The Grim Reaper

As dawn breaks, sleep eludes me, replaced by an unrelenting restlessness. My legs stretching, pulling, twisting, tangling with the sheets, comfort has found the exit and has made a quiet escape. Craving distraction in this chilled, sunlit room, my day nurse drops in. With a slight knock on the door, an adorable, dainty, blonde youngster enters with no hesitation.

“Hi, guys. I’m Ashley, the nurse who’s taking over for Joleen.”

After my first inspection of her, my heart drops into my stomach. She is a kid! Does she know how to be a nurse? I produce a tight grin. I need to give her a chance. She is, afterall, the one person here who is at our beckon call for the next 12 hours. Quickly scurrying around the room, Ashley conducts the standard checks. Finding the heartbeat, her petite face stretches to accommodate a proud smile.

“Nice and strong! That’s a good sign.” Her sing-songy voice drips with sweetness. Her words reek of sparkles and glitter.

Holding back sharp words, my lips purse. Has she not seen my chart? How can anything at this point be a ‘good sign’? Sinking into the bed, released from the doppler restraints, my head turns away. Looking at Jason, I see the confirming doubt in his eyes.

Scurrying away, with an “I’ll be back in a little bit for more checks!” cheerily trailing her departure, my lips relax enough to speak.

“I’m not sure she knows what’s going on.” Studying Jason’s sullen face, he slowly nods, looks at the floor, and states, “I know.”

How will I trust a nurse who is either clueless, or is playing dumb? Maybe she thinks it will make us feel better to pretend everything is okay.  Marginally relaxing my tightly wound thoughts, I acquiesce to her optimism. Slight positivity infiltrates my resistance. Maybe she knows something we don’t. Maybe she knows our baby can make it through this afterall. Either way, we may not have to deal with her after today.

A light, fast beating, like tap dancing rats in the walls, diverts my newfound, yet tepid, assurance. An unfamiliar face pokes around the curtain that frames the door from intruders. “I am Dr. Groy, an associate of Dr. Bates from Maternal Fetal Medicine. I have had a chance to review your chart, along with the most recent tests completed last night.” The petite woman’s demeanor is stern, her mouth holding a steady scowl. Her words form through a heavy asian accent. Pulling up the round stool Dr. Gladwell used the night prior, she fills the void of his old spot, right at my side. If she smiled, her long, wavy tresses would frame a beautiful, slightly aged, face. Her eyes send chilly glances to both Jason and me, dropping my blood to icy temperatures. My toes tingle, my hands clasp, thumbs rubbing each other methodically.

“I’m afraid it is not good news.” Releasing the gush of air I had been unintentionally holding, I study her dull brown eyes, straight-lipped mouth, and steady monotone. Ill prepared for the ominous words that could only follow her opening line, yet craving to know what information she has, we wait in the hushed room until she continues. Machines beep, footsteps softly pad outside the door, pulsing heartbeats resonate in my ears. Pound….Pound….Pound.  Breathing in shallow gasps, a fog settles snugly amongst my thoughts. After she briefly gauges our expressions, she decides to continue.

“Dr. Gladwell has already told you about the placental abruption and blood clot, which is of concern to us.” Recap of what we already know. Not too bad. Nodding along with Dr. Groy’s words, I wait for her mouth to bend upward into a cheeky grin, her eyes to twinkle, her wrinkles to soften. With no sign of this wishful tension breaker, I focus on each of my respirations, abating the hazy coherence that has consumed all cognitions.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

With little pause, she states, “I know Dr. Gladwell mentioned some options for fixing this situation, but from what I can tell, this is an imminently fatal situation for your baby. You are going to lose your baby before you are discharged from here.” Her grave eyes, serious mouth, steady expression of words of the grim reaper, all make sense now. Like a freight train with no brakes, all attempts at controlling my breathing derail. Shallow gasps overrun my chest. Desperate to fight the tear forming, I settle my eyelids to shield myself from seeing her face. Turning my head toward Jason, I quickly lose this fight, feeling a cool wetness grow in the corner of my right eye.

Attempting to fight my woozy consciousness, I deepen my breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Dismissing my labored breathing, she goes on, “I’m sure Dr. Bates went over all the abnormalities that we have seen on the ultrasounds. With so many of them, there is no way a fetus can survive. Even if she was carried to term, she would not live beyond possibly a few days. There is the possibility she will be stillborn.”

My blue eyes narrow in confusion, frantic to understand what she is saying.

“Essentially, you are in labor, and we just have to wait for it to progress. You were three to four centimeters dilated even last night.” Three to four centimeters dilated? The words blindside my soul with a hard smack.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Any oxygen I reign in escapes my lungs; I cannot hold on to enough. The fog resettles, in a condensed fashion, muddling thoughts around in my head. Any control I reigned in during the past couple weeks after the fateful ultrasound is dissolved into a dizzying blur.

“We’ll keep monitoring the progress with you here. If it weren’t for the blood clot and hemorrhage risk, we’d let you go home and wait it out there. I think that would be too risky for you at this point. ”

Perhaps sensing my panic, or just out of robotic obligation, Dr. Groy fumbles an attempt to comfort me. “One thing to note is that when a mother goes into labor this early on in pregnancy, both the labor and delivery tend to be easier to endure than at full term.” Her words, like a scorpion’s venom, releases a paralyzing explosion of thoughts. Lying still on the crunchy hospital bed, my movements have been reduced to infrequent blinks. Reaching out, she extends a single, boney hand onto my right knee, patting me three times through the many-layered blankets before pulling back. The awkwardness of her surprising attempt at sympathy suspends my worries for a moment, but is quickly discarded when it proves insincere.

Now we know; our baby’s death is imminent. I am in LABOR.

“How long will this take?” Jason finds the words I cannot, a beacon through this haze.

“Unfortunately, there is no way to know how long this process will take. It could be a couple days, could be a couple weeks.”

My previously creased eyes widen, smoothing out the aging wrinkles at the corners. The palpable horror emits to all edges of the room. Facing Jason, I send him my fear. I don’t want to be here waiting a couple weeks!

My face crinkles up and the tears are once again flowing. Dr. Groy is done talking. Dr. Groy is done comforting (or pretending to). She sits, watching as I fall apart.

Jason climbs onto the side of the bed with me. Leaning into his open arm, we cry on each others’ shoulders. We utter no words; we don’t need to. He is the only one in the world who knows what it’s like to be going through this crazy roller coaster the past couple of days, and his comforting is the only one I want. Full of love, warmth, and a deep understanding of grief, it is a far cry from the knee pats Dr. Groy could muster. Feeling ignored, no doubt, Dr. Groy finally gets up and leaves quietly, for which I’m grateful. Her cold rigidity trails after her.

As the tears ebb, the manic thoughts flow. I don’t know how to give birth! How much pain will be involved?  The pleading ensues. When will this end? When will this end? When will this end?

Jason senses my panic in the rigidity of my muscles, the tightness of the grip I have on his forearm. “Breathe, Babe. We will get through this together. If we can make it through this, we can make it through anything.” These eerily familiar words find their way into my resistant ears, down the canals, and perceived by my brain, amongst the menagerie of frenzied questions already inhabiting my mind.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. The pulsing in my ears dampens, replaced with air brushing in and out the inside of my nose, expanding my chest in slow pulses. Jason’s right. We can do this. Together, we will do this.

 Almost two weeks ago, we received our first horrific news about our baby. We had tests, we waited, and we were preparing to make the toughest choices of our lifetime. Adding to our terrifying, nightmarish laundry list, we now have an agonizing wait for our baby to be born.

Yet, within the appalling news of this impending birth is a relieving realization. Sitting up slightly, relying on my own weight, my voice is underscored with excitement. “You know what this all means, right?” My eyes enhanced by a small speck of relief. “We don’t have to wait for those test results anymore. It doesn’t matter what comes back. This is out of our hands.” Looking at my stomach, the extreme betrayal of my body is offering us an iota of fidelity. We don’t have to terminate this pregnancy. My body is already doing it. The universe is deciding this for us.

Published by lkgaddis

I have been working on this memoir-style project for a while now, and I'm excited to share it with others. My hope is to get as wide an audience as possible, and to receive comments, suggestions, and ideas to improve and expand what I have. I also want to encourage others to become curious about the topic of babies, and the loss that can come with the adventures of trying to start a family. In the world of celebrating healthy babies, we who know otherwise need a voice too.

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