When I was in the third trimester, we toured the NICU. I, of course, was familiar with the place, knew the basic layout and would sometimes track down my patients at their babies’ bedside, but I never had to look at the unit from a patient perspective. The doctor showed us one of the rooms, lined with infant warmers on each side. I looked at the babies lying there, most small and fragile. When Mabel was born I didn’t look at any of the newborns in the warmers around her; I had only eyes for my baby. But I look back and think about how my sizable, robust-looking baby was just as sick as those tiny, fragile roommates. More so, even, because my baby died.
When the doctor showed us Caroline’s room- a private place for families, I felt some relief. I had asked what happens if we know our baby will die? Where can we go for privacy? He showed us this room, with a couch and a few chairs and I felt better, knowing I could cry my tears long and loud there.
One fear that still lingered was that my sweet baby might die alone, without her mother. We knew she might die. We had been reminded that weekly since 27 weeks. But we didn’t know when- would she live for a few minutes, hours, days, months, years…? If she survived beyond a few hours, there would be times we would be away from her- sleeping up in our hospital room, at home, en route back to the hospital. I pictured her coding on her warmer and me stuck in traffic. Or even a few floors above. Would her last thoughts be wondering where her mom was? Please don’t let her die alone.
In this tortuous, awful, unthinkable reality I now exist in, I try to think about what I’m grateful for. I am so grateful that my daughter died in peace, on my chest, with the arms of her parents resting on her. She fell into whatever blackness that is death listening to my heartbeat, as she did all through pregnancy. Perhaps as she took those final breaths, she heard the crack, as my heart broke. Perhaps she felt the disbelief her mother had that this actually was happening. Perhaps she could hear the relief in her mother’s voice as the nurse assured her she was not in pain. Perhaps she could see the pride in her mother’s eyes as she could finally see her free of tubes. Perhaps she knew how grateful her mother was that they shared that moment together.