The baby is – at long last – asleep in her crib. I sit down at the kitchen table, glance out at the glint off the bay between the neighbouring buildings, and resolutely open my computer, type something like ‘nuchal cord two times tight around neck’ into Google. It is sometime in February or March or maybe even April of 2009 and I have only just realized how close we came to losing E.
E was born just before Christmas 2008. There were record snowfalls in usually-rainy Vancouver that December and on the 22nd, the last day I was to have to myself for a long time, the sun was shining hard on all that snow. I remember the day so clearly. I squandered the first half, lying lazily about the house, unable to decide what to do with myself now that all my work was done. Instead of organizing the nursery/office, I eventually took myself out for a walk around the lagoon. Lumbering slowly around its frozen perimeter, I rubbed my belly through my coat and talked to my baby. ‘It’s a good day to be born,’ I advised, and it was, indeed, a magical day: a wispy, sparkling mist rising off the iced-over lagoon, perfect white snow mounded on the tops of the black rocks on the beach, an early sunset for winter solstice turning all that white and water pink and gold.
I took myself for a hot chocolate, and then for a manicure and pedicure. The girl painting my nails asked me all about my pregnancy and I happily answered her questions about my due date and was it my first and did I want more. The Sex and the City movie was on in the background. I flipped through celebrity magazines. And then suddenly a thought out of nowhere: when did I last feel the baby move?
A slight feeling of unease began to creep and crawl over my chest, as my feet warmed in the dryer. I went home to wrap presents and the feeling grew cold tentacled arms that reached down into my gut and wouldn’t let me concentrate on bows and ribbons and gift tags. When R came home from a drinks night with some work friends, he immediately asked what was wrong. And then, why haven’t you called the doctor? Oh, I didn’t want to bother her over nothing. The baby’s probably just running out of room in there, I suggested, unconvinced, insides turned to cold jelly.
And of course that’s what the nurse who answered my call said: oh, honey, you’re just getting close, but I’ll put you through anyway.
The doctor wanted to know: when did you last feel movements? I wasn’t sure. Well, eat a bowl of cereal, drink a glass of juice, and then lie down and count. If you don’t feel x amount of movements in an hour, call me back.
We followed directions. We lay in bed for over an hour, tense and attentive. How many? asked R. That might have been one. One? Maybe two? Not enough, and the doctor told us to go straight to the hospital; she’d meet us there.
As long as I live I doubt I will forget the taxi ride to the hospital that night, through the quiet frozen city, past cars piled with snow and stuck in drifts. There was no traffic, but still we seemed to hit all red lights.
At the hospital, I was admitted immediately, hooked up to monitors, and there it was: wow-uh, wow-uh, wow-uh. The heartbeat. Not dead then. Thank fucking god. Though R tells me he remained scared, as soon as I heard that heartbeat, I felt safe. Even when the doctors said that the lack of accelerations and decelerations and the too-steady pattern of movement indicated the baby was in distress, I was not worried. We were in the hospital, they were inducing me, I was being closely monitored; everything would be just fine. Even when they started the oxytocin drip and the baby’s heart rate immediately plummeted to below 40 and didn’t come back up, I was okay. Even as they ripped out the IV with the oxytocin and handed me the surgical waiver to sign and prepped me at lightning speed for an emergency c-section, I was always thinking: the baby is okay; we’re in a hospital; we’re safe.
And we were. E came out screaming, scrawny and confused. One eye opened suspiciously at us and her mouth slowly opening and closing, a fish mouth, testing, testing.
The nurses and our doctor all called her a ‘miracle baby,’ but my mind would not let me linger on the implications of that term. It wasn’t until weeks, or even months, later that I wondered: how safe were we really? What might have happened? What bullet did we dodge? And that’s when I googled.
I don’t remember exactly what I searched for but I do remember that the first link I clicked on took me to the blog of a woman who claimed nuchal cords were harmless, that doctors were far too hasty to intervene when babies weren’t really at risk. But the next links. Oh, the next links. I don’t remember what order I found them in or exactly how, but there were Sally and Angie and Ya Chun and Chris and Lani and Janis and Erica and Jess. The babylost. I read and read and read. All of these different stories, different ways of losing, but the same unimaginable shock, the same wrenching, horrid pain and longing. Dead babies. Astonishing. Unfathomable. Unbearable.
For weeks I followed their stories at the same time as I held my own baby tight to my body. I had not experienced that immediate bond that some mothers speak of when E was born, but in the weeks that followed her birth I learned what mother love was, how it gripped your heart so tightly that sometimes you couldn’t breathe for both the joy and the terror of it. In my arms was the joy; on the screen was the terror. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t stop thinking about how that could have been me. That could’ve been me.
Eventually I began to feel terribly guilty about lurking on the edges of other peoples’ tragedies. The truth was, it wasn’t me. E was safe. She was thriving and I had no place in this world where mothers mourned babies that weren’t, that didn’t. I made myself stop, because I had to stop thinking about what it would have been like to lose E. I had to let my brain rest, let it forget our close call and let it forgive me for not being more scared. Because, secretly, what I worried about most of all was what might have happened if R hadn’t made me go to the hospital. If I had been left to follow my usual modus operandi by not bothering the doctor with my silly little worries, my lovely thriving chubby girl might not have made it and that thought terrified me. I had to forgive myself; I had to stop reading.
But still, sometimes, often, I thought about those other mothers and I would check in to see how they were doing. I visited Glow In the Woods and learned of other babylost bloggers like Josh and Catherine. Last year, after experiencing two miscarriages, I read through many of the entries in the Where Am I Right Now linkup with a new perspective, although I continued to feel like I was trespassing where I didn’t belong.
And then this year, pregnant again, in the early afternoon of Thursday, January 12, as I sat at the same kitchen table, light glinting off the same bay, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling my baby girl move as she usually did. It was one of E’s daycare days and I was frantically trying to finish writing the last chapter of my dissertation. Every afternoon after lunch and after spending the morning running around doing errands and going to the gym or playing with E, I would sit down at the kitchen table and write. And every afternoon my baby girl would start kicking and rolling and prodding and poking. I thought of her as my writing partner and as a kind of motivational coach: you’d better get this done before I make my appearance, or you never will, kick kick kick.
Except that afternoon, January 12, she didn’t kick. Not once. Not once.
I waited until after dinner, after we had E tucked into bed, after I’d done the whole drink-a-glass-of-juice-and-lie-down thing on my own, after I knew the worst already, to call the doctor. Come in to the hospital, she said, her voice grave. We’ll see. She could hear in my voice, I think, that I already knew. R stayed at home with E. He watched me from the doorway while I waited for the elevator. My hands and knees shook. I wanted to throw up. I knew she was dead. Though I had not let myself say the words, aloud to R or silently, to myself, I knew it already.
And when I came home from the hospital two days later, shocked and broken, the first thing I did when I had a moment to myself was open my computer, go to Glow In the Woods, email Angie. And now I belonged. Now I belonged.
[Edited to add]: I have hesitated to publish this out of fear that it may seem like I somehow managed to save my first baby when other mothers couldn’t save theirs. I absolutely do not want to give this impression. We were lucky the first time. Unlucky the second. I just had to get this off my chest because I sometimes feel like an interloper in this community, like I know too much about some of you who know nothing about me.