Cradling My Connections
Crammed in the back seat of my mother-in-law’s Dodge Omni on a February morning, I held hope as she rushed me to the hospital.
I was pregnant with twins.
“I think I’m bleeding back here,” I urged, in between my hee, hee, hee, hooo’s of Lamaze breathing.
“It’s just sweat,” my mother-in-law countered, gripping the steering wheel white-knuckled.
With the soles of my winter boots braced against the back door, I twisted my arm toward the middle of my back and tried to reach the wet spot with my hand. The cramped space restricted me, so I gave up and re-focused on my breathing. My voice fell silent. I knew the truth anyway.
The news of twins arrived only three weeks before, when a sudden growth spurt in my uterus caused my doctor to suspect a very large baby, or multiples. An ultrasound confirmed two things: twins and polyhydramnios—an excess of amniotic fluid. I knew this pregnancy would be a challenge, but never imagined this.
At the hospital, the contractions grew in frequency and intensity.
With each pang, I pushed my babies towards the world—knowing this entry was too early for them. I was barely six months pregnant.
Then, my contractions stopped as if somehow my body put on the brakes—decided this was enough to bear.
“Abruptio Placentae,” the doctor said.
The doctor said I had delivered one of the two babies, a girl. From between the stirrups, his eyes locked on mine, “We have another to deliver. We can do this.”
There’s no we about this, I thought.
I looked beyond the doctor’s head to one of the nurses—dressed in a white uniform, cap, hose and shoes. Her back to me, she tended to matters on a stainless steel table in front of her.
What is she doing?
Her hands drew the tips of a baby blanket toward her center.
Does she have my baby? My daughter belongs on my chest, skin-on-skin. Her little mouth is supposed to be rooting, in search of my breast.
The doctor shot verbal orders at the nurses and marshaled me back to the miscarriage’s harsh reality.
The babies’ grandmothers exchanged loud-whisper discussions near the door. They returned to my side in-between their opinions.
Void of any infant cries, the jarring silence shuddered through me. Like my baby, I made no sound. My internal cries dwelled deep.
I had to go through this, even though I felt like an unmarried wife and childless mother.
Later, I finally asked if anyone had located my husband, the babies’ father. This was before the time of cell phones, and he was working on the road. Messages were left at various businesses, telling him to get to the hospital at once.
Why can’t anyone locate him?
My experience as a registered nurse informed me that one of two things had to happen next: be induced, or go to surgery. The doctor opted to induce me with an intravenous Pitocin drip and force my contractions back into action. Contractions resumed with a tearing vengeance.
I don’t remember how much time passed, but my second stillborn daughter finally emerged. I sank into myself as the blood pooled beneath me. The room started sinking. My body felt both buoyant and weighted. Engulfed in a sense of losing more than my daughters, I heard, “Call the OR team STAT!” Then just words: Hemorrhaging. Retained placenta. D&C. Transfusion.
Arms scooped me up. My body jostled as it landed on another padded surface. Rails clicked into place on either side of me.
“I love you, Honey!” My mom’s words faded as people in green scrubs rolled me away.
The clanging clicks of stainless steel OR instruments echoed in my ears before I slipped away. I reentered reality to the uncontrollable trembling of my body. The unforgiving recovery room offered no sympathy. As I teetered on the thin line between anesthesia and consciousness, I cried out before I could form thoughts.
Two recovery room nurses wheeled my gurney back to the hospital room where my former life waited for me—my life before children. My husband appeared in the hallway.
His unwelcomed hand reached for me. I kept my hand on the gurney’s cold metal railing, bracing myself.
Some time after I was settled into the room, a bereavement nurse introduced herself. I remember her warm, open face and compassion. She sat close to my bedside, speaking softly. When the time was right, she asked if I wanted to hold my baby girls.
The hospital linens over my legs quivered.
Yes, I wanted to see them, to touch them.
Two nurses carried my swaddled girls to me and placed them in my arms. Together, they weighed less than two pounds. Even though they no longer held life, I remembered feeling their life move in me. Now I felt their silky skin. I touched the edges of their fingernails. My fingers unfurled their miniature hands. I imagined they might have played piano with their long, slender fingers.
Faint eyebrows arched above their sleeping eyes. My finger pads brushed along their closed eyelids. I pressed my cheek against theirs. My despair fell in droplets onto their hands.
I sighed. God held my babies in His arms before I did.
Two days later, I went home and my milk came in. My body didn’t know it wouldn’t need it.
During a heart-to-heart exchange the following week, my mom asked how I felt about my decision to hold my twins.
“I’m so thankful I did. Wouldn’t have it any other way.” I said. “I needed to meet them, even if they couldn’t meet me.”
Suddenly, a realization hit me. “Mom, were you involved in some sort of disagreement during the deliveries? What was going on?”
I learned of a dispute between the babies’ grandmothers. One wanted the hospital staff to remove them from sight, dispose of them. She thought it would be too upsetting for me to see my lifeless daughters.
“What did you want, Mom?”
“From the beginning, I wanted your girls kept warm until you could make the decision for yourself; it was not up to us. We needed to keep that possibility open for you, although I hoped you’d want to see them.”
For years, I was upset with the opinion that my babies should be removed from sight—the opinion that wouldn’t have given me a choice and might have kept from ever saying goodbye.
Later, I understood they were each holding onto me, each trying to protect me in their own way.
They, too, bore a loss that day. They lost twin granddaughters, and they were not only helping me say goodbye in the way that seemed right to them—they were seeking closure for themselves, as well.
My losses had to be held in my arms. For me, there was no other way. I needed to connect with the lives that once lived in me.
My mom protected that possibility for me.
Even though I could never change their diapers or tickle soft bellies, I cradled my connection with them—before it was lost forever.
A writer and nurse, Sharon Gibbs blogs at SharonAGibbs.com. You can also find her work at (in)courage, MakesYouMom, and Malleable Heart. She has been published this year at Art House America. Sharon can be found on Twitter @sharona_gibbs and on Facebook at sharonagibbswrites.