Unfortunately, the second baby I shadowed came a lot sooner than I thought it would. On Wednesday the 19th, I received a text from Hilary at 7:46 AM:
“Good morning. We have a baby in the NICU. Would you be interested in going this morning? We are meeting at the hospital ER at 8:45.”
The text also gave information to which hospital, which was the same “Hospital A” from my last post. Hospital A is the hospital I’m most familiar with, and the hospital where I had my miscarriages at. I knew that if we were meeting at the NICU, we were probably going to be dealing with a baby that was very sick.
I got to the ER and one of the nurses came to get me. Hilary and Kathy, the photographer who was on call that morning, were already up in the NICU. When we got up to the floor, room 220, Hilary and Kathy were waiting outside the door. Hilary briefly gave me a description of the baby. A boy… Baby Grant William. The mom delivered at 25 weeks. He was a little kiddo and just didn’t make it. He wasn’t super sick and the mom was very healthy. They didn’t know why she delivered so early and his little body just wasn’t ready to be on the outside world yet. He had been in the NICU for 4.5 weeks… He was 29.5 weeks when he passed away. Kathy later told me that the bowels are one of the last things to form on a baby. Because his hadn’t quite finished forming yet, he got an infection and became septic.
Before we went in the room, the grandma of baby Grant was just coming back from down the hall. She was hysterical. She peeked her head in the room and said that it was ok for us to go in. I let Hilary and Kathy go in first. There were a couple of nurses in the room, as well as the mom and the dad. They were standing and had their backs to us. The baby was laid out on a table with a blanket beneath him; the mom was washing him. He was little. I’m not sure how much he weighed, but I wouldn’t have guessed more than a pound or two. (I just Googled it. At 30 weeks a baby should weigh about 2.5lbs.) He looked like a doll… something that wasn’t big enough to ever have been alive. The mom was gently washing his tiny hands… his chest… his legs. She even said, “I have to get behind these little ears…” He had a large bandage wrapped around his stomach. I’m still not quite sure what that was for or from, but I would guess from what Kathy told me it had something to do with his intestines.
Just seeing the parents from behind, I thought they were a lot younger than they were. They were in their early thirties, but at first glance, I thought the mom was younger, early 20’s. Once I finally was able to see them, I saw the same grief on their faces that I saw with the first family. The dad was drained and the mom was too. He would put his arm around her and just sob. Hilary, very calmly and softly started to talk about all the same things… Did they know what funeral they wanted to use… Did they belong to a church… Had their pastor been called… They did have a funeral home. They did belong to a church. The pastor hadn’t been called yet, but the grandma got on that quickly. I think she was happy to have something that she could do. After the mom finished washing the baby, Hilary asked the family if they wanted to help get the baby’s hand and foot prints. The dad helped Hilary with that; he had a difficult time keeping himself together. Hilary asked me if I wanted to do the clay moldings. I said yes, I could help her with that. I took out one packet of clay and separated into two pieces. I had a little wooden dowel rod and I rolled out those two pieces into little patties. I did the same with a second packet of clay. Four pieces. Two hands. Two feet. She said that she would do one hand and then I could do the other. She did his right hand and moved out of the way so I could get to him. I took the clay and pressed it against his tiny right foot. He had long fingers and toes. I’m sure he would have been tall like his dad. I did the left foot and then did the left hand, holding it up slightly so Kathy could get a picture of his little hand. After I put the clay moldings into their keepsake box, Kathy asked the mom and dad if they wanted to get a picture of them holding his little feet so they could remember how tiny he was. The dad gently picked up his feet and the mom placed her hands around the dads. Their heads were close to each other, touching, bending over their precious baby boy. The flash from the camera highlighted their tears, both of which were clinging on to the ends of their noses. My heart broke.
After a few more photos for the family, Hilary helped the mom dress the baby in a onesie that the family had for him. It was way too big for him and was light blue with multicolored stars on it. He got a hat, a bracelet with a teeny tiny cross on it and a light blue crocheted blanket. Once he was dressed, we stepped out of the room to give the mom and dad a few minutes to be with the baby by themselves. While we were in the hallway, we started talking to the grandma. She was still so emotional, understandably so. However, I had no idea why she was SO upset.
It turns out, that when baby Grant started to take a turn for the worse, the mom was called in and they allowed her to take him out of the incubator and hold him for the first time–the last time. The grandma was there with her daughter as Grant passed away in her daughter’s arms. Literally, seconds later, a nurse came in and told the grandma that she was needed in labor and delivery immediately… Her other daughter was there giving birth. What?! That took this to a whole different level. I felt the blood rush around my body like it was on fire. This woman went from losing a grandson to gaining a granddaughter in a matter of minutes. That’s the stuff movies are made of, not real life. In the hallway and through sobs, the grandma said, “I don’t even know how to mother that!?” One daughter is holding her live newborn and the other daughter is holding her dead baby. Now that, is a cruel, cruel irony. And, not only that, but the daughters were just down the hall from each other, just a few doors apart. Every birthday, every milestone, every memory she wouldn’t get to have with her baby boy, her sister would be having with her daughter… And I thought I had it bad.
We went back in the room to take a few more photos of the baby with mom and dad. The dad was sitting on the chair in the corner of the room and the mom was sitting on his lap. Together they held their baby… It was so far beyond gut wrenching. My heart just broke for them and it still breaks for them. That will be the only time they had with their son. Hilary did her final goodbyes with them, hugged them and told them to call her if they needed anything. As we started to leave, the mother lost it… She was looking at her baby and glanced up at us and just started sobbing. I think she was thinking the same thing I was… The same thing that I thought about when I left baby Christian… She was thinking about what happens next… That she too, will have to leave her baby there. That, thankfully, is something that I didn’t have to do. They would have had to pry that baby out of my arms.
I wonder if this will ever get easier… Not that it should, but I wonder if I’m strong enough to do this. I’m way stronger than I ever thought I was because I actually did this… and let me tell you… it’s terrifying. Scary. Frustrating. Heart breaking. I feel good knowing that because of what we did, this family will have keepsakes that they wouldn’t have otherwise had. They have tokens of their babies, which is something I was never given. I wish that someone had told me about this network and maybe then I would have had a shot at figuring all of this out ten years earlier. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have this all figured out yet. We don’t know God’s plan. We don’t know why bad things happen to good people or why good things happen to seemingly bad people. We don’t know every story and we don’t know everyone’s personal struggle. All we can do is try to help each other get through this mess and hopefully we come out of this whirlwind helping others and being better people because of it.
After I got home from helping with Baby Christian I had this text from Hilary:
“You had a natural gift today with that family, especially the daughter. I’m so thankful you were there.”
And after Baby Grant I had this text from her:
“I think volunteering with us is a true calling for you. God gives you the strength when you need it most.”
I’m not a Godly person by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t go to church and I’m only recently learning how to pray (and trust me, I need help in that department.) I don’t know why I was always afraid of being a religious person and I don’t like the stigma that comes along with churches. I think my struggle with God will be an on going one, especially when seeing so many babies being taken from seemingly good people. I’m sure I will question Him more than ever, be more mad at him than I’ve ever been and struggle with faith more than ever before. I know he has a plan… I just wish (like everyone else), that I knew what that plan was.
I once tried to Google what lessons could be learned from having a miscarriage.
There’s nothing out there, in case you’re wondering.
It’s kinda funny if you think about it… It’s always been said we should wait until we are 12 weeks to tell anyone that we’re pregnant, “just in case.” You might miscarry. You might jinx it. God forbid people know you lost a baby. But what about these poor moms… 25 weeks and showing and you give birth. People knew you had a baby coming… Where did it go? Baby Christian died at 39 weeks… She was due to deliver and now she has to bear the shame that goes along with miscarrying. But people knew she was pregnant. People will ask her how the baby is and where he is. People will remember that baby. Why? Because she was visibly pregnant? People will grieve for them, pray for them and mourn in the loss with them… So why is miscarriage such a silent shame? Why do we need to hide it and grieve silently. Would it be easier if everyone had known? Would the shame be less?
I gotta tell you, after seeing these two babies and these two families… I don’t know which I would rather have, if I had to choose.