,” he said. “I watched for a while but eventually I couldn’t anymore so I went into a little waiting room. After a while of being in there I started crying uncontrollably and hyperventilating and shivering all over. Someone had to turn the lights down for me to help me calm down.
“I have never cried that hard before,” he said.
When Jamie got back to the car she told me that I could ride in the ambulance with the baby if I wanted to. “One person is allowed to go,” she said. “You can ride with her or you can go with David.”
“I don’t want to go with her,” I said. “I’ll ride with David.”
When we arrived at Children’s Hospital, David brought me a wheelchair from outside the front door and helped me get out of the car and sit down again. Then he and Jamie and I went inside to the front desk. There, they gave us all ID badges and told us where the NICU was. Jamie’s badge said “Visitor” and David’s and mine said “Parent.”
At the NICU we asked where the baby was and they said she hadn’t arrived yet. I had to use the bathroom anyway so David and Jamie took me and helped me onto the toilet. I was bleeding a lot and I needed new clothes already so it was a long time before we were done. When we finally got out, we were told that the baby was at the hospital. By then, David’s parents had arrived, too. It was nearly evening.
A short time later, a nurse came to get us and take us to the baby’s room. David, David’s parents, Jamie and I walked through the double doors, down the hall and into one of the rooms. Just inside the door there was a high bed surrounded by machines, and in it was the baby, breathing and still.
And she looked perfect.
Her skin was pink and soft. Her cheeks were fat. Her hair was long. The nurses told us she weighed over eight pounds and was twenty-one inches—a big baby, they said. Her little fingernails had grown well past the ends of her fingers and there was fat on every part of her.
She looked healthy.
Of course, she had tubes in her, too, and some patches on her head and chest that were linked to monitors. Also, there was a respirator in her mouth; she still wasn’t breathing on her own. The respirator was pretty large and with the tape on her cheeks that held it in it hid a good part of her face. It also held her lips in a puckered position, like very big fish lips, but even with that, you could see what they looked like and they were beautiful.
Almost as soon they saw her, David’s parents and the nurses, too, said that she looked like me. They said she had my forehead, nose and mouth. When they said that, I studied her face and tried to see what they were seeing. I agreed that she had my features, but I didn’t think she looked like me. I couldn’t believe that this was the person I had known for nine months already.
I still didn’t recognize her at all.
After an hour or so, the doctors came into the room. They talked to us for a while about the baby’s condition and said that we would have a meeting later that night after all of their tests were done. At that time, we all thought that the damage had happened during the labor or in the minutes just following it before she was resuscitated. It seemed to be the only explanation.
By then, Andrea had arrived at the hospital. When David and I went to the lobby to wait for the meeting she sat next to me and took my hands and said, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”
“I’m so sorry this is happening to you,” she said again.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you feel bad. It’s okay.”
“You don’t have to be so strong,” she said. “You can be angry.”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry,” I thought. “I don’t get angry.”
While we waited, one of the nurses asked us if the baby had a name.
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to give her a name.”
David agreed. “It’s probably better that way,” he said. We didn’t know then whether she would make it through the night.
After that, the doctors took David, David’s parents and I to a conference room for the meeting. The conference room was small and they had to move one of the chairs out to make room for my wheelchair.
We all sat down and introduced ourselves. Then the doctors told us what they knew so far: the baby still wasn’t responding to any of their tests, which suggested serious brain damage.
“Her condition is very concerning,” one of them said.
“What could have caused this?” we asked.
They didn’t know. “We will do an MRI in the morning.”
Meanwhile, they told us, they had put her on a cooling blanket to help slow her deterioration. It was an experimental treatment, but it was all they could do. After two days of this, they would warm her up again, then observe her for another day or so after that.
“If her brain activity returns, it will likely return then,” they said.
“What is going to happen to her?” we asked. “What are her chances?”
“There is no way for us to predict that,” the doctors said. “Every baby is different.”
Then they said that though the baby had to stay cool for now, David and I would have a chance to hold her the next day.
When they said that, for some reason, I was surprised.
After the meeting David and I went back to the baby’s room. As we stared at her and held her hands, I said to David, “Do you think there’s even a ten percent chance she’ll live?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
Later that night, the nurses told us they had a room for us to stay in so eventually we went upstairs. The room was very small with a twin bed but it was nice to be there.
As we were settling in, people kept asking us if we needed anything. We said we could probably eat a little so they brought us a lot of food and left it in our room. After they left we ate, then got undressed and went to bed. As we took off our ID badges I read mine to David.
“Parent/Caregiver,” I said. “I don’t feel like either one of those things.”
“Neither do I,” he said.
I don’t remember all of my thoughts that night but I was very tired and very sore and it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
The next morning I woke up very early and I remembered they said I would be able to hold the baby later that day and, for the first time, I cried.
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