Please welcome Cee Streetlights to #BeREALationships.
I had been in labor since May when my water finally broke in July. Avoiding a premature birth had been our primary goal since my first ultrasound at seven weeks when I watched my baby – smaller than the size of a jelly bean – bouncing around the womb like a ping pong ball.
I protected my growing belly and its wild pixie like a dragon protects its treasure. I was still mourning the loss of one baby, losing another would be the end of yet another world for me. I knew I would not be able to bear it. The loneliness of bed rest is a small sacrifice when I thought about the life growing below my heart, as if it knew how hollow that space had been for so long.
There are mysteries about a woman’s body when she is pregnant that are both beautiful and bizarre. Nobody prepares a woman adequately for what it feels like when her water breaks. There’s the mucus plug, for example, is not only bizarre but is something that should be written about in science fiction novels. The butterfly kisses of the feeling your baby moving the first time, almost if you can feel tiny fingertips reaching out for your hand. Stretch marks that seem to magically appear overnight like roads crawling over foreign lands. And then, of course, there is no preparation for the sensation of your water breaking.
In the time between getting my husband’s attention and driving to the hospital, I began to feel contractions. I was also beginning to feel light-headed and have heart palpitations, but didn’t think anything of it. It was extremely warm that day and I remember thinking that perhaps I hadn’t had enough water. I wanted my son to be taken care of, however. He needed to have lunch and have somewhere to spend the night.
My son’s birth ended with an emergency c-section, and because of the realities of his birth, this birth would be a c-section. But because my baby was coming early and after my water broke, everything was happening very quickly.
If you were ever able to be in a position to observe a labor and delivery team in an emergency, you would find them to be incredibly gifted. Chances are you would never be able to tell there is an emergency at all because they work with such precision and every member of the team is calm, knowing the role each is supposed to be serve. They do this for obvious reasons, of course. They don’t want to alarm the patient or any family members who might be present.
My son and husband never knew I was dying in front of them.
Once the IV’s and epidural were put in, and the heart monitors were hooked up, we waited for my brother to pick up my son. My heart beat erratically and I watched the nurses look at each other and then watch the monitors. They walked from one part of the room and then to the other, adjusting this or that. Nurses would roll me onto one side, and then they’d continue to watch the electronic peaks and valleys on the screen.
The nurses maintained cheerful conversation with my husband and joked with my son, never breaking their professional and skilled demeanors or the practiced movements between one another. Yet I recognized the quick glances one flickered to the other, the subtle frown or fleeting concern that displays when a brow wrinkles. I knew the look they exchanged with each other, and they moved the monitor so I couldn’t see it.
My brother arrived and my son left with him.
And it was time. Time for me to be rolled this way and that way, “Hold onto the bedrail,” the nurses said. And I held on.
They attached even more things to me that would monitor even more heartbeats; endless sticky pads with wires attached were suddenly entangled all up and down my body as if I were ensnared on a spider’s web. I could still hear the monitor’s beeping from somewhere, my baby’s and mine. One strong steady heartbeat beeping, and one that was slowly erratic, out of rhythm.
I couldn’t breathe anymore. My chest tightened and the room darkened, but what I remember most was watching my hands turn unnaturally white. The noise in the room muted into a loud silence and I knew I was dying. I stared at my white hands growing whiter. My body was tired. I was tired. The last few years had destroyed me.
Through the heavy silent ringing in my ears I could hear the baby’s heartbeat, its steady rhythm on the monitor. My white hands terrified me.
I whispered, “Is this normal?” I barely moved my hand towards a nurse was nearby, adjusting IV lines her and repeated, “Is this normal?” She looked at me. I remember watching her eyes widening as mine closed. I could hear them moving my husband back and people yelling for different things, but it didn’t matter because I finally had my eyes closed and I could count the baby’s heartbeat.
Until I felt a horrific burning in my chest and a burst of air forced its way through my lungs, my heart came alive with a ferociousness I have not felt since that moment. It might have been epinephrine that brought me back, it was the sound of my baby’s heart that gave me the will to hold on long enough.
My baby girl arrived soon after and I waited to hear her lusty cry but it never came. When the doctor held her up for me to see, her wide eyes looked around the room expecting something, her pallor a devastating blue, she smiled when our eyes met.
She was quickly taken away from me, the doctor explaining that her right lung was filled with fluid. I sent my husband to be with our daughter, to give her a blessing – something that we have faith in – and to stay with her. I remained in the operating room, crying for our little girl, feeling helpless. A nurse came to hold my hand when the Code Blue was called, and other nurses came to shield me from watching the NICU team rush in to save my baby.
The first night in the hospital was the loneliest night of motherhood. My sweet baby remained in the NICU, connected to tubes and wires in what we called her baby condo. I couldn’t hold her. The only contact I could have was by touching her hand. Her right lung wasn’t fully developed and she had a tube that extended through her mouth, down her throat and into her lung. My heart ached to hold my baby. What if all the books, blog posts, Facebook mothers, and What to Expect people were right and we wouldn’t ever bond because I didn’t hold her right after birth?
The prognosis for the baby didn’t match up with what my baby wanted, however. We had anticipated for her to be in her condo for over a week and in the NICU for a month. Yet, her nurse called me in the middle of the night and asked if I wanted to hold somebody. The baby was ready to be released for good behavior just three days after being born – not the full week as anticipated.
It turns out I didn’t need to worry about my child not bonding with me. The moment she was placed in my arms and under my gown (kangaroo care in NICU language) the magic that occurs between mother and baby happens. Suddenly, the worries from bed rest disappear and the fear of seeing her blueberry blue vanishes. The harshest of realities – that death can be only white hands away – seems to become the stuff only life insurance salesmen talk about.
At that moment, finally holding my baby girl, all what mattered was feeling her heart beat against mine.
After writing and illustrating her first bestseller in second grade, “The Lovely Unicorn”, C. Streetlights took twenty years to decide if she wanted to continue writing. In the time known as growing up she became a teacher, a wife, and mother. Retired from teaching, C. Streetlights now lives with her family in the mountains along with their dog that eats Kleenex. Her memoir, Tea and Madness, won honorable mention for memoir in the Los Angeles Book Fair (2016) and is available for purchase on Amazon.