Walk a mile in my shoes
My neighbor’s grass is greener than mine. Though I hate cliché’s, the fact is that she is meticulous at cutting, repairing, fertilizing and watering her field of green perfection. I also know that she does so out of a sense of pride as she maintains the same piece of property once cared for by her ex-husband. When she talks of him there is still some bitterness and she, as far as I know, is married only to her career and motherhood and of course that beautiful lawn mowed into perfect rich green stripes.
I take from this my Lesson of the Day. We never know what someone else is going through or experiencing inside their head. We may not know the hardships that have hardened or broken their hearts or the grief they master every day. And because we don’t, a wise person would offer a basic daily dose of compassion to everyone. Never assume.
I recently had someone who adopted tell me I had it easy being able to give birth to my children. Like it was so simple: Get pregnant, get fatter, give birth, cry tears of joy, and take lots of pictures. Seriously? But she was convinced that being pregnant and giving birth was much easier than the path they were given.
I won’t elaborate on the fact that squeezing a human head out of your body after hours of crushing pain beyond anything in your imagination is not “easy”. I will not even delve into the fact I did it four times without drugs. She was talking the emotional roller-coaster of wanting and waiting for the baby to be theirs. I get it. I would never trample on their anxiety and anguish in waiting and wanting something so badly that your body refuses to provide you. But what she assumed, incorrectly, is that just because you are blessed enough to get pregnant means things go easy with no life altering worry or despair. Never assume. Nothing is ever guaranteed.
I have experienced a miscarriage at nearly three months along. He had a heartbeat. He had a name. I talked to him before bed each night. I started knitting a blanket that remains unfinished somewhere in a keepsake box in my basement. I did not knit again for 21 years.
I surpassed that pain, fear and despair when I was seven months pregnant with my now-three year old son AJ.
I was 38, in my last trimester and feeling so exhausted that it was difficult to just keep going, to just get through each work day. I had no time for lunch that hot July day because I had a prenatal doctor’s appointment I could not reschedule.
As the clock raced ahead, the baby kicked me, tapping the desk in front of me and pinching the skin of my belly in between. I fell behind in the workload and I left my office in my usual scurry of being ever so slightly late for my doctor’s appointment. I waited impatiently at the traffic lights to turn into the hospital. I watched as coworkers passed in a car heading towards the local sandwich shop. I envied them being able to squeeze in lunch. I envied their freedom.
I raced into the doctor’s office and breathlessly said my name as I checked in. The baby in my belly had grown quiet.
In the examining room the doctor breezed in and made the usual small talk as I lay down on the table and she began to listen for the baby’s heartbeat, moving the scope around on my belly. Time ticked by. Stupidly I did not notice.
“Can’t find him,” she said, as she searched. I continued to chat not realizing at first her expression had changed. “Something’s not right…something’s wrong.”
“What?” I asked, still not quite getting it. She said something about an ultrasound and ran from the room. I heard her yelling for the machine and in seconds she burst back into the room with a portable ultrasound machine. “Is something wrong?” I asked. “Is he alive?”
“I can’t find the heartbeat. I don't know,” she said, her voice strange and slightly shaky. “Oh…oh. Something is not right. OK we are going. No time to wait for a wheelchair.”
I was confused and beginning to panic as it was sinking in. He had been moving an hour earlier. He had to be Ok. This could not be happening. He had to Ok.
She swiftly took me out a back way from the office, holding on to my arm as she urged me to go quicker. We got to the elevator where she slapped the button, backed away like it would magically open knowing the urgency, then said it would take too long.
“We are taking the stairs,” she said, grabbing my arm again and pushing open the door. “I know it may not seem like you should be doing stairs like this but we don’t have time.”
We don’t have time. He was dead. She really thought my beautiful baby boy was dead or near death inside me.
I fought back tears as we raced into the maternity ward. The nurses there got me to the first room. They helped get my clothes off. Doctor Brown was kicking some of her street clothes off, scrubbing her hands and replacing them by stepping into the operating garb the nurses were holding up for her. I was lying down as a nurse came running in with a roll of something. She spread it out on a table and it clanged of metal as the surgical equipment for the emergency C-section rolled out. Another nurse had begun searching for a heartbeat again…she told me her name…which I will never recall.
Then we heard it. Ka-thump. Slow at first, and then regaining its speed, the sound of a little heartbeat filled the room.
“Oh, God! There…there,” the nurse whose name I will never recall said. Tears were streaming down her face. “Oh, hunny, it’s Ok.”
She leaned onto me, hugging me in a very uncharacteristic way of a medical professional, both of us crying and sputtering words of gratitude. I was shaking and felt sick. I could not stop the tears. I vaguely heard Dr. Brown saying “thank God” over and over. The sound of my son’s little heart downed out all else.
I never went back to my corner office as fate would have it. I spent a week in one hospital then was transported by ambulance to another that had a more extensive neonatal unit. I was monitored 24 hours per day. I listened in fear as my baby’s heart would slow to a near stop. Adam and I video taped some of the better moments in the hospital when the baby seemed to be back to normal. It was always in my head however, what if?
“What will we do with all this…this tape if…,” I had trouble with the words. “If we loose him?”
“Maybe we erase it,” Adam responded. “I don’t know.”
But miracles happen. Eventually I was released even though AJ’s heart continued to slow to a near-stop. I was monitored every day for the last three months and was on modified bed rest. I was scared all the time. Seriously. Was my position doing something to him? If he grew still I was told by the doctors to poke at my belly and if I could not revive him into movement to rush to the hospital. I lived 30 minutes away. I knew that it would never be in time to save him. But, somehow, he survived, was delivered without drugs after more than 16 hours of labor and is my miracle baby. A child I did not know from one moment to the next I would actually get to hold and love and watch grow.
I will not argue that my three months of unfathomable fear and anguish wondering if this baby would survive was more difficult than trying to conceive unsuccessfully and then adopting. I really try my best to never belittle someones personal experience with grief...to never assume.