September 27, 2013 · Personal
Today is Friday. TGIF. The 27th day of September. The last day before the weekend. The end of the work week. Not for me. This was the day, one year ago, my life changed drastically… forever.
I woke up like any other morning. Having to pee. Oh, the beloved pregnancy bladder. Knowing the second I attempted to roll this big ‘ole belly out of bed, my son would wake up. Like he did every single morning. Kicking. Making it almost impossible for me to sleep in even if I tried. Once I rolled over, I knew I was up for the day. My bladder and son’s kicking feet dictated my wake-up time.
I passed the nursery door on my way down the stairs. We officially finished his nursery the day before and had a good chunk of things done for The Buddy’s arrival. Newborn to 3-month clothes? Washed, folded and waiting in the dresser. Crib sheets and swaddling blankets? The same. Diaper creams and everything we needed for us to survive at home and get us through the first few weeks were ready.
At the bottom of the stairs, the Pack n’ Play and swing were clean and assembled. Anything that COULD be washed in Dreft? Was. I was trying not to be too “nervous” about germs, but knowing we’d be bringing home a fragile baby who just had heart surgery…it can make you a little extra cautious. Especially if this is your first baby.
My pile of items for our hospital (and Ronald McDonald House) stay was SORT of started. I still had 5 weeks to go, so I decided after my appointment today that I would pack. Officially. Dr. Rajabi asked me on our last appointment just a few days before if we had packed our hospital bag. “Not yet…should I?” I heard his voice in my head, “Doesn’t hurt. Just throw it in your trunk.” That was at the top of my to-do list for the afternoon.
In a moment, a SINGLE moment, your plans change. The womb was Owen’s safe place. As long as he was in there, he was ok. This was no longer the case. As I sat in the room at my appointment, monitors strapped to my stomach, undergoing my non-stress test that I did twice a week…I could hear it. Owen’s heartbeat was racing. It wasn’t coming down, and neither was my anxiety. What was going on?!?! I thought he was ok in there. I thought when he was out and tried to breathe and function on his own was when there would be a problem.
“I think we’re going to go ahead and deliver him today. Why don’t you guys head over to the main campus and we’ll call and let them know you’re coming. Pull up to the valet parking with your Special Delivery Unit (SDU) pass and head in. You know where to go.”
We had nothing. The clothes we were wearing. That was it. I thought there would be warning signs if I was going to need to deliver him early. Something they’d notice and monitor for a day or two first. I didn’t have supplies for a 2-3 day hospital stay, let alone our stay for weeks after at the Ronald McDonald House. I had weeks worth of clothing and supplies I was supposed to have. Our trunk was empty.
We called our family on the way to the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus to tell them it was go time. Because I had already eaten lunch, something I was required to do before coming in for the non-stress test and biophysical profile, the doctors needed to wait a few hours to start the delivery. I knew I was having a c-section instead of being induced. They didn’t want Owen to run a marathon before he was asked to run a marathon. I didn’t know exactly when he was coming out, and I didn’t know who would deliver him. No “birth plan” here. This was all too serious for such non-sense.
The moment I got out of the car, I heard my name. “Nicole?” Maybe it was the look of confusion and fear on my face. Maybe it was my big belly. For anyone looking for a worried pregnant mom, I was easy to spot. A woman greeted us and escorted us up to the Special Delivery Unit. A place we had toured a few months prior. A place that only handles the most high-risk situations where transporting a baby in from a nearby hospital is not even an option. Too risky or outright impossible. There are only about 150 births per year in the SDU and we were one of them.
As the doors swung open and we entered a floor set up entirely for us…and only us…the last 8 months became real. Right then and there. When I saw it. A room full of easily 30 doctors, nurses, specialists and surgeons…all talking about us. I know they were, because the second they saw us walking past the window they stopped talking, looked up at us, and smiled. Owen’s heart wasn’t the only one racing at that point.
The next few hours were busy. I was given IVs and prepped for surgery. Owen was getting Echo’s. People were talking to us and through us as they discussed things with their respective teams. Introductions, “Hi, I’m Dr. So-and-So and I’m part of the cardiology team.” “I’m part of the NICU team and I’ll be helping take care of your son as soon as he comes out.” Our parents arrived. Dr. Stewart arrived. Our room was flooded with bodies in and out. It was the perfect distraction.
One by one the bodies dwindled. My room was thinning out and the operating room was filling up. Johnny was now dressed in his surgical scrubs and we sent out our last texts and CarePages posts as we notified friends and family that Owen was coming soon. By 7pm, our son would officially be in this world.
And then I was alone. The adrenaline was wearing off and I found myself in an empty pre-op room feeling scared…and tired. So tired from not sleeping well the night before and just exhausted from the day’s emotions. It was the first time I genuinely thought, I don’t think I can do this. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to wait. I wanted to wait until morning. I just wasn’t ready…
Walking into the operating room was the last thing I remember doing on my own. The moment that needle went into my spine, I gave up all control. Because there was no longer anything I COULD control. My legs had to be lifted up onto the table. Doctors and nurses were manipulating my body like I was a puppet. Putting my feet here, my right leg there. I was helpless. My safety and the safety of my son were in their hands which were ultimately in His Hands. Reminding me that I never HAVE been the one in control.
In walked Dr. Rajabi. He opened up his schedule to drive over to deliver Owen. I was so glad to see his face. He had been there from the beginning and it was only appropriate he be the one to deliver him. Seeing him put me at ease. For the first time that day, I focused on what was about to happen. I was going to get to see my son.
Within minutes, Owen was out. I didn’t see him. I didn’t hear him. The only reason I knew was because the tugging had stopped. The anesthesiologist leaned down to whisper in my ear, “He’s out now.” Before we even knew what was going on, he was out of the room. He was receiving CPR. We didn’t know and I’m thankful we didn’t. I had to be closed back up and my body was already experiencing changes from no longer having the baby inside me. I just needed to focus on getting through this surgery.
Johnny got to see Owen first. While I was still on the operating table, he saw Owen for a split second and was able to take one picture. Once he was stable enough for transport, Owen needed to be taken up the elevator to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Dr. Stewart was by Owen’s side and he was all business. Owen needed to get upstairs and quickly.
While Owen and the teams waited for the elevator, our parents captured another picture of Owen. Still in the operating room, we got to see another snapshot of our son. Just a taste. Enough to get us through to the next step. I just wanted to see him. See his beautiful little face. Those first photos meant the world to me.
Then, I got to see him in person. Touch him. Talk to him. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I wanted to hold him close. To be able to touch him with more than just my fingertips. I knew that moment was weeks away, but in that present moment, I had never been more thankful for my Heavenly Father. Because I couldn’t embrace Owen. I couldn’t scoop him up, wrap him tight and comfort him the way only a parent can. The way only a Mom can. Owen was in the Arms of All Arms. There was no embrace more comforting. Not even my own.
Owen, I will never forget that day. I will remember every detail. I will forever remember the day you changed my life. You brought joy, compassion, empathy and love into this world. I wasn’t the only one who felt it. You have made me a better person. You have made me feel things deeper, notice people’s heartache and actually FEEL it in my own heart.
My heart aches for you. Every single day it aches. But, the only thing that gets me through the day is the hope and anticipation of spending eternity with you. Without that Hope, and knowing in the meantime you are in the only Arms that truly matter in all of this…I wouldn’t be able to live this life without you.
I love you. I miss you. I will shed a few more tears today as I think about what could have been. Your Birthday. I will shed a few more tears that are slowly healing my broken heart. But, I will also choose to celebrate you. Because you are a special boy who SHOULD be celebrated.
And God, I will choose to praise You. I will remember every moment, where we were never alone. Today, I, too, will seek comfort in Your Arms. The Arms that carried us through this year of firsts without our baby boy…
Happy Birthday, Handsome.
Click here for the very beginning of our 8 year journey through life, loss and our unexpected struggle with secondary infertility. Starting with what we shared at our 3-week-old son’s funeral.