Moments after my water broke, I sat on the toilet and burst into tears.
What have we done? Will she ever forgive us? How will I love this child as much as I love her?
My husband returned from his call (mobilizing our Code Baby friends) to find me bawling. “It’ll be okay,” he whispered. “You know it will.”
I didn’t. I really didn’t know if I could share my heart with another baby.
~ ~ ~
I was pregnant with my first when a physician I worked with returned from paternity leave. Pleasantries out of the way, I questioned, “Honestly, how is it with two?”
A mess. Chaotic. Wonderful.
“But how does it work? How do you love this one like your first?”
Given to metaphors, he said your heart is a love amplifier. There’s no finite amount of love to share. Miraculously, your ability to love increases.
~ ~ ~
As I sobbed on my toilet, I remembered his words and prayed it would be true for us. Could I love the baby inside me as much as I already loved his sister?
In the hospital, I labored without an epidural, just as I had done with my first. Time passed, but I didn’t dilate—again, just like with my first.
The monitor’s beep beep beep slowed significantly after one contraction. Three nurses rushed in, positioned me on my left, and placed an oxygen mask on my face.
“What’s going on?”
His heart rate returned to normal, just in time for the next contraction. The midwife came to the door. Again, a late deceleration and I knew it was time to make some decisions.
Given my medical knowledge, an emergent c-section was the only viable option if his heart rate continued to slow. Without an epidural, I’d buy myself general anesthesia in that scenario. Babies don’t tolerate low heart rates, and neither do obstetricians.
If I had to give birth under stressful circumstances, I wanted to be awake for it.
A low heart rate was no longer our issue by the time the epidural was in. Instead, it was dangerously high. My baby was in distress.
The midwife returned with the obstetrician, “You need a c-section.”
All the fears, dreams, plans, ideas, and hormones slammed into each other and burst out in overwhelmed tears.
The doctor started in with “Ma’am, your baby’s in distress and we…”
But the midwife grabbed her arm to cut her off. “She’s a reasonable woman. Let her cry for a second. This just wasn’t what she expected.” (Bless You, Midwife Armstrong. I’ll love you forever for understanding me.)
They rolled me into the operating room and minutes later, my baby was out. A quick show over the blue drape before the nurse whisked him away.
My shoulder began to ache and I felt nauseous. “The bleeding isn’t stopping,” my OB said.
I vomited into a sterile blue bag.
“Ma'am, was the baby tested for CF?” the neonatal nurse asked me.
No. No cystic fibrosis tests. I wretched again.
“I feel like I’m going to die.”
I’m an ICU nurse. I’ve seen some horrible unexpected things. I was hearing words like “phenylephrine” and “dopamine” coming from the anesthesiologist. My blood pressure was dropping and I was losing blood. I didn’t want to die.
To make it worse, I hadn’t heard the baby cry.
In an emergent situation, time warps. What seems like ten minutes can actually just be two. How long since he was delivered? Maybe it’s only been a minute. But still. Shouldn’t he be crying? (Oh, the multiplicity of thoughts a mother can hold in her head at once.)
“What’s happening?” I ask my husband.
“They’re working on him. He’ll be okay. They’re working on him,” he reassures me. But I could see it his eyes—his fear. For me. For the baby. For himself.
How long had it been? Too much time. I know it’s been too much time.
I couldn't contain my anguished wail any longer, “WHY ISN’T MY BABY CRYING?!”
I have three Most Helpless Moments of my life. This is one of them.
After seven minutes, my son cried for the first time and I cried with him. My blood pressure and heart rate return to normal. The neonatal team, who worked furiously to ventilate this baby through hushed instructions, presented him to me for a sweet moment. Red face and swaddled tight, I kissed his cheek before they took him to the NICU for monitoring and testing.
He had a mucous plug in his airway, which required 10 days of in-hospital antibiotics. Although he was doing well, I stayed in the hospital for the maximum allowed time.
Before discharge, I walked up to the NICU to kiss him before we left. We lived close by and I would come and stay for hours at a time over the next five days.
My husband helped me into the car and we drove away. Five days earlier, I was crying over my daughter, unable to imagine loving anything as much as her. With a desperate ache in my heart over leaving the hospital without my baby, I burst into tears again.
And just like that, I understood. It’s the same mother-love, just amplified.