[Ed. note: by Jared Bloch, published on GenevaLunch in 2008]
My daughter wakes up lazily – she’s on vacation – and calls to me from her bedroom.
“Dad come here, come here before you go. I had a dream of the baby,” she tells me. “She was born and she was a girl. She had gray eyes and brown hair.”
I smile imagining the baby she is describing and savor this thought on my way to work. Some days earlier she had a nightmare she told me about, where she was with friends and they all died. I tell her that dreams are metaphors and that they point us in a direction but don’t tell us the whole story.
Two days later,
My wife calls me at work, desperate, telling me her water has just broken; she is five months pregnant.
I race the ambulance to the hospital on my bicycle and arrive just as they are pulling her out on a stretcher. She is pallid and terrified, crying. They admit us into an operating room and connect her to all the lines and machines meant to sustain life.
After 10 minutes a doctor comes in and tells us what we already know – she is in labor and she will give birth shortly.
We ask the doctor if there is a chance of saving the baby, any chance, can we keep any hope? He tells us first in French and then in English, that a 5 month old baby cannot survive outside of the womb.
He repeats this to make sure we understand and says he will return in a few minutes to confirm we are ready to give up our baby even as she enters the world – but really we have no choice in the matter.
The contractions are excruciating and now the fact they are offering IVdrip painkillers in lieu of an epidural confirms the dawning reality that all this work will be for naught, that they are doing their best to alleviate my wife’s pain – our pain – and that our baby’s passing is a foregone conclusion.
The force of the contractions alone on the fragile body of a 5 month old baby can severely damage or end the life emerging.
How do you find the strength to push out a baby who will die upon birth? The midwife, sage-femme in French, is a soothing voice putting our thoughts into words.
“I know this hurts,” she says rubbing my wife’s chest over her heart.
She understands the pain is not only excruciating, it’s unbearable without any of the joy that makes women forget the physical anguish and lets them do amazing things with their bodies, to give life and light to the being inside.
Meeting our baby
It is the midwife who delivers our baby after another round of drugs to help ease my wife’s physical pain.
Our baby is beautiful.
I have been petrified that a mass of blood and malformed tissue will emerge, that I will not be able to hold or to kiss. In fact the midwife has asked us if we will want to see the baby, to hold her, and after a moment of thought I agreed. I wanted to see it.
I say “it” because we never opened the envelope following the amniocentesis, the one confirming that we had a healthy baby and telling the sex if we wanted to know.
I thought that as much as I had been anticipating a boy, I would be thrilled to have another girl as well and we had left the envelope sealed – a surprise for the day of delivery.
She is beautiful; pink translucent skin, long arms and legs and perfectly formed feet and hands. I look at her wiry frame and tell my wife she has my physique. We laugh through tears; neither of us will let anyone steal the joy in this moment, this short moment.
Her heart is beating but the infection that has caused her premature birth, the contractions and the drugs have made her a limp figure. Still, she moves her hand when we touch her.
After hesitating, I bend over and kiss her still sticky skin. Her mouth is open and one hand is resting on her ear – already drifting off to another world – in a gesture beautifully reminiscent of her mother’s sleep habits.
The midwife touches her chest and she seems to breathe out a long sigh, already exhausted by this life or this world.
Our baby survives for another 15 minutes while we take turns holding her, kissing her, telling her we love her and how sorry we are.
A day after
How do you explain to hospital staff, in French, that you are there to see your wife who has just given birth but is not in the maternity ward?
After the third visit I give up and either walk past the reception desk or simply say I am there to see my wife, as I continue on to the obstetric ward on the 3rd floor.
The transfer from the maternity ward was better for us in any case; during the first two days in the hospital we could hear newborn babies crying – and every cry a reminder that our baby didn’t even have the chance to open her eyes, much less to cry.