To think where I was mentally and physically eight weeks ago sends chills down my back. About this time my nurse Maggie was prepping my belly for delivery. As I said my tearful goodbyes to family, I knew mentally there was no turning back at this point, but emotionally I was not about to accept this reality.
A comment from my endocrinologist’s nurse kept repeating itself in my mind, “maybe they were wrong. Maybe she did have a heartbeat.” I said the same desperate prayer over and over as we wheeled down the hallway, “Help them to be wrong! Lord, help them to be wrong!”
My husband was at my side as they pulled her out. I heard a CRY! I heard a CRY! “Dustin did you hear that? She CRIED,” I whispered to him. “No hunny, there was no cry,” he responded flatly.
“11:30” Was called out. I got excited. I started thinking that about the other kids time of birth. They all were born right about lunch time (always ready for a meal my kids). Wait…was that her time of birth or death?
Dustin rushed to her side at the scale. All I remember was seeing her perfect fat leg and foot straight up in the air as they weighed her. “11 lbs, 13 oz”. Wow!! No wonder I could barely walk or stand for that matter. They told me a lot of that was her fluid overload.
Dustin picked her up and brought her to me. At this point I had no intention of even holding her. I looked at her and immediately thought back to nursing school. My first experience in pediatrics was with a mother who had found out her 3 week old had a massive brain tumor and wouldn’t make it. I was the one who gave this little boy his bath and dressed him for his baptism. I was the one who held him as he was dying. I remember not understanding why the mom just rocked in the corner and wouldn’t hold or touch him. I understood now. But her story was not my story. “Give me her!” I practically yelled at Dustin.
It is a moment I can’t explain. She was THERE. I had dealt with many deaths in my years as a nurse, the soul always leaves almost immediately with the last heartbeat. You can feel it, see it, sense it. This is NOT what happened with Claudie. She was as there as a screaming baby. I felt it, saw it, sensed it. I thought I was loosing my mind but everyone commented on her presence.
There is NOTHING in this world I have experienced like holding her. It was amazing. It was as close to God I have ever felt. We went on to spend the next several hours with her. My sisters held her. My dad and in-laws held her. My aunts held her. My sweet friends held her. No one was left untouched after holding her.
For some reason at this moment I thought what I suppose any mother at this point would think. What will her siblings think of her? We had discussed it was too much for their little 4 and 3 year old minds, so had decided against it. Something was pulling at my heart strings though. I kept hearing a little hazel eyed four year old excitedly expressing his wish to hold his sister. We talked about it almost every day for the last 8 months. “I want Henry to hold her!” I blurted out. “No sweetheart it is too much.” At the exact moment my sister walked in, “Henry won’t stop asking to come in here.” Thank you Lord for answering the question for me. Dustin was hiding in the corner with Claudie so as not to scare him when he first walked in (her skin was sluffing by now). I pulled Henry to my side. I said, “you know your baby sister is not going home with us right?” “Yes”. “Well she is here now Henry. Would you like to see her?” “Yes”. Dustin turns around and the rest was beauty revealed. He took his little hand and rubbed her little head (something frankly I was afraid to do) and kissed it. “You’re pretty,” he said so matter of factly that it shocked me. “Do you want to hold her?” “Yes”. So he did and looked at her the same as he looked at little sister Amelie when she was born. He saw her no differently. Then he said, “I want to go play with my legos now.” PERFECTION. He loved her as only a four year proud brother could.
My dear bereavement nurse, Tricia, who hadn’t left my side at this point asked how we wanted it to go from here. I knew what she meant, but how was I to answer? Do I want hours more? Do I want days more? What I wanted was a lifetime more! But my nursing instincts took over my desires as a mommy. I told them to come get her at 5pm so they could take her to Children’s Mercy for the autopsy. Dustin chimed in, “can we make 5:30?” I told them to come get her at 5:30pm, no questions asked. I told them to ignore what would be said and just take her. Mommy instincts were kicking in now. I knew that I would never actually be able to say goodbye.
We asked for a moment to just be with her. So Dustin, myself and our precious baby girl attempted to do what most do after a long birthing day, nap. We did not nap. But we did not speak either. I held her curled up in my left arm. Dustin held my right hand. We just sat there. We didn’t cry for fear we would waste valuable time with our daughter weeping.
The way the hospital is angled makes for incredible views of sunsets. We learned this the week with spent with mom before she died. November 29, 2012 was no exception. We had a large labor room with a large window. The sunset hit her face in the most angelic way. I felt her body grow heavy and cold. I felt her spirit leave. It was 4:50pm. I looked at Dustin and whispered, “she’s gone.” He said, “I know.” I gave her to Dustin and never held her again. We continued to spend the rest of time with her and gave everyone one last chance to come in and kiss her goodbye.
5:30pm on the nose. The nurse came in with a Moses basket and took her from Dustin’s hands as he screamed, “no”. There were lots of screams and cries. I don’t know from who or what was being said. I only remember me watching my dad and husband embracing and crying so loudly that it startled me. I lay there shaking from the hormone shifts looking around like a deer caught in headlights. I didn’t know what to do. I still don’t.
What is strange is it was such a beautiful day yet filled with such devastation. Tricia told me that someone told her to write down her memories of the day she lost her sweet Drew and throw it away. She told them no, because it was all she had. It was his birthday after all. So here we are eight weeks later, which according to all the grief literature is the worse time in terms of realization of the loss and yet I remember that day with all its tragedy as beautiful.