I broke the silent night with a scream of pain, it radiated all over my body. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe and my heart was pounding in my ears while cold sweats made my skin slick. I had been in labor before, so I knew something was wrong. Usually the pain is gradual, this was insufferable. I called 9-1-1 and the next thing I knew, I was doubled over in the fetal position on my bedroom floor when the paramedics came in. At some point I passed out and total darkness enveloped me taking the pain away. Had I known that the darkness would never subside and the pain would always resonate within my heart, I would’ve just asked to die instead right then.
When I woke up, I was in a hospital room with the curtains closed and the only light in the room came from the bathroom door being slightly ajar and the soft yellow light cascading out across the foot of my bed. The soft beeping of a monitor was the only sound. My heart began to race when my hands lingered on my now deflated stomach. My baby wasn’t inside me anymore. She was only days away from my scheduled C-section; surely they didn’t take her earlier. Maybe she was ready. I felt the panic in my heart, my body taking all of this in, sent me into prepare mode. Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.
I tried to get out of bed, but there was a catheter in me. I found the remote on my side and pressed the red nurse button, “I’ll be right there ma’am,” a voice said over the speaker.
“Ok.” I replied weakly.
Moments later, a tall brunette lady walked in wearing soft pale blue scrubs and a pleasant smile with her hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. She checked the monitors and asked how my pain level was after introducing herself as my nurse. “I’ll be taking care of you for the next shift. My name is Rachel, if there is anything I can get you, just let me know. Ok?”
“Where’s my baby?” I asked.
After hesitating, she said, “She’s in the NICU with the doctor. Your doctor has been paged and will be in with you in just a few minutes.” She gave me a sympathetic half-smile and walked out shutting the big heavy door behind her, locking me away in my thoughts.
I knew right then, something happened. Her eyes held so much pain looking at me. Of course her trained body language gave nothing away; but I could tell. I was left alone for the better part of an hour; I knew this because I lay on my side staring at the computer clock screen-saver on the wooden cabinet sitting beside my bed. I watched the seconds tick by and turn into minutes. With each minute passing, I grew more anxious. Just when I was about to scream from the torture, the doctor walked in and my heart sunk in my chest.
At that moment, I knew this was it. This was the end of the possibilities of what my imagination could create. Right now, was the moment of truth; fact. No guessing. No speculating. This was the science of the moment.
“Ms. Brooks, how are you feeling? I’m Dr. Nigel. I’m the on-call OB,” he said as a way to lighten the mood.
“I’m numb but not invisible. Where is my baby girl?” I asked with as much pleading in my voice as I could muster without breaking into tears.
“She’s in with her doctor now. They’re trying to get her stable.” He wasn’t looking me in the eyes. Why isn’t he looking me in the eyes? He knows something. Was he lying to me?
“What do you mean stable?” Even I could hear the pitch in my voice as the heart monitor started beeping faster.
“Do you have any family you could call to be with you right now?” he said as he took a seat on the edge of the bed, folding my chart into his arms. What is this, a relaxing day at the beach?
“No. I don’t. Please tell me what is going on with my baby. Please!” I begged.
“You don’t have any friends or family? Could I call in one of the nurses to sit with you?” he pleaded with me. Or was he stalling?
“I have no family except for the baby you are keeping me away from. My son is vacationing with my sister in a different state. I guess you could call my nurse Rachel, but only if it gets me the answers I’m looking for doctor.” I was tired of pussy footing around with him.
The doctor pressed the nurse button on my remote, “Have Rachel come in immediately, please.” He was apparently the commander of this ship; I could hear the authority in his voice.
Ok, this is it. Am I ready to hear the answer to my questions? Can I handle it? I’d have too. There’s no one else to handle it for me. I have to be strong. I could feel the tension in the room shift as soon as Rachel stepped in shutting the door again behind her. She came and sat in the chair next to my bed. She laid her hand on top of mine. With everyone in their places, this is how you shake up someone’s world.
“Ms. Brooks, when you came in, we thought you were just in active labor, but once we realized who you were and what was going on. We rushed you into immediate surgery for an Emergency C-Section. Your uterus ruptured. We cut into the first few layers to get to the baby and she was right there, free-floating. The placenta detached from your uterus, leaving the baby to suffocate in-utero. This happened at the start of your pain yesterday morning.”
“Is she alive?” I asked through choking sobs and snotty covered fingers while tears drained down my cheeks.
“She’s on life support now. Dr. Shultz has an ice-cap on her to try to reduce the swelling of her brain so that he can conduct an EEG to see what kind of brain activity she has.” He stopped talking and just stared at me. Where these just words programmed into his brain and they were falling out of his mouth without emotion? Does he have a heart?
“So are you saying she has brain damage or she’s going to die?” I hoped he could understand what I just said.
“She has severe brain damage and we are trying to determine how much time you have left with her.” He placed a hand on my foot sticking up under the covers. That made me feel real, because I was having an out-of-body experience. I was thinking maybe this wasn’t real. This was a dream and I’d be waking up, but the moment his hand touched my foot, I could feel it. I could feel the warmth pressing on me through the thin blanket. It was the proverbial pinch to wake yourself up. I wasn’t dreaming.
“I want to see her right now.” He knew I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Rachel squeezed my hand as I ripped it from hers. I didn’t want anyone touching me. They’ve already gotten to know my baby for a much longer time then I have and they were keeping me from her.
“I will have Rachel take your catheter out and get you situated in a wheel chair and take you to see her.” He stood up and left the room with a flourish, his lab coat billowing behind him.
“Ms. Brooks we–,”
“It’s Brittany, not Mrs. Brooks, that’s my ex mother-in-law,” I said with as much anger as I could sob out at her.
“Brittany, just lay back and I’ll remove the catheter.” I did as I was asked. I’d do anything at this point if it got me closer to my baby.
Twenty two minutes later, I was being wheeled down to the NICU. After having scrubbed in, I was lead to a plastic incubator containing the child that was violently ripped from my body. There were several other babies in this room as well, but we were tucked in a little dim-lit corner. As I passed by the other parents clinging to hope for their babies, I got the simple head nod and sympathetic smile from their eyes. She had tubes and wires and plastic tape, coming out of every inch of her tiny frail body.
I asked if I could hold her, but I couldn’t because of the ice-cap, so I settled on just touching her exposed skin and her supple dark hair. I spoke to her in my soft sobbing voice. My heart was breaking into small pieces while being crushed and stomped on. There wasn’t anything I could do to protect her from the pain, from the unknowing future, from the lights and sounds of such a foreign place. She wasn’t tucked away safely in the warm confines of my body being gently rocked to sleep by the sway of my motions or the delicate thumping of my heart.
I stayed with her until Dr. Shultz came in, explaining to me what they were going to do and about how long it would take. They were going to start the process for the EEG. By this time, my body was starting to feel the gripping pain from the surgery. He suggested I return to my room while he performed the procedure and get some sleep.
I wasn’t angry at Dr. Shultz. There was a thin string of hope wrapped up with him that he could save my baby girl. I’d do exactly as he asked.
Rachel returned to retrieve me back to my room. Upon being wheeled to my door, there was a big cartoon looking Daisy stuck to the front of my door. “What the hell is that?” I asked.
“That’s the Sympathy Daisy we put on the doors to mothers who may lose their babies. It’s to prevent any unwelcome questions.”
I wanted to be angry. I wanted to rip the stupid Daisy off the door. But logic kicked in and I could respect the reason for putting such a thing in place. But it was just another detail starting to solidify, that I didn’t want to have to acknowledge yet.
They must have given me something in my IV because I was out like a light once she got me settled. Two hours later, Rachel returned with a dinner tray. Now I was supposed to eat. My stomach was so full of butterflies and lead, how would food fit?
“I’m not hungry Rachel. I really can’t eat.”
“Brittany, you should take at least a couple bites. They finished up with your baby. The doctor will be up in about thirty minutes.” Rachel pulled the bedside table up to me and placed the tray in front of me. Hospital food smells like sickness. I wouldn’t eat a single bite.
“Do you have a name picked out for your little one?” she asked in a polite tone.
“You don’t have to do this you know. I’m a big girl. I don’t need to be baby sat,” I said as I pushed the table away.
“I’m not babysitting you. I’m doing my job. If you’d like me to leave, I will. But just know I’m here for you; to the end.” She blinked up at me from the chair sitting beside me.
“You mean the end of your shift?” I guess I was being snarky.
“I’m here until you don’t need me anymore. I’ve been assigned to your care. In these circumstances, we only allow few people into our Daisy rooms and I’ve been chosen.”
“Aren’t you lucky?” I couldn’t help it. I needed to be angry. I needed to let it out. And Rachel had to know she was going to be my whipping boy. Her pleasant smile, the soft smell of her perfume, and the warmth of her hands, were going to feel my anger, see my pain and witness my heart ache. I knew it. These were all just steps they were going through before allowing me time with my baby girl.
“Brianna.” I spoke out loud for the first time since she had been born, since seeing her dark wavy hair under the incubator lights, since feeling her warm skin on my finger tips. “Her name is Brianna.”
“That’s a beautiful name Brittany. Am I to assume she has the same last name as yours?” Rachel asked.
“Then you both will have the same initials. B.B. How cute. Would you like the curtains opened?” I had never thought about that before. It stopped me in my tracks.
“No. Could you leave? I want to wait for the doctor in silence.” Her happy upbeat self was grating on my nerves.
“Sure. Just use the remote if you need me.” The click of the door allowed me the silence I needed.
For the next 48 minutes I lay on my side facing the wooden cabinet. I closed my eyes furthering darkening my room. I could hear my breathing as un-rhythmic as it was, I could still hear it. I was picturing my Brianna lying in her bed, probably thinking of me. So I focused on that for the better part of my ticking minutes. I was in darkness without her. I would be forever stuck in this twilight neither in the present nor in the future. Suspended in darkness where time stopped but yet it didn’t because I was watching it tick away on the computer monitor.
Dr. Shultz brought the light with him when he walked into the room and switched the light on. But of course, 16 minutes later the light left with him along with my hope of ever bringing my baby girl home with me.
Rachel came in right after Dr. Shultz left. She didn’t say anything; she sat next to me on the bed while I stared at the hands that would be holding my dying baby soon. Rachel moved a strand of my hair that was hanging in my face and tucked it behind my ear. My Brianna had at best a few minutes to a few hours with me once they turned off the life support. Would it be a few minutes or a few hours? Either way, I had to make sure every second that ticked off of her clock were the best seconds of her life with me.
“Rachel, I want to hold my baby. I don’t want any artificial beeping noises in place of her heart beat. I don’t want anyone coming in and asking or telling me anything. I don’t have that much time to make a life time of memories with Brianna but I want to make the one’s I can the best that they can be. If you’re on my team, can you make this happen?” I knew I was asking a lot of Rachel. I knew she was going to be put to the test. But today, she was going to learn how to be helpful, in situations like this.
“Just tell me what you need.”
“I want to give her a bath. I want an outfit to put her in since I don’t have time to go home and get the one I had picked out. I need a digital camera so that I can take pictures and I want some Diet Pepsi. Can you do that for me?” I begged her.
“I can do one better. I called the photographer that does the baby photos for the hospital. James does, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photos. He will take pictures of you and Brianna together in any poses you want as many as you want. James will edit the photos and send them to you in the mail. They’re professional photos. We have a portable bath on a cart. Give me an hour and I’ll have everything set up for you and Ms. Brianna.” Why does she keep calling her that?
“Thank you,” I resumed my position of lying on my side in the fetal position. I had to put on my super cape and put my mind in the right place. I had to focus on the important factors because as soon as all of this was done, I’d be broken forever.
Sure most people had a husband or friends to lean on for support in instances like these. Most had their perspective God. This was going to test my strength and my will, not to mention my faith. My husband walked away from us to pursue other women’s vaginas, leaving me to raise our son and give birth to our daughter he never wanted. My friends had left a long time ago when I chose my husband over them. My four-year old son was with my sister being held and loved. He’d have a sister he knew about but would never meet.
Dr. Shultz came in pulling behind him the incubator that housed my daughter, Brianna. Once again shedding light into a room that remained dark despite his efforts with the switch. He showed me how to hold her around her breathing ventilator. I sat in the cushioned rocking chair that was beside my bed now instead of the hard recliner. He placed my baby in my arms for the first time and I felt my breath catch in my throat. There was a lot of commotion for a few minutes as Rachel brought in the portable bath cart and filled the sink in the bathroom with ice and Diet Pepsi cans after setting an open one on the table next to me with a bendy straw sticking out of it.
“James is waiting outside when you’re ready. If you need anything else just push the button for me.” Rachel left.
“Ms. Brooks, your baby’s heart monitor is still attached; we’ve shut off the sound on the machines though. The information is being fed to the main computer at the nurses’ station. They can see her oxygen level as well has her heart rate. As I’ve explained, her time will be cut very short once you decide to turn the machine off. But I must stress, please don’t do this by yourself. Call Rachel. God bless,” and with that he left and took his light with him. Not that I needed it, I now held my own starlight.
I rocked Brianna for what seemed like hours. She didn’t weigh much. She was petite and soft. I pressed the button on the remote allowing Rachel to send James into my room.
“Good evening Ms. Brooks. I’m James Lockwood. I will be photographing you and Ms. Brianna if you’d let me. It’s free of charge but is worth a million bucks.” He waited patiently for me to respond.
“Yes, please come in,” I said softly as to not jar Brianna.
He proceeded to take pictures of the inked hand and foot prints that were on the card still sitting inside her incubator. While I held her, he took several close-ups of her tiny feet held in my hands. He didn’t speak to me. I could only hear the shutter on his camera and his breathing as he got into position. After 30 minutes or so, he stopped and just stared at me.
Looking up at him, daring to take my eyes away from Brianna; “Is something wrong?”
“Oh no, I was just wondering if you want me to come back after the ventilators have been removed?”
“Sure. Are you finished” I asked.
“I was wanting to get a couple of you holding Ms. Brianna to your chest if you’re willing?”
“Yes, please.” I pulled my arms out of the ugly hospital gown and allowed Brianna to face my chest, skin-to-skin. I cupped her tiny butt, laying my hand across her bare back and cradled the top of her head with my cheek and closed my eyes. Living in this moment, breathing in her smell. I could hear a couple of shutter sounds from his camera. I opened my eyes and saw a tear roll down his cheek from behind the camera.
“It’s OK James. She is living a life time in one day. Thank you for being a part of her life.” I felt I needed to reassure him.
“I’ve done these more times than I would care to count, but there is just a light about you two. When I look at you, I see the same scene I’ve photographed plenty of times, but when I get behind the camera, I can see the emotion; I feel it. I’m sorry.”
“Please don’t apologize. You have the hardest job, next to the hardest job in the world; being the people in your photos.”
“I’ll return once I get the ok from Rachel. We are finished for now.” He packed up his stuff and left. From that moment on, it would be just Brianna and me. For several hours, I listened to her chest rise and fall; I watched the machines pump air into her lungs. I felt her warm skin. I brushed her fine hair with my fingers and I kissed every bit of her skin. I held her to my chest. Cradled her in my arms and rocked her as peacefully as I could. But something was missing.
The tubes were getting in the way. They were a constant reminder of her limited time remaining. If I could I would have held her for as long as possible but I knew the end was coming. I wanted her to be free of the artificial life that was keeping her warm. My baby needed to be set free.
I pressed the button on the remote and told Rachel, “Its time.”
A few minutes later, Dr. Shultz came in and had me sign a few papers. Rachel sat by my side while Dr. Shultz removed the ventilator from my baby. Wrapped in the hospital blanket and cap, he handed Brianna to me minus the rude tubing and wires. My baby was still breathing.
“I don’t know how much longer she will continue to breathe on her own, before she passes.” He left for the last time.
“Rachel, thank you for everything,” I said while she waited in the door way.
“You know what to do when you need me.” She left for the second to the last time.
After bathing her quickly, I crawled up into bed, with my Brianna splayed across my chest next to my heart. The heart beat she’d surely recognize if she could. I held her for a solid 20 minutes before her breathing felt like hiccups. Then I cradled her head in both of my hands while her body lay down the length of my forearms. I looked at every crease, wrinkle and crevice. Burning them to my memory. I kissed her chest and her perfectly arched lips and her round cheeks. I snuggled my cheek against hers. I loved my baby with every bit my body could push out to her.
I put my ear to her chest and found her heart beating in the darkness of our room. She was in the darkness with me now so I stayed in the darkness with her. I knew I’d find my way back to her. I made a map in my mind of her heart beat. I’d always be in the shadow of her heart. And like the sounds of a harp being played her breathing slowed and her heart stopped. I clutched her to my chest and let the falling star that landed in my arms, return to the beautiful midnight sky. No dawn, no day, always twilight.
I tucked her into my side and fell asleep holding her. When I woke up the next morning, her beautiful body was still with me. I pressed the button on the remote and Rachel came in with puffy red eyes and a slight smile. “Ready?” And with that one word, I knew I was.
“Yes.” We wrapped her up like a burrito in the blanket and James came in.
“Would you like any more photos?” He was still wearing the same clothes he did when he was in my room last.
“No, the rest are now in my memory. Thank you for capturing her essence in yours.”
I handed my baby girl to Rachel and she left for the last time. Three hours later, I left for the last time. I went in to the hospital a mommy of one and left as a mommy of two.