Flowers in one hand and a Wal-Mart bag of goodies in the other, I headed towards my daughter’s room. Knowing that my grandson was going to arrive sometime that afternoon, I had slipped away to buy a few treats for him and his sweet mama.
As I turned the corner and headed down the long hallway, my heart stopped. I gasped with the realization that the screams were coming from the throat of my daughter Carrie. I raced to her room, only to find the door shut. Scarcely able to breathe, I pushed it open and saw her husband Rich on one side of the bed and her father on the other. Both were speaking tenderly to her and caressing her gently. I felt helpless. Having given birth three times, I knew there was nothing I could do to assuage her pain. Saying, “You’ll soon be fine and holding your baby in your arms” seemed lame.
Dr. Nelson burst through the door, and Carrie’s father and I walked out, leaving Carrie, Rich, and the doctor in the room. We stood outside waiting, trying to be brave. A little over an hour earlier, the doctor had decided that labor was progressing a little more slowly than expected and had broken Carrie’s water and given her Pitocin.
He then left to do a C-section, and we, following his lead, had split up for a few minutes. Rich went to the hospital cafeteria, her dad went to the lounge to catch a few zzz’s, and I left for the Wal-Mart excursion. None of us knew things would happen so quickly, including the doctor.
Almost immediately after everyone departed, hard labor began, and with the doctor and the hospital’s only anesthetist on duty both involved in the C-section, there was no chance for an epidural. My daughter’s one tough cookie. She once experienced a perforated eardrum with neither whine nor whimper, but even she began to crumble when a progress that normally takes several hours was compressed into such a short period of time.
An hour and a half later, we stood outside the door, me with my chin trembling and trying not to weep. Her father, on the surface, appeared calm, but I knew that he too was troubled. I spotted a woman, probably in her 30’s with brown hair and dark glasses, looking at us with concern. A stranger, she walked over, hugged me, and said some reassuring words. I later learned that she was a doctor. There’s a lot to be said for the kindness of strangers, and eight years later, I still think of her compassion.
Carrie’s father and I made small talk while we waited, me tearful and him stoic, a rock. Both of us were remembering the events of a year and a half earlier. It was a chilly afternoon early in December, and I was in high spirits. Cruising down Highway 501 in Myrtle Beach, I was looking forward to the end of the fall semester and the upcoming Christmas holidays. That afternoon we were hosting a reception for adjunct faculty at the college, and I was on my way to pick up some fruit and vegetable trays. Life was good.
My cell phone rang, and I was surprised to see Carrie’s name as the caller. We had just talked the night before. She was seven months pregnant, and as the time for delivery grew nearer, we talked even more often than usual.
“Hey Sweetie. What’s up?” I asked.
“Hey Mama. I just wanted to let you know that I decided to go see the doctor this morning.,” she said.
“I thought it was another couple of weeks before you were scheduled to go again,” I responded, becoming aware of an uneasy, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“Well, I just felt like something was wrong, so I came in, and when they checked the baby’s heartbeat, there wasn’t one.” She said
“What do you mean?” I asked incredulously.
“His little heart stopped beating,” she answered in an even- toned voice as if she were telling me that she was going to have lunch with friends or paint the nursery green.
Then I asked the ultimate in stupid, insensitive questions. “Did it start again?”
Quietly she said, “No Ma’am.”
I pulled into the Barnes and Noble parking lot and sat there, stunned and reeling with shock and pain. My child lived five hours away, and her husband, a Navy “nuke,” was in a submarine in an undisclosed location. I couldn’t think straight, but amazingly she could, Carrie told me that she had friends who would be with her 24/7 until I could arrive, and I promised to leave before dawn the next day.
Trancelike, I went through the motions of organizing things on the home and work fronts and pulled out of Myrtle Beach before sunrise the next morning. It was a tortured, angst-ridden drive. What would I say to her? How was she? Who was with her?
My husband had been in Allendale on a hunting trip, and I picked him up at a Burger King in Walterboro. He hugged me and remarked on my zebra striped socks before taking the wheel. It was easier to talk of socks and other mundane issues. Neither of us could say his name, Spencer, the baby who no longer lived, the baby who would be born the next day. Born? Was that the correct term? Would “delivered” be a better one?
We finally arrived in St. Mary’s, GA and spent the rest of the day and evening preparing for the next day’s procedure. On the following day, an overcast Saturday morning, my husband and I took Carrie to the hospital where she was induced for delivery. A couple of hours later, her father, his mother, and his wife arrived, and about 3:00 p.m., Rick arrived after an anxiety-ridden van ride from Port Canaveral. Knowing that he was the only person who could truly ease her distress, I was thankful to see his slim form racing towards Carrie’s room.
Standing vigil all day and well into the evening, we laughed, we cried, we talked, and we walked that hallway back and forth, back and forth. That evening around 9:30, Spencer arrived, a perfectly formed, beautiful three pound baby boy. Carrie wanted to take pictures so we did. All of us looked at this tiny body and wondered WHY.
I held him close, marveling at his perfect little face, willing him to open his eyes, gasp for breath, and start crying. No matter how much we held him and caressed him, however, his little body remained lifeless. Our hearts were broken.
Fast forward a year and a half, and Carrie’s father and I are standing at the opposite end of the same hall at that same hospital. We’re waiting, and it seems like we’ve been waiting for a very long time.
“What’s taking so long?” I wailed.
“It hasn’t really been that long. Things are fine. Nothing to worry about,” he replied.
Whether he believed his own words, I don’t know. I just knew that Carrie had stopped screaming, and there were only muffled sounds coming from the room. Was everything okay? Why didn’t they tell us something? Was the baby here? Was Carrie alright?
Then I heard it, the cry of a newborn. At first weak, Braden’s cry became stronger and louder. It was the most wonderful sound I’d heard in years. Laughing and crying at the same time, I looked at his grandfather and read relief and joy in his eyes.
After what seemed like an eternity instead of 20 minutes, we were allowed to push the door open and enter the room. And there was my grandson cradled in the arms of my beautiful daughter. Weeping with happiness, I hugged her tightly and then put my hand on Braden’s tiny chest as it went up and down, up and down, breathing in life.
That was eight years ago, and I still marvel at the miracle of his birth. And I still think of his older brother. While I mourn the loss of this precious child, I’m confident that he’ll always be perceived as the older brother of Braden, Brooke, Emma, Colton, and Seth.