They called us back to the NICU. We had been back in my labor room, away for only a few minutes and had spent the time calling family to tell them to come now; her time was short. It is never a good sign to be called to the NICU. Her oxygen sats were dropping. Her chest xray showed a collapsed lung and another leaking air. She looked so purple lying on the warmer. Beeps of machines. The whoosh of the ventilator. Her oxygen levels flashed on the screen…58…54…55…54. Those numbers should have been in the 90s; when we left they had been holding steady in the 80s. I took it all in… my baby was dying. They sat me in a comfortable chair and put up a privacy screen, perhaps so other families wouldn’t witness our suffering, perhaps so we could have our pain in private. From where I sat I could see those numbers in the 50s and ached for my child. Breathe, baby, breathe. They nurse wanted to put her back on my chest- kangaroo care it’s called. Preemie babies often fare better if they have time on their mother’s chest, skin to skin. My baby was barely a preemie- only a month early, tipping the scales at over five pounds. I figured they wanted her close to me as slipped away.
So the nurse put her listless body, spent from all the hard work just breathing, on my chest to rest. Heart to heart we sat together. As the chaplain was called and my parents rushed to be there, I whispered to my baby all the plans I had for her… snowboarding, the big yard we had for her to play in, the projects her daddy was going to build for her. My chin rested on her head and my eyes were drawn to the screen displaying her vitals. The numbers that had just been in the 50s were now creeping up to the 60s and 70s. My midwife commented on her color, “She’s pinking up!” We all watched in amazement as the warmth of my skin, my mere presence was it’s own kind of life support. She clung to life just a little longer simply because she was with me.
I want to remember this. During the six hours of my daughter’s short life, I worried she was in pain. What was it like to be hungry for air? To have tube down her throat? To be in such a bright room, whisked from the warm belly of her mom so soon after birth? I want to remember that the time she spent on my chest was good time. The whole of her life was not pain. She knew me. She felt loved and warmed and she could breathe. My love reached her. She knew me….