My pregnancy with Avi was not easy. In fact, it was difficult physically and emotionally. At 41 week, 2 days I started experiencing fluid leakage. My OB's office responded by telling me not to come into the hospital until I experienced contractions. So I waited until a few days later when I started experiencing contractions. After I arrived at the hospital I was hooked up to monitors. It was then discovered that the cord was wrapped around Avi’s throat, and I had absolutely no amniotic fluid left. I looked at my partner Nathan and at my mother, searching for words of reassurance. Their faces held no such expression.
We waited for what seemed like hours to see if my labor would progress. It never did and within that time his heart rate started to drop. The doctor didn’t tell me until it was time to go that I was going to require an emergency c-section. The nurses quietly prepped me for surgery. My whole body shook uncontrollably.
As they wheeled me to surgery I wept silently. The air was cold and still. I was only numbed to my waist down so the upper part of my body tingled and trembled. After what seemed like only seconds and in the blur of the pain medication they had given me, I saw the brief glimpse of a beautiful limp baby. Nathan cried in excitement as he saw his son for the first time. I heard a soft whimper and then a deafening silence. Nathan’s beaming smile disappeared from his face. The nurse said in urgency, “Call Dr. Tipton.”
The nurses took me to the recovery room. I agonized in my bed, wondering if my son was dead or alive. An hour later we were finally told he was stable. My family arrived at the hospital shortly after. We waited an even longer period of time for the doctor to visit our room. When he did finally arrive, he came with a black cloud of scary words and unknowns. There wasn’t much he could tell us that made sense except that Avi couldn’t breathe without the assistance of a ventilator.
The neonatal intensive care (NICU) unit was anything but comforting. The NICU was sterile and bleak. It was busy and noisy with nurses hustling back forth and between babies to take stats, monitors beeping at all hours of the day, and parents talking with doctors and loved ones about their baby’s struggles. In the middle of the room lay my little boy.
Avi had soft brown hair and brilliant blue eyes. His skin was warm and soft and sweet smelling. He had the cutest button nose. He was the image of his mother and his father. He was everything we had ever wanted and had dreamed of.
I sat with him awhile and watched him as he kicked and fussed. I was fearful of hurting him in some way and unsure of how to comfort him. I wanted nothing more than to hold him though. After some time I returned to my room to face the reality of what had happened. The remainder of the day I welcomed my family as they came to meet Avi. I sat in my room internally struggling to come to grips with my son’s condition.
Later that night we received a call from the NICU. I knew this would be anything but welcomed news. Quickly we rushed to our son’s side. Avi was no longer fussing or kicking. He lay motionless, paralyzed by pain killers. The only motion was the heaving of his chest. As time progressed the heaving became irregular and harder for him. We sat over him; singing him his song, whispering words of adoration, and holding his hand. We glanced occasionally at each other, searching for the answers as to what exactly we were supposed to do.
Slowly he struggled more and more to breath. I squeezed his hand as my sign to him that it was okay to let go. The heart monitor’s beeping became one steady tone. After he passed away I took him into my arms and held him close. His warm skin turned cold as I kissed him on the forehead. My mind searched for the right words to say or the best way to say goodbye. I had no answers and so I said goodbye in the only way I knew how. I handed him to the nurse as I whispered to him so no one could hear, “I’ll love you forever.
Making funeral arrangements was agonizing. I sat in the funeral home trying to make decisions about whether to bury or cremate my son, while I should have been sitting at home admiring my baby’s first days of life. It was depressing to say the least and in some ways I was in denial. I sat bargaining in my head with an unknown force, “Please I’ll do this and that, just come back to me.”
He never did come back. I spent months hoping he would. I hoped that someday the nurse at the hospital would knock on my door to say it was all a mix-up and that she would plop him into my arms. I knew in my heart that it would never be true as a locket carrying his ashes hung around my neck.
It took three months for me to crawl out of bed and welcome the world back into my life. When I did, acceptance slowly came with it. It was a world without Avi and so his absence became a reality to me. To mention acceptance does not mean that my heart stopped aching. In fact my heart continues to ache to this day. But it means that slowly I was able to smile and eventually laugh again.
With time I became grateful for the one precious day I was given with him. In that one precious day I came to know Avi through subtle and heartfelt moments. These moments are generally ones that many new parents take for granted or will forget a couple years down the road as they fill their memory with other moments from their child's life. But these moments are all I have: my baby boy holding my hand, his sweet baby smell, his refusal to cooperate with the nurses, his beautiful blue eyes peering around the room, his inquisitive nature, the way he looked at his daddy, and us singing him his song as we said goodbye. These moments are both beautiful and haunting. They are painful and real and raw. Most importantly, they remind me how lucky I am to have had Avi grace my life; even if it was just for a little while.
Project Sweet Peas is a way for me to heal and to help other families heal as they endure the reality of a NICU stay and/or the loss of their baby. It is through subtle, precious moments that I came to know my own child and so I hope that through Project Sweet Peas I can help families treasure every moment they have with their babies.