So it seemed like a good day to reflect on Becky’s birth. Most of this post was written while I was in the NICU. I wanted to capture the memories while they were fresh. It was an intense, unforgettable day.
Birth is an amazing process but a traumatic one. After the births of each of my children, I’ve needed to tell my story. To my mom, mother-in-law, or friends. My sister has been in the delivery room when Michael, Veronica, Mary Frances, and John were born. We occasionally relive these moments over coffee or ice cream. I think it aids in the healing process and helps embed memories unique to each child.
This is Becky’s story.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020, began like most days around our home. In total chaos. Dragging kids out of bed. A quick trip to drop Josephine at the train station for her commute into the city. Hurriedly preparing breakfast and topping off water bottles. Grabbing masks and backpacks. A mad scramble to find the dog’s leash for the dash to the bus stop.
After the kids were deposited at their various schools, things settled down. My sister and I made final preparations for my departure to the hospital. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink after midnight and by mid-morning, I really wanted a cup of coffee. Or some ice cubes.
As I packed for the hospital, I received three phone calls in short order. Josephine’s high school had been placed on a soft lockdown due to police activity in the area. Mary Frances needed Motrin at school to help with the pain from her new braces. And my OB, who was scheduled to meet me at the hospital, had been exposed to Covid and couldn’t work until she could produce a negative test.
Interesting start to the day.
Sam and I checked into the hospital at 11:00am. I was scheduled for a version procedure in the hopes of turning Becky from a breech position. I met Dr. Atkinson for the first time, now that my OB was at home. Dr. Atkinson first did an ultrasound to verify Becky’s position. Still breech. Then she talked me through the procedure and her evaluation of the various risks. She wanted me fully prepped for a C-section in case of an emergency.
She put the risks of a C-section at about 1% and the chances of a successful procedure at 60%. If the baby turned, we would wait overnight in the hospital for a morning induction. If the baby didn’t turn, I would have a C-section in the morning. The cardiac team preferred a Wednesday delivery hence the overnight wait. It sounded like a good, solid plan. I felt confident in Dr. Atkinson’s ability.
A nurse came to start an IV and I always dread this routine procedure. I know from experience that I have great veins but they roll. It usually takes several tries before a line is secured. And it’s painful when a nurse is digging around for placement. The nurse assured me that she was really good at starting IVs. But I needed her to be bleed-a-turnip good. Predictably, she missed. Luckily the next nurse hit a bullseye.
Then we waited. For hours. The OR was backed up and my case wasn’t emergent. I started craving ice cubes and tried to coerce anyone who walked into my room to sneak me a few frozen pebbles. No luck. At 2:00pm the assisting resident performed another ultrasound to confirm Becky’s position. Still breech. After a consultation with the anesthesiologist, we were off to the operating room at 4:00pm.
We didn’t know it at the time but we were 34 minutes away from Becky’s birth.
Sam was directed to a changing area. As he walked into the room, a nurse shouted out, “Hey, we’re going to need some extra large scrubs over there.”. I giggled. He changed and waited to join me for the procedure.
Rosie, the lead nurse, tried to prepare me for the operating room. She told me not to be scared by all the monitors and equipment. She assured me that I was in the best of hands. I told myself to be brave. Like Curious George when he went to the hospital for his operation.
My courage lasted a brief moment, evaporating as tears came streaming down my face. It was overwhelming. And I was alone. Sensing my growing apprehension, Rosie asked if I would like to hear some music. I requested something classical. Within moments, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was playing over the speakers. As I climbed up to the operating table, Rosie put her hands on my shoulders and whispered in my ear, “I will be silently praying in Arabic for all to go well.”
The spinal was administered and within minutes I was numb from the waist down. Dr. Atkinson and her resident stepped in for the version procedure. Sam walked into the room and was given a stool next to me. He sat down in his XL scrubs and took my one free hand in his.
And then everything s-l-o-w-e-d….w-a-y….d-o-w-n. The room began spinning. I saw swirling colors and heard strange sounds. Everything went in and out of focus. Someone shouted, “BP 62 over 30”. I was melting away as all faded to black. Suddenly the table moved. I felt my head go down and heard the OB tell me to concentrate on her voice. I tried to but I desperately wanted to sleep. I even forgot about the ice cubes.
Eventually, I started to feel human again. The table straightened out and everything came back into focus. My blood pressure had stabilized, the sudden dip a reaction to the spinal. It was time to start the version.
The ultrasound tech placed her probe on my abdomen and Dr. Atkinson gasped. “I do not believe this. The baby has turned.” At the 11:00am and 2:00pm ultrasounds, Becky was neatly tucked in a breech position, her head nesting under my rib cage. But now she had flipped on her own. I was as stunned as the doctor was shocked. I said, “So we did all of this for nothing? I don’t believe it. Can I see the ultrasound?”.
The ultrasound tech began turning the screen but the doctor said sharply, “Wait!”. She called for the music to be turned off. Sorry Mr. Beethoven. Dr. Atkinson said, “We can wait 1 minute.”. The room went cold silent.
60 seconds of nervous stillness as the team stared at a screen that I couldn’t see.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Suddenly, Dr. Atkinson locked eyes with me and said, “We have to take the baby. Now.”. She didn’t wait for a response. I heard the word CRASH. Then the word GO. Organized chaos erupted all around me.
Doors began flying open, doctors and nurses pouring into the room. Two nurses stepped on either side of me to begin IVs in my hands. I felt nothing this time. Another nurse placed a nasal cannula, a sudden rush of oxygen shooting up my nose. A curtain went up and I could no longer see Dr. Atkinson. Sam was sitting next to me with a dazed look on his face. Things were moving so quickly.
And this is where my story gets strange.
I now know that I was given massive doses of fluids and medications, some of which would last for days and cause hallucinations. Which explains why things looked so funny to me. In fact, for a brief moment, I thought everyone looked like little Oompa-Loompas wearing dark blue scrubs. And I wondered if they were going break out into a little song. Or a dance. To entertain and distract me.
Oompa loompa doompety doo
I’ve got a crash C-section for you!
Strange thoughts under anesthesia.
Suddenly waves of nausea overtook my body. Sam held a bag to my mouth and tried to comfort me. Looking into his tear-filled eyes for reassurance, I saw nothing but fear. His lips trembled as he struggled to say the words of the Hail Mary.
I felt nothing save pressure and tugging. My body and mind were numb. I couldn’t make out the words people were saying though I could hear talking. It was like being on a strange fair ride, spinning out of control as the world swirled around me.
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com
Suddenly, Dr. Atkinson told Sam to stand up and look over the curtain. Becky had been born. In less than 90 seconds.
Blue. Motionless. Silent.
It was 4:34pm.
They whisked her to another part of the OR and I pleaded with Sam to follow. He didn’t know whether to stay with me or go to her. He told me there were at least 6 people at her bedside and he wouldn’t be able to see anything. Finally, a moment of lucidity as I thought, “You are as tall as a giraffe! You will be able to see over them. GO!”.
And then the strangest thing happened, even stranger than the Oompa-Loompas.
At this exact moment, a woman walked into the OR and headed towards us. I noticed her immediately as she was the only person wearing a different color scrub. The surgical team wore deep navy blue scrubs. The NICU team wore powder blue scrubs. But this woman wore the palest blue-green color that I really can’t describe. She walked slowly and deliberately, as if in slow motion. She looked out of place.
She came up and said to Sam, “I don’t seem to have anything to do. Would you like me to sit with her?”. This struck me as odd. Everyone had something to do. I nodded yes and Sam went quickly to Becky.
When he arrived, Sam saw two neonatology doctors struggling to revive Becky. Nurses rapidly pushed equipment and supplies into their outstretched hands. They were working intensely and speaking curtly. The doctors quickly intubated her and she began to pink up. I heard a single, weak cry. Becky was alive.
They flew out of the room pushing Becky in an incubator. I don’t know if Sam left with them or if he stayed with me. One of the neonatologists briefly came over to me. I couldn’t decipher his words. But the look in his eyes gave me confidence that Becky would be fine. He told me several days later that she was a very sick baby at birth. I recognized his thick Russian accent. And his eyes.
Meanwhile the strange woman sat on the stool next to me, cupping my hand between hers, one gloved hand resting on top, the other on the bottom. She watched me with the kindest, most gentle eyes. She never spoke. When the nausea hit again, she held a bag to my mouth and dabbed my lips with a cloth. Strangely, in the midst of this chaos, I was at peace. I don’t remember when she left me.
It’s the one part of Becky’s birth that I can’t quite square. Over my month in the hospital, I asked many people about this woman’s scrubs. It was a bit of an obsession. I needed to know if she was real. But no one knew of any department in the hospital that wore that strange, blue-green color. As I walked through the hospital or grabbed coffee in the cafeteria, I actively searched for this color. I never saw it again.
I believe I was visited by an angel.
It may be just as likely that I’m crazy. Just moments before my angel appeared, I was looking for a musical number in the OR. But something tells me she was a very special visitor. During my time in the hospital, I thought about her constantly. And with each recollection, there was peace. She was a reminder that I would not be alone. God would provide. There was always a special person present at the most difficult moments.
My angel during Becky’s emergency delivery.
Maria, the Speech Therapist, when I had to make a difficult decision about the G-tube.
Michelle, a maintenance staff worker and weekend pastor, who cleaned Becky’s room daily while preaching me her gospel of hope.
God provided every time. Starting with my angel.
Sam told me later that he stopped counting medical personnel in the operating room at 23. There were 2 teams for me and 2 for Becky. He did confirm this woman’s presence so I know she is not a figment of my imagination. Unsurprisingly, there were no Oompa-Loompas. At least not that Sam could see.
After this, I have a hard time piecing things together. The medications fully effective, my memories are more like snapshots. Indeed, pictures help me to piece the following days together. I don’t remember leaving the operating room or being wheeled to the NICU. I don’t remember talking with my kids or telling them that they had a baby sister. At some point in the evening, I spoke with several family members and friends. People told me that I sounded drugged. I said that I was just really thirsty.
I do remember two things. My first cup of ice cold water and seeing Becky for the first time. The emotion was overwhelming. In both instances.
The next day we saw Dr. Atkinson in the hallway on the way to the NICU. I was grateful for the opportunity to thank her in person and curious to ask what had happened. She briefly told me that when my blood pressure fell, they were able to get it back. But they couldn’t get Becky’s to stabilize. Sometimes a cardiac baby can’t tolerate any deceleration in the mother’s heart rate. A NICU doctor told me that Dr. Atkinson was specifically hired because of her expertise in handling emergency situations. What a blessing that my path crossed with hers on October 13.
Another poignant part of Becky’s birth story. Earlier in the morning, my brother-in-law had driven Mom and Dad over to a hotel near the hospital. They wanted to be nearby for when Mom would move into the Ronald McDonald House. They were in front of the hospital during the exact moment that Becky was born. I suppose it’s always a parents’ instinct to be near their child during a moment of great need. Although I didn’t know it, they were there.
So that’s the story, if anyone is still reading. I wrote this post as much for posterity as anything. Perhaps the details are only of interest to me. Memories are malleable and I want to remember the many blessings from this day. And all the answered prayers.
It’s a story as special as Becky.