Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sometimes, there are unsurvivable crashes.

Last Saturday, a friend of mine was on the highway and hit a patch of ice. She skidded, flipped, and went over a fence, hit a water tower and slid some more, landing sideways. Her two year old son was in the car. He was properly restrained in his car seat, which was correctly installed. He was unharmed in a crash that could have been fatal if he had not been. I was so glad to hear that. I knew my time teaching her had been well spent, and this little boy I love had benefited from it.

But sometimes, there are unsurvivable crashes. The big rig's brakes go out and it smashes into the minivan, which plows into another truck or a building. The force is so great that there is nothing anyone can do. The children can all be in proper car seats, and they die anyway.

This week, we had an unsurvivable crash in our own life, though not in a vehicle.

Once there was a little girl named Rebecca Irene, but everyone called her Becky. She had a personality. She didn't like pepperoni, but she loved fruit and she liked chocolate cake, too. She danced a lot. She especially enjoyed The Wiggles, and A Christmas Cornucopia, the new Christmas album by Annie Lennox. She liked warm baths. She knew her father's voice and would wiggle when she heard him. She liked to hear her sisters talk or sing or giggle, and got agitated when they fought or screamed. She was a joyful child and she knew love when she experienced the sound or feel of it.

She was also very active. Last Sunday night, she decided to do a flip. She turned upside down, then sideways, then back down again, as she had done many times before. But this time, she was getting cramped. Like her mommy, grandpa, and sisters, she had a very long umbilical cord. She was running out of room and somehow, when she flipped this time, she tightened a knot that had been tied in her cord a long time back, and the cord also wrapped around her neck three times, whether before or after this, we don't know.

By the next morning she was getting sleepy. Her kicking slowed down, and her mommy thought she was getting a little quiet because it was almost time for her to be born (her due date was later that week, after all.) Soon she stopped moving altogether. Her brain went to sleep; she lost function in her body as slowly the non-essential, then many of the essential parts of her brain shut down. Her mommy thought she was napping, as she did sometimes. Then her mommy started to worry a little. Her mommy listened to her heart, and was reassured to hear her heartbeat. Her mommy also felt her move once in a while, though later her mommy would find out that these movements were most likely reflexive muscle contractions and actually weren't what we would think of as "movements" at all. Her mommy worried enough to call the doctor. The doctor's call service had a problem, and she didn't get a call back. But her mommy fell asleep.

The next morning, Becky still didn't move. Her mommy worried a lot, and counted the minutes until the doctor's office opened. She called as soon as they did, and they told the mommy to come in. The mommy called the daddy and the grandma, and as soon as grandma got home to stay with Becky's sisters, the mommy and daddy went to the doctor's office.

At the office, the nurse put a monitor on Becky. They found a heartbeat, all right. But, it wasn't doing what it was supposed to. Even when they buzzed a loud noise at her and fed her mommy juice, the heartbeat didn't change. The doctor was very worried. He sent the mommy to the hospital, and she went up to L&D. They put another monitor on. Becky had one of her reflexive movements right about this time, though she was still asleep. No one knew that she was already so sleepy there was no chance she would ever wake. There was no way to know. But when no more heart variations came after that last one, the doctor came in and told the mommy that something was wrong. The mommy agreed it was time for Becky to come out, and they began an induction.

After a few hours of the induction, the doctor came in again. They were having trouble keeping the monitor in the right place as the mommy tried to remain comfortable and moved around. The doctor said it was very important to find out what was going on. He asked, and she agreed, to break the mommy's bag of amniotic fluid, and put internal monitors in.

When the water was broken, the doctor got even more worried. There was a lot of meconium. It was what he called "plus four meconium." That meant there was a whole lot of it, and it had probably happened a long time ago. Becky's bowels probably released when her brain first went to sleep.

After a few minutes, the nurses realized that Becky was not tolerating the contractions. They called the doctor. They gave the mommy a medicine to stop the contractions, and the doctor came in and told the mommy that it was time to get the baby out by c-section.

The mommy was very scared and angry. She did not want a c-section. She had a great fear of them. She asked her doctor to please tell her the risks of a c-section (which she already knew) and the risks of not doing a c-section. The doctor still thought there was a good chance to save the baby at this point. He didn't know her brain was already asleep, or that it had probably been that way since yesterday. He told the mommy and daddy what they needed to know, and then he sent the anesthesiologist in.

The mommy didn't like the anesthesiologist. The mommy has a fear of female doctors. She was already panicking and this made it worse. She was given a choice: spinal block or general anesthesia. Again, she discussed the risks and benefits. Then she asked for the doctor to leave while she talked to the daddy.

The mommy was very, very, very scared. She called her mommy. She couldn't make herself make the decision she needed to. She called the anesthesiologist back in to ask if she had the spinal block, could she change her mind. The doctor said yes, but it would be easier on her to do the general in the first place if she thought she'd end up with it-- and that after talking to the mommy, she thought that was likely.

The daddy and mommy talked. The mommy told the daddy that she was sorry. She wanted the daddy to be able to be in the room for the baby's birth. But she couldn't make herself do it. The daddy loved the mommy very much. He knew how scared she was. He told her that he wanted her to do whatever would make it okay for her. She got mad and said it wasn't okay. He said he knew. But it had to be done.

The doctor came back in. He said the baby's heart was getting worse. He understood this was a hard decision but it needed to be made now, and he would make it if she couldn't. The mommy finally told him, "Just put me under. I can't do this awake." He told her he understood as he ran out of the room and began to scrub in the OR down the hall.

The nurses ran in. They began to move the bed. The daddy walked into the hall with the mommy, and then he had to kiss her and go back. The mommy was very, very scared. She felt like this couldn't be happening.

She got to the OR and they tried to put a catheter in as the anesthesiologist got ready. It didn't go in the first time and the doctor ordered them to give up. A little pee was the least of his worries and he needed them doing more important things RIGHT NOW. The mommy got more scared but at that point, the anesthesiologist (who really wasn't a bad person; just in the wrong place at the wrong time or the mommy might have liked her) apologized that this was going to hurt. A nurse came and held her throat as the medicine began to burn in her arm and chest. As the mommy fell asleep, the nurse held her hand and stroked it, and looked her in the eyes. She whispered, "It's all right. I know you're scared. I'm sorry."

The next thing the mommy knew, she was in a strange room with strange people. Her doctor whom she trusted was not there. There was a strange nurse who was talking loudly to her. She didn't like it. She felt empty in her tummy and her heart. Her throat hurt, and her body was very tense. It was so tense that she was grabbing the bedrails, which her wrists were strapped to, and could not let go, and her body was shaking so violently that she thought there were vibrating cushions in the bed. She knew something was horrible. She moaned, "I want to go back to sleep. Please let me go back to sleep."

The nurse came over with a shot and said, "I am going to give you a shot for pain, ok?" The mommy yelled, "No! I don't want the shot!" She was still not thinking very clearly. She asked, "Where is my baby? Is my baby okay?" No one answered her. In the other bed she heard an old man being taken upstairs after his surgery. The lights were very bright in her eyes. She still couldn't let go of the bed rails. The nurse unstrapped her wrists and told her to let go. She couldn't make herself do it. She asked again, "Is my baby okay? Is my baby okay?" The nurse said, "Honey, I wasn't in the room. I'm just in Recovery." That wasn't really an answer. The mommy felt that she should know the answer. She asked, "Would you please look in my chart?" The nurse seemed not to hear. At this point, the mommy gave up. She was pretty sure that the nurse knew where her baby was and didn't want to tell her. She hoped that the baby was being life-flighted to a NICU. But in the bottom of her heart, the mommy feared that what she had felt when she woke up was true-- that her baby was gone from this life.

The mommy started to think a little more clearly. She said, "I want the shot now." The nurse gave her the shot. She relaxed enough to let go of the bedrails when asked, though she did not want to. She waited a little longer, pretending that she was calming down, while inside she felt more and more like screaming. She asked what floor they were on. For some reason she needed to know. Tears ran down the mommy's face. They wheeled the mommy back upstairs, and in the elevator the mommy asked what time it was, and found out that about an hour had passed since she went to sleep.

When the mommy got to the room, the daddy was there waiting. She couldn't see his face, as she had taken off her glasses before surgery. She asked for her glasses. The daddy went to find them. He said, "I know they're in one of these bags." As the daddy looked she grew impatient. She said, "What happened?" He said, "Let me find your glasses. Then I'll tell you." She knew then that he didn't want to tell her. But she had to know. She almost yelled at him, "I need to know! Tell me what happened!" It wasn't angry screaming. She wasn't scared. She was terrified.

The daddy came back, and sat down. He held the mommy's hand. He said, "She didn't make it." He cried. She cried. She asked again, "What happened?"

The daddy said that he had waited in the room, then went out and was directed to the waiting room. Half an hour later the doctor came in. The daddy knew it was very bad when the doctor asked the other man in the room to leave. The doctor told the daddy that Becky was born less than ten minutes after the mommy went in the room. She never took a breath, and her heart never beat outside the womb. It turned out that the umbilical cord with the knot had sustained just enough function that it was like life support. When the cord was cut, the plug was pulled on the life support machines. Becky's brain had already died. It couldn't make her heart beat on its own. The doctor told the daddy that they tried for 20 minutes to make Becky's heart beat and make her breathe.

The mommy couldn't quite believe this was happening. She asked again for her glasses. The daddy found them and she put them on. The mommy began to cry again. She said, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Then the doctor walked in. He asked, "Does she know?" The daddy choked down a sob and nodded.

The doctor was in shock. He looked it, and he said it. He said in 26 years this had never happened. He had had babies that he knew would not make it die, but he had never expected that Becky would not live. He had expected that she would be saved. The mommy said that she should have done something sooner. She should have gone in on Monday. Gently the doctor explained that it wouldn't have made a difference. Becky's brain was already asleep. When that happened, by the time the mommy could notice that something was wrong, it was too late already. The same thing would have happened, just a day earlier. The doctor sat with them for a long time, and he answered a lot of questions. He said he was very, very sorry. The mommy could see that the doctor was sad. She said, "I think you feel almost as bad as us." The doctor said, "I can't imagine how you feel. But I do feel very bad. I'm so, so sorry. I never thought this would happen. None of us wanted this. We tried our best and it wasn't enough." The mommy was not angry at the doctor. She trusted the doctor with her life, and her babies' lives. She knew that if he was not able to save Becky, she could not be saved. And she knew that he was telling her the truth. Though she still felt like a bad mommy for waiting so long, for that one extra day of not worrying enough, she knew, in her heart, that the doctor would not lie just to make her feel better. He was not hedging. He told her straight out that Becky was already gone by the time anyone could know something was wrong, and that nothing would have made a difference.

The doctor left, telling the mommy and daddy that he knew they would have more questions the next day, and that he would make extra time to talk to them as much as they needed. Then the mommy and daddy were alone in the room.

The mommy began to say sad and angry things. She said a lot that she didn't remember later, though she knew she probably said some things that hurt the daddy some. She mostly cried. And she said over and over that she was sorry. She knew it wasn't her fault but she was still sorry. She felt like she had failed to protect her baby.

After a while a nurse came in. She gave the mommy more pain medicine. The mommy's body was still very tense, and as her uterus contracted she stiffened all over and it hurt. But she couldn't focus on the pain in her body, because the pain in her heart hurt too much. The mommy and daddy cried together. The nurse came back, and asked gently if they wanted the baby in the room. They were not ready yet to meet Becky.

The mommy got her phone. The daddy had already called the relatives to let them know. The mommy called a friend. Her friend cried. The mommy was sorry but she couldn't talk much. She posted on Facebook. It was hard but she knew people would want to know. She knew people were worried for her and Becky and they deserved the truth.

The grandma came by with Becky's sisters. When they walked in they wanted to know where the baby was. The mommy explained that Becky's body had stopped working and that she was dead. The sisters had a lot of questions. Well, the older two did. The mommy answered them. The littlest sister just looked at the mommy. She was scared to see the mommy lying in the bed crying. The mommy's heart hurt for Becky, and it hurt because she had to tell the sisters news that was going to make them sad.

After a while the mommy and daddy asked for Becky to be brought in. They asked if the sisters wanted to stay or go. Two of them decided to go in the hall. The oldest sister stayed. The baby was brought in. Becky looked like she was asleep. The sister did not want to touch her. That was okay. The mommy asked to hold the baby. Then the daddy held her. Then the mommy held her some more. The next sister walked in and wondered why the baby was asleep. The mommy had to explain again. The two oldest sisters left. The daddy went out to be with them and the grandma came in. She held the baby too for a while. After a while the littlest sister came in with the daddy. She looked at the baby. She wanted to kiss the mommy but didn't like leaning over to do it. The daddy asked the sisters to say goodbye to Becky. The middle sister didn't understand why Becky couldn't come home, and the mommy explained again. The biggest two sisters said goodbye, and the grandma and daddy took the sisters home. The grandpa came by. He held the baby too. He talked to her, and to the mommy. The mommy told him all the most horrible thoughts she had had, and why she felt so bad. He told her that it was okay. We all think and say things when we are scared, that we don't mean. She knew that he meant it. She was comforted.

The daddy slept on the chair that folded out in the room that night. The mommy didn't sleep much. Most of the night she held Becky. She sang songs in the long, long rainy night. She sang all the favorite songs that she had looked forward to singing to Becky once she was born. She had wondered which would be Becky's favorite and now she would never know. But she sang the songs anyway, to get through the painful, rainy, sad night. She was in a lot of pain. She kept getting the daddy up to help her. She felt bad doing so, and apologized each time. But she needed help and tonight, she needed him. She could not ask a nurse, a stranger, to come in and help with little things. She only wanted the daddy to help.

The next day people started asking to help. The mommy accepted their help. A very nice photographer came from the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation. The night before a friend had contacted them and the daddy had called. He couldn't call again, he was too upset, so the friend kindly made the hard phone calls for the mommy and daddy. The daddy left and the grandma came, and helped wash and dress the baby, and the pictures were taken. The great-grandma was there too. The mommy dressed Becky in the Christmas dress and bow she had bought for her, that matched her sisters' dresses. The mommy and grandma cried. The photographs done, the photographer left. The great-grandma left. The grandma stayed with the mommy until the nurse came to take the baby down to the morgue so that she could stay the way she was, until the daddy was ready to come say goodbye.

That night the daddy and mommy said goodbye to Becky. They signed some release papers to let Becky go to the people who would take care of her for her burial preparations. They told her they loved her. They told her everything they needed to tell her. They kissed her, and they called the nurse in. The nurse tucked her in lovingly and gently. Then she wheeled her away, and the daddy and mommy held hands and cried together. It was probably the hardest thing they had ever done, to let her go out that door. The daddy went home to be with the sisters, and the grandma came to sit with the mommy.

The story isn't over. There is another day, and another, and another. Next week the mommy and daddy will go to a cemetary with their Stake President, whom they have known for a long time (he knew them before they married; he witnessed their wedding certificate in the Temple and he performed their ring ceremony; he has known each of their girls as a baby, and he was looking forward to meeting Becky.) He will consecrate her grave and they will put her body in the ground. There will be a place where people can go, and know that Rebecca Irene, whom everyone always called Becky, existed. There will be no way for them to know her, and they will not be able to see, looking at her grave marker, how joyful her very short time with her family was. They will probably never even know that she never took a breath or had a heartbeat outside of the womb. But they will know that she had a name, and a family who love her, and who wrote her name down so that people can see that she was here, and part of their family.

Becky will always be a part of the family. She may not be seen, but she will be present in their lives. The mommy and daddy and sisters were brought joy by her life. They always have and always will love her. And they believe that they will see her one day. The wait will be hard, but it will be worth it. And they will know her when they get there. They don't know how that will happen, but they know it will happen. They will know Becky, and Becky will know them. And once again, there will be joy.


This is the first photograph we have. There are many more but the photographer rush edited it so we would have it right away.

Rebecca Irene
Born still on Dec. 21, 2010 at 5:32 PM
7 lbs., 0 oz.
20 inches long

We will love her forever.