The French use the word anniversaire to denote both birthdays and anniversaries. In our case, our fourth anniversary and the premature birth of our sons coincided. The following is a work in progress post that recounts the events of September 20th, 2012 and those immediately preceding it.
September 19, 2012 became my first day at work since D was admitted into the hospital due to complications with her pregnancy. It had been nearly two weeks of me hovering over her hospital bed, both of us in a state of constant crushing anxiety. We had received relatively good news on the 18th. Augustus, who’d been lodged in the cervix and birth canal, had somehow returned to his rightful home at this early stage of pregnancy. Once again our boys were together back in the womb, where they belonged. With this news came renewed hope. There were of course risks that remained, including infection from the length of time D’s membranes were left bulging. Still, this was the best news we received since we arrived in the hospital and it afforded me some comfort to return to work.
The work day passed by uneventfully and I felt guilty knowing D was immobilized in Trendelenburg position since arriving at the hospital. I spent the day happy, letting a few people know the good news we’d received the day before. After a week and a half of giving the dire prognosis repeatedly and cautioning people away from optimism when there was little to be hopeful for left me relishing the ability to inform people of some minor positive. At 11 pm, I was off work and stopped by the store for some sparkling cider and orchids. September 20th was our anniversary, just an hour away. September 20th also marked exactly 24 weeks gestation, a point in the pregnancy the doctors set as our first goal. There was cause to celebrate and so I waited until midnight and created a Facebook post.
Two reasons to celebrate today. The first is D and my fourth anniversary. I hope in the few hours we have together today, with the restrictions that we have, I am able to properly express to her what she has meant to my life. Second is the official beginning of her 24th week of pregnancy. For those that are longing for updates, I will be sure to post one later today after we meet with doctors. A new week will provide new challenges and decisions, but, for a little while, we’ll relish how far we’ve come.
I drove the half an hour to the hospital after taking a healthy dose of Xanax, something our general practitioner prescribed for me to help relieve the prolonged anxiety I’d been experiencing since early September. By the time I got to the hospital, the medicine will have done its work and I’d have a place to lay my head.
When I arrived, D told me she was concerned. She wasn’t feeling right. She felt something strange was happening, something different than what she’d been experiencing during her hospital stay. I brushed it off and told her to relax, she’d been through a lot, and we’d deal with whatever was in store for us. Minutes later, I wasn’t able to hear her initial screams over my earbuds while brushing my teeth in the bathroom. Eventually I ran back into the room. Something came out. I had to look. She asked if it was the baby. I couldn’t tell. I didn’t know what a baby at twenty four weeks gestation would look like.
I told her I didn’t think it was the baby. I hit the alarm, told them we needed help. The nurses and doctors stormed into the room and calmed our nerves. They confirmed my suspicions. This was not a baby. What it was was a grapefruit sized blood clot that had been coagulating for the past eleven days. It could be though was a sign that something was happening and we needed to be ready because she could be preparing to deliver. We were told to push the alarm if D felt the need to push. The doctors and nurses left. She needed to push, couldn’t stop it. She wanted to hold them in, she cried and apologized to me because she couldn’t stop it. I told her it was ok, it was time.
I rang the alarm. The doctor informed us that it was time to deliver. I had to sit down. The doctor asked if I needed medical attention. I told him I did not. I just needed to sit first. The Xanax had made me dizzy and lightheaded. I was supposed to be ready for bed, not for fatherhood, not for being a bereaved father. D was wheeled off and I watched her round the corner as I was given hospital scrubs to wear before I could enter the delivery room. I made a few calls on my phone to relatives and informed them that delivery was imminent before being ushered in and reunited with D. They pointed out the strange technological stations where they’d work on the boys when they arrived. It felt as though there were dozens of nurses and technicians in the room with us. They instructed D. Breathing and pushing. I laid my head on her chest. The nurses asked me to move, D needed to see them. A few moments later, I laid my head on her chest again. This process would repeat throughout the delivery of both boys, I whispered push, push, push.
Augustus was delivered quickly. We’d find out later he was just 8.5 inches and 1 pound. We now had to make a choice. Sebastian was breach and it was a difficult delivery in good circumstances. We were given the option of a C-section. D asked what we should do. I refused the C-section. The pushing began almost immediately. I don’t believe we would have had time for the C-section had we chosen it. The choice marks the first of many questions that follow me like ghosts. Push. Breath. Push. Breath. I whispered push, push, push. Sebastian was out just a few minutes after Augustus. 11.5 inches, 1.3 pounds. I remember thinking he was dead, that they both were. They looked lifeless. While the nurses tended to D, I moved over to watch them work on the boys. I stopped near Sebastian first and watched briefly before a nurse directed me over to August. I complied without question.
The boys looked so human to me. I’m not sure what I expected. They were just tiny and thin, but perfectly formed. I remember feeling it was too quiet. The noises of those working around me didn’t register. All I could focus on aurally was the fact that there were two babies born, two babies within feet from me, and no crying noises. I stood in an odd position, elbows together, my hands clenched under my chin and my head cocked to the side like a confused hound. I don’t think I was able to process what was happening, like a trauma victim who doesn’t understand they’ve lost their extremities. I was interrupted by a nurse and asked to move back to Sebastian. They’d done all they could and his heart rate, just five beats per minute, would not recover. They could continue working on him, but it was my choice. I asked if he would suffer if they continued. They answered he would and it was unlikely continuing treating him would rectify his situation. I decided it was OK for my son to die without consulting D. Sebastian would be robbed of person-hood, classified a stillbirth and left without a birth certificate.
The nurses escorted me back to D and I had to tell her Sebastian would not survive, a fact she’d forget soon after anesthesia would steal from her of the memory of her last moments with her son. As Sebastian’s heart took its last beats, August passed us on his way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. We’d later find out what that entailed, how his extremely small size meant they would have trouble finding adequate tubes that would be small enough to fit into him. While D was going through her first of several dilation and curettage procedures, a nurse guided me to our room my arm slung around her shoulder like an injured football player, held up by a trainer, limping off the field. She told me she’d bring Sebastian back to our room for me to hold. I waited, hugging my knees to my chest on the four foot long couch hospital couch I’d begun to feel so at home on. She brought him in and left me alone with him. All I could say was that I was sorry, over and over. I’m not certain for what or to whom I was apologizing.
The nurse came and took Sebastian away again, letting me know that D would be waking soon and I’d be heading to the room she was in and it was unlikely she would remember the delivery. By this time, D’s brother and parents had arrived. This was the first we’d seen them in weeks. D’s condition was so precarious, they couldn’t assure us she would be able to remain pregnant should have an extremely negative emotional reaction. She spent the weeks stifling the emotional pain she was going through to the best of her ability and we quarantined ourselves from all but two or three people necessary to keep D company when I was unable. When D woke, she asked if they had made it. She remembered nothing and now, for the second time in two hours, she was forced to experience being informed that one of her sons had died. Hours later, after blood transfusions, D would finally be allowed to hold Sebastian in her arms again. I regret not having him with us longer, holding him more, spending more time with him. I began to notice his features distort and couldn’t take watching him change from what looked like a small, sleeping baby. The nurse took him from us and he wouldn’t be returned to us until I collected his ashes. I made another Facebook post to announce the birth of August and Sebastian later in the day.
We are proud to announce that just moments after D and I updated our status, we first welcomed our 8.5 inch 1 lb baby boy, Augustus Hume. He was followed by his brother, 11.5 inch 1 lb and 3 ounce Sebastian Locke. August was responsive to efforts to rescue him and has spent 15 hours in the NICU and is currently stable. Sebastian was born breach and despite efforts, was unable to be stabilized. We spent the final few moments of his life with him cradled in our arms. He was too young to ever see his parents faces, but for a few moments he felt us both. We both mourn our loss, but celebrate the tiny life one floor above us. We thank you all for your love and support. We hope to have a healthy D home Saturday, but August’s best case scenario is for months in the NICU.
This would be my last post until August’s death 3 days later.