Excerpt for What I Learned from Jane by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

What I Learned from Jane


By Mollie Player


Copyright © 2011 by Mollie Player


Smashwords edition

ISBN: 9781370170227

All rights reserved


To contact the author, subscribe to her blog or discover your next great read, visit mollieplayer.com.



Also by Mollie Player:


You’re Getting Closer: One Year of Finding God and a Few Good Friends

The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation

The Emergency Diet: The Somewhat Hard, Very Controversial, Totally Unheard Of and Fastest Possible Way to Lose Weight

The Naked House: Five Principles for a More Peaceful Home

Unicorn

Being Good

Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby



For Christine, Andrea, and Jamie, who were there



Prologue: Dear Reader

Dear reader,

I want to write what happened to me and to my husband, David, and to our beautiful daughter, Jane (who is still with us now, I believe) as not just a story, but a letter—a long letter (much too long, probably)—but nevertheless a letter, which is sometimes, essentially, the same thing as a story, except that there are not only a lot of “I’s” in it, but some “you’s” as well.

And the “you’s” are important. Because I don’t want what happened to us to be only for me and for David; I want it to be for someone else, too.

And maybe that someone is you.

Anyway, even if it isn’t, for now, just because I need to, I will pretend that it is. And so today I am writing this story as a letter to you: to my “dear reader.”

And when I say “dear reader,” please know that I mean exactly that. I may not know you, personally, or I may, but either way, I do know one thing: You are dear.

You are completely and absolutely dear.

That is something that Jane taught me and I hope that I never forget it.

And I want to say it again because I am pretty sure you did not really understand when I said it the first time. So here it is again: you are dear. You are completely and absolutely dear. If you came to the hospital and stayed with David and I during those four precious days we spent there, or if you came to the memorial service we held and greeted us as we mourned, at some point I looked at your eyes and I remember what I saw—even weeks later I remember—and it was special and precious and irreplaceable and perfect. And if you weren’t one of those people, you are dear anyway because God is in you and even if you somehow don’t see that right now, please understand that there is someone who does, and that is me. And there are probably a lot of others who see it, too, and I bet if you asked them, they would tell you themselves.

Okay. I know I promised you a story—a real story, not just a very long, very wordy, very sappy letter, so I guess I’ll begin. But first, because I just can’t help it, and because I’m still pretty sure you didn’t understand what I meant the first time, please let me say it again:

You are dear.



Chapter One

Jane came to us on the twenty-fifth of November, the day after Thanksgiving. She lived for four and one-third days.

They were wonderful. They were indescribable, really.

They were the best days of my life.

But they were too short. They were too brief.

They were too, too short.

And so, I find that now, one month later, I want to relive those days again. And not only do I want to relive them myself, I want to have someone else who has lived them, too, with me, even if just in a way, and so I’m writing this letter to you, who is my friend, and maybe now about to become a better friend, because I want someone else to understand what happened in those days that I knew her and, maybe, a little, understand. I want to tell you about those days, which were the best and worst, as they say, that I’ve ever had, and I want explain to you why knowing Jane has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. And I want you to know that I am thankful for her coming, even if it had to be for only four and one-third days.

She made me different. And, for that, I am grateful.

There is another reason I’m writing this letter, though: I am writing it for you. Maybe you have grieved, too, and even if you haven’t, most likely, you will—someday. And maybe, someday, you, my friend, will find it comforting to read about these things that happened to me and, maybe, also, they will make you feel less alone.

It’s worth a try, anyway, I think.

But, I admit, those aren’t my number one reasons for writing this letter. My number one reason for writing about what I learned from Jane is to think more about what happened, and, in doing so, maybe—just maybe—understand it.


***


Ever since I met Jane, I have known there was a purpose to her life. Not a small purpose, either, like helping me “be a better person” or “learn how to let go.” Not a small thing like that.

Something big.

And so, for a while now, I’ve been asking myself this question: What was this purpose? What is the meaning of her life?

It has been almost one month since she came, and in that time, I have learned a lot about grieving—definitely more than I ever used to know. And one of the things I’ve learned is that it is much easier to grieve when you think there is a reason for what happened—a good reason; that, somehow, what happened to you will make you better.

So, I search for meaning. I look for it everywhere I go. I pray. I even tried meditation. I think, and think, and think. Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting closer to an answer. But most of the time, I don’t. Most days are just days, with nothing special in them at all.

But still, I search. I pray. I read. I try to figure it out.

I ask myself why.

I even talk to Jane, and ask her why.

She may be giving me an answer, I think, but I just can’t hear it. So I listen harder, pray more.

And I write.

And, even though it’s hard to do, I’m writing this letter about her life and about what I learned from it, because even though I don’t have the whole answer yet, I think I have, at least, found part of it.

And the rest, I believe, will come.


***


As I said before, Jane came to us on the twenty-fifth of November, the day after Thanksgiving. The day before I went into labor—a Wednesday—I had an ultrasound and some other tests, too, and we saw the pictures and the needles on the paper and we saw that everything was perfectly fine.

We saw something else, too: I was having contractions. They were coming about every fifteen minutes, the doctor said, but until she said that and told me what to look for I did not know it was happening and even after that I still couldn’t feel them.

David could, though. While we were there at the doctor’s he touched my belly and learned how to tell when the contraction was coming and after a while I learned to feel them, too. So, that night, we sat on the couch together and watched TV and he kept his hand on my stomach and we noticed them together when they came—he by feeling outside and me by the slight tightness that happened inside.

When I woke up the next morning, I was still feeling them. I called my family and told them that finally, twelve days after my due date, I was having contractions. They thought it meant that I would be going into labor right away and they were so excited they screamed.

“But I don’t know if they’re real,” I said.

“Do they feel kind of like gas pains?” my mom asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “They are real.”

David was sitting next to me at his computer and after I got off the phone I said, “Did you hear them screaming?”

“I thought I heard something like that,” he said.

“They think I’m going into labor,” I said. “The contractions aren’t regular yet but it could be almost time.”

“It would happen on my day off,” he said.

He is dear.


***


A few hours later David and I decided to take a drive. The contractions had become more noticeable by then and by about three in the afternoon while we were still in the car I was really hurting.

Around that time, my sister called again to ask about how I was feeling. While talking to her I had to take a couple of breaks to breathe better, and after that I knew it was time to go home.

We drove back home and as soon as we got there I went to bed. After that I felt pretty good; there was pain but it was a normal kind of pain. David and I timed my contractions for a while but even though they were getting stronger they still weren’t regular so we thought we had plenty of time.

Sometime that evening, we called the midwife, Christine. She told me to relax my breathing more and to call again when the pain was less manageable.

During the night the pain got much worse. David came to bed but I didn’t want to keep him up so I took a bath then walked around the living room for a while. When I went back to bed he woke up and we decided to call Christine again.

When we called her, though, she gave us some unexpected news.

“I am at another birth,” she said. “I’m not going to be done in time. Is it okay if Andrea goes instead?”

“Of course,” we said. I knew all of the midwives at the birth center so I thought it wouldn’t really matter either way.

As it turned out, though, it did matter.

It mattered a lot.

David and I got ready to go. While I put on my shoes, he packed up my things and a few things for the baby. Then he helped me to the car.

When we arrived at the birth center it was about six forty-five in the morning. Andrea and her assistant, Jamie, were already there. They helped me onto the bed and even though my head was at the wrong end when I lay down it was so hard to move that I didn’t turn around. Right after that, Andrea and Jamie both did an exam and said I was nine centimeters already and I was ready to get into the tub. David and I had planned a water birth so we took this as a good sign.

I undressed and got into the water. People brought me ice and wet towels and I had a few more contractions but they seemed to be coming less often. So, after an hour or more of this, Andrea tried to speed things up. She told me to move to other places and positions, and that is when the pushing started and it got really hard. I won’t describe all of the positions to you but the midwives were taking pictures so there is evidence anyway.

During the labor, David was so strong. I gripped his hands and arms constantly. I pushed the bottoms of my feet against his hands and body. He held up my head and neck from behind. Each time I had to get up and move to another place in the room, he had to lift me almost entirely on his own.

For each of the positions, Andrea told me everything to do: how to breathe, how to push, even what to imagine as I did so. At one point, she said she wanted me to push the baby up to the ceiling, kind of like a yoga instructor would say to try to improve your form and even though I hate yoga—and visualization, too—it worked. She was calm and precise, but used urgency in her voice to show me how I needed to push.

“I need you to push harder, even harder,” she said many times. “Push through the pain.” Then, on a good push, she would say, “There you go. I want you to do that again, just like that.”

Also, whenever the baby made some progress, she made sure to tell me about it. She would say the baby was “plus one” or “plus four,” but I didn’t want to ask what the last number was. Eventually David asked, though, and she told us that plus five is out. By that time I was already at plus four, though, so it was good news.

Sometime after getting to plus four, my legs started shaking. I tried to relax them, especially between contractions, but they would not stop—they shook and shook and breathing got harder, too. David asked Andrea if I was cold but she said I was just tired.

Between the contractions, especially for the last few hours, there was barely a minute of rest and it wasn’t really rest. I could breathe a little better but I couldn’t relax my body. Andrea said, “Use the break, use the break,” and I tried but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to stop pushing; I just wanted it to end.

By then it was afternoon and I was close. Before every contraction Andrea would tell me that the next one could be the last one and I made myself believe her, but it didn’t help. I couldn’t push hard enough to make the baby come. When my breath ran out on a push and I had to take in more air, the baby stopped moving down and sometimes even moved back up a little. Andrea said later that it was like the baby just wasn’t helping. “She could have just lifted her head up at any moment and she would have been out,” she said. Now we know why that didn’t happen.

At the time, though, Andrea still thought it would be soon. The head was showing and she told David and I that we could touch it, so we did. Jamie brought a mirror so I could see it but I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t see it very well and anyway I didn’t want to look—I just wanted to push. After that, Andrea asked David if he wanted to catch the baby and he asked some questions and said that he might. Then she told me that after the head was out she would have me ease up on the pushing for a little while so the baby didn’t come too fast. By this time they were measuring the heart rate after every push. It was always normal.

Around two o’clock, the other midwife, Christine, came into the room. She hadn’t planned on coming, she told me later. She just happened to stop by the birth center to drop something off and wanted to see how I was doing.

“I don’t ever do that,” she told me.

“You came at exactly the right time,” I said, and it was true, because soon after that we got the first sign of trouble: the baby’s heart rate dropped to ninety. At that point, we all knew we needed to get the baby out fast.

Both of the midwives and Jamie went immediately to work. First, they put an oxygen mask on me. Then, they moved me from the bed into a squatting position on a stool with arm rests that I could push down on. Someone put a bowl and some pads underneath me for the blood. David sat behind me on the bed and held me while Christine and Andrea sat on the floor in front of me. Then someone brought some scissors and other supplies.

“I’m going to give you one more push to get the baby out,” Andrea said. “If it doesn’t come, we are going to have to cut you.”

“She will have to cut me, then,” I thought. “There is nothing more I can do.”

I told her okay, though, and when the next contraction came I pushed as hard as I could.

Nothing happened.

Immediately after that, Christine took the scissors and made a cut. I thought it would hurt, but it didn’t. There was a slight burning, but it didn’t feel like I expected it to.

Another contraction came—the last one. I pushed again, as hard as I could, and this time, there was a relief at the end and the feeling of a knotty cord winding out of me. It felt like the baby had shot out very quickly and gone a long way but I don’t think my eyes were open at the time so I didn’t really see her being caught.

It was two thirty in the afternoon exactly.

I opened my eyes and looked for the baby. She was there, I knew, but I could barely tell where; I couldn’t focus my eyes. Then, someone started to hand her to me and I saw that she was near my right side.

Behind me, David said, “Hold the baby, honey.”

“I can’t,” I said, surprised that they thought I could hold anything right then.

Right then, Christine must have realized something was wrong because she pulled the baby back. I thought she was just taking her away because I couldn’t hold her but then I saw that the baby was on the floor and they were doing CPR and I, too, realized that something was wrong.

At first, David and I did not look at each other or say anything; we just watched what they were doing and wondered what was going to happen. Then Christine told us to talk to the baby so we did. We said, “You’re okay, baby. You’re okay.” There was nothing else we could think of to say.

The longer it went on the more we realized how serious it was. After a few minutes Andrea said to Jamie, “Call 9-1-1.” I don’t remember my exact thoughts but I knew that the baby had never taken a breath and I was very afraid.

At some point, I asked David for my glasses. He didn’t want to give them to me, though; he said I didn’t want to see. But I did want to see. The glasses were next to me on the bedside table so I found them easily and put them on.

And then I saw my baby for the first time.

The first thing I noticed was how gray she was. Her whole body was gray, not just her face or some part of her. Also, she was completely still. Her eyes were closed and no part of her moved on its own.

Strangely, I don’t remember being surprised at her not breathing. I think if my labor had been shorter or easier I would have been, but as it was, it must have seemed to make sense.

Something that did surprise me, though, was how big she was. She was much bigger than I’d imagined—much bigger than any doll. Then, after a while, when one of the midwives moved out of the way and I saw that she was a girl, that surprised me, too. I had guessed she would be a boy and seeing her I thought, “I don’t know this person.” I studied her face. I tried to see something I would recognize in it, but I didn’t.

She looked like a stranger.


***


After what seemed like a long time, the ambulance came. Four or five men rushed into the room. I was still naked and the bowl that was under me was full of blood but I don’t think anyone was looking at me anyway. Christine told Andrea and David to go with the baby and Jamie to stay and help with me. David gathered his things and went outside but Andrea was still breathing for the baby with the oxygen mask until they got into the ambulance so she had to leave without her shoes, cell phone or keys.

After they were gone I lay down on the bed and Christine told me I would need to deliver the placenta. She told me to push it out but I couldn’t—my muscles wouldn’t do what I wanted anymore.

After a while, she started looking worried. She asked Jamie how long it had been since the birth and Jamie said forty-five minutes. She felt inside me and pushed around a bit, trying to make it come out but it still didn’t, so they gave me a Pitocin drip and after that my muscles contracted and I was able to give a little push and, finally, the placenta came out. It hurt but afterwards I was relieved that all of the pain was over.

Christine said, “Do you want me to stitch you up now or do you need a break?”

I said, “I don’t need a break.”

She and Jamie prepared their things. Then she gave me some numbing shots. She said they would hurt but they didn’t, much, and I didn’t feel the stitches at all.

At some point, Christine got a phone call and I knew it was from someone at the hospital. She didn’t tell me right away what they said so I thought it must have been bad news and I didn’t ask. After she stitched me up she said that it was time to go to the hospital to see David and the baby and I was surprised.

“Is she okay?” I asked.

“She is alive and she is stable,” Christine said.

Suddenly I couldn’t breathe right; I started panting really hard and couldn’t stop.

“There is still a chance,” I thought. “There is still a chance.”

There were tears in my eyes but I did not cry.

After I calmed down, Christine asked me if I wanted to take a shower.

“I won’t be able to stand,” I told her. So she wiped some of the blood off my legs and helped me get dressed. While we were doing that Jamie asked if I wanted to see the placenta and I said I did and I suggested they take a picture of it but she said they would keep it for me and David instead. They packaged it and put it in a bowl.

Then, it was time to go. Both of the women helped me to the car. I walked very slowly and when I got to the car I couldn’t sit down directly so I put my knees down on the seat first, then sat with my hip on one leg. Someone put my seatbelt on for me and Jamie and I went to the hospital while Christine stayed behind.

At the hospital, Jamie left me in the car and went inside to see what was going on. After a while she came back with some doctors and I rolled down the window and they talked to me there in the parking lot. They explained that the baby was stable on life support and she would now be transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital. I said okay and thanked them, and they left and Jamie went with them.

A little while later, David got into the car. The first thing he said was, “She is so beautiful, Mollie. Her skin is very pink now and it’s just perfect.” I asked him if he thought she would make it and he said that she wasn’t responding to any of their tests so far.

“And if she lives, she will have brain damage,” I said. I hadn’t thought of it before, but somehow right then I knew it was true.

“Yes,” he said. “There will be some, but they don’t know yet whether it will be permanent.”

Then he told me what happened at the hospital.

“They took a long time to resuscitate her,” he said. “I watched for a while but eventually I couldn’t anymore so I went into a little waiting room. After a while of being in there I started crying uncontrollably and hyperventilating and shivering all over. Someone had to turn the lights down for me to help me calm down.

“I have never cried that hard before,” he said.

When Jamie got back to the car she told me that I could ride in the ambulance with the baby if I wanted to. “One person is allowed to go,” she said. “You can ride with her or you can go with David.”

“I don’t want to go with her,” I said. “I’ll ride with David.”

When we arrived at Children’s Hospital, David brought me a wheelchair from outside the front door and helped me get out of the car and sit down again. Then he and Jamie and I went inside to the front desk. There, they gave us all ID badges and told us where the NICU was. Jamie’s badge said “Visitor” and David’s and mine said “Parent.”

At the NICU we asked where the baby was and they said she hadn’t arrived yet. I had to use the bathroom anyway so David and Jamie took me and helped me onto the toilet. I was bleeding a lot and I needed new clothes already so it was a long time before we were done. When we finally got out, we were told that the baby was at the hospital. By then, David’s parents had arrived, too. It was nearly evening.

A short time later, a nurse came to get us and take us to the baby’s room. David, David’s parents, Jamie and I walked through the double doors, down the hall and into one of the rooms. Just inside the door there was a high bed surrounded by machines, and in it was the baby, breathing and still.

And she looked perfect.

Her skin was pink and soft. Her cheeks were fat. Her hair was long. The nurses told us she weighed over eight pounds and was twenty-one inches—a big baby, they said. Her little fingernails had grown well past the ends of her fingers and there was fat on every part of her.

She looked healthy.

Of course, she had tubes in her, too, and some patches on her head and chest that were linked to monitors. Also, there was a respirator in her mouth; she still wasn’t breathing on her own. The respirator was pretty large and with the tape on her cheeks that held it in it hid a good part of her face. It also held her lips in a puckered position, like very big fish lips, but even with that, you could see what they looked like and they were beautiful.

Almost as soon they saw her, David’s parents and the nurses, too, said that she looked like me. They said she had my forehead, nose and mouth. When they said that, I studied her face and tried to see what they were seeing. I agreed that she had my features, but I didn’t think she looked like me. I couldn’t believe that this was the person I had known for nine months already.

I still didn’t recognize her at all.


***


After an hour or so, the doctors came into the room. They talked to us for a while about the baby’s condition and said that we would have a meeting later that night after all of their tests were done. At that time, we all thought that the damage had happened during the labor or in the minutes just following it before she was resuscitated. It seemed to be the only explanation.

By then, Andrea had arrived at the hospital. When David and I went to the lobby to wait for the meeting she sat next to me and took my hands and said, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”

I nodded.

“I’m so sorry this is happening to you,” she said again.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you feel bad. It’s okay.”

“You don’t have to be so strong,” she said. “You can be angry.”

I shook my head. “Don’t worry,” I thought. “I don’t get angry.”


***


While we waited, one of the nurses asked us if the baby had a name.

“No,” I said. “I don’t want to give her a name.”

David agreed. “It’s probably better that way,” he said. We didn’t know then whether she would make it through the night.

After that, the doctors took David, David’s parents and I to a conference room for the meeting. The conference room was small and they had to move one of the chairs out to make room for my wheelchair.

We all sat down and introduced ourselves. Then the doctors told us what they knew so far: the baby still wasn’t responding to any of their tests, which suggested serious brain damage.

“Her condition is very concerning,” one of them said.

“What could have caused this?” we asked.

They didn’t know. “We will do an MRI in the morning.”

Meanwhile, they told us, they had put her on a cooling blanket to help slow her deterioration. It was an experimental treatment, but it was all they could do. After two days of this, they would warm her up again, then observe her for another day or so after that.

“If her brain activity returns, it will likely return then,” they said.

“What is going to happen to her?” we asked. “What are her chances?”

“There is no way for us to predict that,” the doctors said. “Every baby is different.”

Then they said that though the baby had to stay cool for now, David and I would have a chance to hold her the next day.

When they said that, for some reason, I was surprised.

After the meeting David and I went back to the baby’s room. As we stared at her and held her hands, I said to David, “Do you think there’s even a ten percent chance she’ll live?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

Later that night, the nurses told us they had a room for us to stay in so eventually we went upstairs. The room was very small with a twin bed but it was nice to be there.

As we were settling in, people kept asking us if we needed anything. We said we could probably eat a little so they brought us a lot of food and left it in our room. After they left we ate, then got undressed and went to bed. As we took off our ID badges I read mine to David.

“Parent/Caregiver,” I said. “I don’t feel like either one of those things.”

“Neither do I,” he said.

I don’t remember all of my thoughts that night but I was very tired and very sore and it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.

The next morning I woke up very early and I remembered they said I would be able to hold the baby later that day and, for the first time, I cried.


Chapter Two

At this point in the story, there is something that maybe you should know: I have always been a shy person. Now, for the past ten years or so, I have pretended pretty well that I’m not. People even say that I’m confident. And actually, I am. I love myself way, way too much, possibly as a result of good parenting. But even though I’m confident, I am shy, too, and insecure, and deep down inside, as they say, I’m really unconvinced that people like me, or maybe even really convinced that they don’t. And so, sometimes—often, maybe—I have just decided—even before really knowing someone I have decided—I will not like them back.

That way I’d be, of course, invulnerable.

When I was going to the birth center for my baby appointments, the midwives there told me that I’d have to write a birth plan. I had read about birth plans but I didn’t know what to put in one, so I asked the midwife about it.

“Write about how comfortable you are with affectionate gestures from the midwives,” she said, “And about how you think you’ll react to pain.” She said that the midwives would all read it once when I gave it to them, then once again before coming to the birth.

So, that is what I did.

“…Touch and massage welcomed from David but no touching by midwife of an affectionate nature,” I wrote. “Excessive smiling also not preferred.”

After that, when we were in the hospital together going through all of this, all of the midwives would ask me for permission whenever they wanted to hold my hand or give me a hug.

And that is what I was before Jane.

Now, things are different. I’m not quite myself anymore, I’ve realized. I cry pretty often, and, a lot of the time, the tears are sudden—they come without any warning at all. Often, I am with other people when it happens and I should say now that if you’ve seen me do this already, you have been very kind to me and at least pretended very well to understand, and I have noticed, and I am grateful.

But please don’t take this as an apology. I haven’t been myself lately, but, somehow, I don’t think that that is such a bad thing.

And I should say, too, that sadness isn’t the only thing I feel more of lately. I’m more emotional about everything now. I get mad sometimes. And I get really bothered by mean things or unfair things. And I feel like I’m bleeding all the time, and needy, and I get embarrassed more easily, and I am embarrassed to even admit this right now.

And I love people more. And I see them not as just people I know: I see them as people I could really like a lot if they let me.

Overall, I think having more feelings is worth it.

And that is the first thing I learned from Jane.


***


The next morning, a Saturday morning, David and I got out of bed around ten o’clock. I was very stiff all over, I remember, and I was bloody, too. I stood up just long enough to take a shower and the rest of the time I was in the wheelchair. Doors felt very heavy to me and I had to move very slow.

The shower, however, was nice. It felt good to get rid of all of the blood and sweat from the day before. David’s parents had brought us some clothes and putting them on I felt even better. I looked at my deflated belly in the mirror and felt very small and very light even though I still had some pain.

For breakfast, David and I ate some bananas and apples that someone had given us the night before. As we ate, I said, “Do you think we should give her a name?” Now that we knew she’d be with us for at least a few days it seemed like the right thing to do, and he agreed.

“I was kind of thinking Lily,” I said.

“That’s nice,” he said. “I actually liked the name they gave her at the hospital, though—the first one we went to. They called her Jane.”

“Jane,” I said. “An old-fashioned name. Let’s call her that.”

And so, from then on, she was Jane. Sometimes, too, she was Baby Jane.

We liked the sound of that.


***


A little while later David’s visitors arrived. He went downstairs to see them while I stayed in bed and rested. I had a breast pump with me and I wondered whether I should start using it but I was too tired right then and so I decided to wait.

After a while, David came back to our room with the visitors and we all went downstairs to the NICU to see the baby together. She was still on the cooling blanket so we couldn’t hold her all the way yet but we touched her feet and hands and forehead and soft, soft skin and talked about how beautiful she was.

After a while, Andrea came into the room. I was a little surprised she was there; I knew she had a family and even though she said she’d be back I thought she wouldn’t have time.

I was also surprised by how she looked, and David must have been too because when he saw her he said, “Did you get any sleep?”

“I slept,” she replied, but we both knew what she meant. “How are you guys doing?” Her voice was very kind and caring and I thought, “Maybe she really is as nice as she pretends.”

At four o’clock there was another meeting with the doctors. This time Christine and Andrea came as well.

First, they told us that they had done the MRI. Only one doctor had looked at it so far and another one would review it the next day, they said. “So far, though, it confirms what we already suspected. There is almost no activity in the brain—just at the very base, the part that controls the heart.”

“That explains her strong heart rate during labor,” we said. “But do you know what could have caused this kind of damage?”

They did not, they said. They couldn’t even make a guess. “We have never seen anything like this before.”

Then we asked them if they at least knew when it occurred, but again the answer was no.

“We do know that it didn’t happen at the time of delivery,” they added, explaining that there was some blood on the outside of the brain that seemed to have been there for a while before birth.

Andrea and Christine went over the details of the delivery, and again the doctor assured them that they had done nothing wrong, and neither had the paramedics.

And neither, they said, had I.

“How do you know?” I said. “If you don’t know how it happened, how do you know what caused it?”

“Nothing that we know of could have caused it,” one of the doctors said. “Nothing that is within our current understanding of medicine explains it.”

Did that include genetic problems? we asked.

“There is no developmental problem that we can find,” they said. “We don’t think it was caused by genetics.”

Before the meeting ended, they told us they’d have another specialist look at the MRI the next day and that he might be able to give us more information.

When we left the meeting, we were all relieved.

It was nobody’s fault.


***


That evening, David and I ate dinner with some of our visitors in the hospital cafeteria. We talked about the meeting, trying to explain what the doctors had said without really understanding it ourselves.

We didn’t only talk about Jane, though. We talked about other things, too, and even joked and laughed a bit, and we took a little break and it was nice.

After dinner, around eight thirty, the nurses told us that Jane could come off the cooling blanket for a little while.

“Do you want to hold her?” they asked.

“Yes,” I said.

So they arranged a chair for me by the bed and moved all the cords and machines and after that I held my baby for the first time.

Her head was heavy and limp. The only thing that visibly moved was her chest as air was pumped into her lungs one breath at a time. I looked at her face, studied it, admired her big fish lips and enjoyed the way her body felt in my lap. I wondered about what had happened to her, and what could have caused it, but I still didn’t know what to think about it all.

And I still didn’t know what to feel.

After a while, I asked to be alone. I remember that for some reason, I thought this would be my only chance to hold her, ever, so I tried to think of everything I wanted to say.

First, I prayed that God would bring her back. Then, I asked her to come back.

I asked her many times.

I wanted her to hear me.

And yet, I did not cry.


***


Later that evening, David told me that he had talked to some of the nurses about breastfeeding.

“They don’t think you should start pumping,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“They said that if you do it will be very hard for you to stop. The milk will just keep coming.”

“I will ask them about it later,” I said, and the next time we went downstairs, I did.

“I don’t think you should try,” one of the nurses said. “It hurts and you could get an infection.”

Before we went to bed that night, I told David I would decide the next day.


***


The next day was Sunday. Once again, David and I woke up around ten o’clock and took a long time to shower and get dressed. I found that I could walk on my own again, though, and that made it easier.

Around noon, more visitors arrived. Again, I wanted to rest so I let David stay with them while I stayed in bed.

After a while, Andrea came into the room with David. At first, when I saw her, I thought, “I don’t want to see anyone right now.” I didn’t tell her that, though, so she sat on the bed and we started talking.

And as we did, suddenly, I had a thought. It was more like a feeling than a thought, though—more like a realization, and even before I was sure what the right words were to describe it I said to Andrea, “Andrea, I have to apologize to you.”

“Why do you have to apologize?” she asked.

“I have been cold,” I said.

She said she didn’t think I was cold, but I went on. “I don’t usually expect people to be so kind and really mean it. I didn’t expect you to come today.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“I am glad you’re here,” I said.

And, after that, we were friends.


***


And there was something else that happened in the few minutes that she and I spent in that room, too, something very important and meaningful, something that I’ll never forget, ever, and if I do, please, please remind me of this that I’m writing to you right now:

I started to feel again.


Chapter Three

A little while later, Andrea and I went downstairs to see Jane. As I sat next to her bed, holding her foot in my hand, I wondered again what to do about breastfeeding.

“What would you do?” I asked Andrea. I was a little nervous to ask; I knew how stupid it sounded.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Why do you want to breastfeed?” She said it in a sympathetic way, a way that showed she understood but wanted me to tell her anyway.

I looked down at the floor, hiding my face with my hair.

“When David and I were making plans for the baby, the one thing I always said I would never, never do is give up on breastfeeding. No matter how hard it got, I swore that I’d keep at it. It’s the thing I looked forward to more than anything else.”

After I said that, something wonderful happened.

I started to cry. Not just a little, either.

I cried a lot.

“Now that all this has happened,” I said, “It feels like it’s the only thing I have left.

“It’s the only thing I can do that would make me feel like a mother.”

It was then that, for the first time, I knew I loved my baby.

I might have loved her before that, of course.

But I don’t think I knew it until then.

Not really.

That is the advantage of having people to talk to sometimes. Without them, I don’t think I would have learned how to feel what I felt.

Without them, I may not have learned how to grieve.


***


And that was the beginning of my feelings—the real beginning.

And after that, I couldn’t keep them away if I tried.

But, I soon realized, I didn’t want to keep them away. No matter what I was feeling, I decided, it was better than feeling nothing at all.

Much better, actually.

It was wonderful.

***


At three o’clock that afternoon, we had another meeting with the doctors. They told us what we all expected to hear.

“There is no reason to continue with the cooling treatment,” they said. “She will not live.”

They still had no explanation for what happened to her, and neither did the other specialist who had looked over the MRI that morning.

“Do you want us to keep her alive if something happens during the night?” one of the doctors asked. “Would you want her resuscitated?”

We said no.

Several of us asked the doctors more questions, trying to pin down the cause of the injury, but all of our theories were ruled out; they would do an autopsy, but it was unlikely we’d ever understand what had happened.

After the meeting ended we went back to the lounge area where some of our friends were waiting for us. We told them what had happened and all I could think was, “It is settled now. She is really going to die.”

Soon after that I went back to Jane’s room and as soon as I saw her I started crying again. And I can’t quite explain it but that time, as I looked at her, something was different. Her eyes were still closed and she still did not move or breathe on her own and the respirator was still there, and she looked in every way exactly the same way she had before, but somehow, in that moment, she was a total person to me just like everyone else.

For the first time, I felt like I knew my daughter.

I knew her.

And she was mine.


***


That night David and I decided not to stay in the hospital anymore, but to go home to sleep instead. We went out to dinner, then came back to the hospital to pack our things. I don’t remember if we saw Jane again before we left but I know I didn’t hold her again and I regret that now.

I should have held her again.

I should have held her all night.

As we drove home we I noticed the Christmas lights that had been put up in our absence.

We went home and slept very badly and very long.


***


The next day, a Monday, we arrived at the hospital around noon. As soon as we got there we were ushered into another meeting. This time there were just two doctors, David’s parents, David and I. They told us that now that Jane was off the cooling blanket we could hold her as long as we wanted.

We asked them some more questions. We told them about the ultrasound I’d had the day before I went into labor and how everything was normal. They said that that may help narrow down the time period in which the damage could have been done, but nothing else about their diagnosis had changed.

When the meeting ended, we went to Jane’s room right away.

As soon as I saw her, the tears came again.

“I want to hold her,” I said, so the nurses arranged all the cords and I sat in the chair by her bed with my feet up and held her for several hours while people came in and out of the room to visit.

I stroked her back over and over. I held my lips and cheek to the top of her head. I admired her arms and legs, noticing how long they were. “You’re my little monkey,” I said. I looked at her face for a long time.

I thought, “She looks just like me.”


***


That afternoon there were a lot of decisions to be made. David and I had to plan Jane’s baptism, her photo session and, finally, her last moments.

“When do you want to let her go?” David asked me.

“We can do it tomorrow,” I said.

“Do you want to be there?”

“Yes,” I said, and he was surprised. “Do you want to be there?” I asked.

“No,” he said, and I was surprised, too.

Sometime after that, the nurse asked me if I wanted to change Jane’s diaper.

“Yes, I do,” I said. It was the first time I’d ever done this and she had to show me how.

A little after three o’clock, we held Jane’s baptism. Several friends and family members were there.

During the baptism, I held Jane in my lap. When the chaplain read the verse “. . . And Jesus said unto them, let the little children come unto me,” I started to cry. “I don’t want her to go to him,” I thought. Then, when he put the water on her forehead and said, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” I cried harder and Jane’s body shook with each sob.

Most of the other people there cried, too.


***


When the baptism was over Christine and Andrea stayed in the room with me while everyone else did other things. We talked a little, but we also stopped talking some of the time and I knew that they understood.

“We were going to hold her all the time,” I said after a silence. “I was going to hold her all day, and when David came home from work I was going to give her to him to hold, too. We weren’t even going to wear shirts when we held her so that we could be as close to her as possible and she could feel our skin on her skin all the time.” I smiled at the thought.

Then Andrea said, “Do you want to hold her like that now?” and it may have been the best thing that anyone has ever said to me.

At first, though, when she said it, I didn’t think it was a good idea. “I can’t do that here, like this,” I thought. I looked down at Jane and didn’t say anything.

But after a moment, Andrea asked me again.

“Do you want to hold her like that?” she said, quietly.

This time, I nodded.

Then I started to cry.

Andrea and Christine called the nurses in and told them what I wanted to do. They didn’t think it was strange at all and while they took the baby I took off my sweater and shirt and bra and sat back down in the chair. Then they put the baby on my chest with her head between my breasts and her arms and legs wrapped around my stomach.

After that, they left, and we were alone.


***


Before I met Jane, when she was just a body inside me, someone I was with all the time but never actually saw, and even before that, long before I was even expecting a baby, or expecting to ever have a baby—even back when I didn’t want a baby at all—I dreamt about babies. Not often—just often enough that I woke up during a significant number of them, thus remembering the details.

They were never good dreams. The first part was wonderful, but they never ended well.

Though the specifics varied, the general outline was always the same. First, I loved my baby more than anything else in the world. I felt the kind of feeling that I used to think you can only feel in dreams, namely, complete love. Complete surrender of every other emotion to this one of total bliss as I held the baby in my arms.

After that, though, something would happen that would take her away from me. In one dream, she grew up right before my eyes and she was too big to hold. In another, I left her in the supermarket, only to remember her hours later in a sudden panic.

In all of these dreams, I never got the baby back.

Now, I don’t think these dreams were a way for the universe to warn me about what would happen to Jane—I think they were just dreams. But what I do know is that in each of them, for just a short time, I knew what it was like to be a mother. And I knew, a little, what it was like to lose a baby. And now when I remember having them, I think to myself, those feelings I had when holding the baby in my dreams don’t even compare to the feelings I had when I held my baby skin-to-skin for the first time.

And losing the baby in my dreams was not as bad.


***


After a while, David came into the room where I was holding Jane.

“We’re all going out to dinner,” he said. “Do you want to come?”

“No,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”

He left and I stayed with Jane for about two more hours after that and they were the best two hours of my life.


***


Around eight thirty, the photographer came. I put my clothes back on and we had our pictures taken. After that, someone asked if I wanted to make a Christmas ornament with Jane’s hand prints on it, so I did. One of the nurses had also made one for her the day before so I put mine in the box next to hers and we gathered up our things and went home.

When we got home it was about midnight. I still wasn’t walking very well and on my way to the door I dropped one of the Christmas ornaments and it broke. David wondered what was taking so long so he came back to find me.

“Are you coming in?” he asked.

I didn’t say anything; I was just looking at the ground and crying.

He said, “Oh, the ornament broke.”

Then he took me in his arms and held me for a long time.

Later that night after we had gone to bed I told David that I wasn’t sad about losing the ornament.

“It just seemed so symbolic,” I said. “She’s broken.”


***


And that was the end of the fourth day I knew Jane. And that is the story of how, in a very short time and without saying one word, she taught me things I didn’t even know I needed to learn.

But that is not all that I learned from Jane.

Jane’s short life of only four days not only taught me greater love and greater feeling; it taught me to expect miracles.


Chapter Four

On Tuesday, David and I got to the hospital around noon again. This time there was no meeting.

It was Jane’s last day.

As I had the day before, as soon as I saw her lying in her bed, I started to cry, and, as soon as I could, I sat down to hold her. After a short time the nurse asked if I wanted to be skin-to-skin again.

“There are visitors,” I said, but she told me she could pin some blankets over my shoulders, so I said yes. She called in another nurse to help and they put Jane’s body on mine and I placed each of her arms on my breasts and wrapped her legs around my waist, then leaned back in the chair.

After a while, there was a call on the room’s intercom.

“David’s boss is here with his family,” the receptionist told us. “Can they come in?”

I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “Let them in.”

He and his wife and daughter came in the room and saw my bare arms and saw my tears and they were very nice and they understood.

A few hours went by and more visitors came. Eventually, I had to use the bathroom so I got dressed and gave the baby to David. He took off his shirt and held Jane skin-to-skin, too, and, as he did so, his face was very happy and very sweet. Then David’s sister held her for a while, and, after that, Andrea.

When Andrea held her, David and his family were already out of the room, so I decided to leave, too, and give them some time alone. I went to the waiting room for a while, then went back inside.

Andrea was still holding Jane and she looked very happy and very sad at the same time.

We sat quietly for a while. Then we started talking about the meaning of Jane’s life.

“Do you think she knows we’re here?” I asked.

“Yes,” Andrea said. “I think that the important part of her is still here, even though her mind is gone; who she really is is here.”

We were quiet again. Then, after a while, I said, “I used to be religious.” I didn’t just say it for no reason; I wanted to find out what she believed about such things. “Anyone this good and this kind,” I thought, “Must know something I don’t.”

“You were?” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “It was nice.”

She nodded.

“What do you think about religion?” I asked.

She paused and looked away. Then, slowly and carefully, she gave me her answer.

“I am a very spiritual person,” she said. “I read about it and I meditate and it is important to me, but I am not religious in the typical sense of the word.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I like that.”

And, right then—right at that moment—I think I came back to God.


***


I have always believed in God. Ever since I was old enough to believe anything, I’ve believed in something beyond this great green place. When I was maybe six years old, in fact, I spoke in tongues for the first time. If you don’t already know about speaking in tongues, I’ll just mention that it is believed to be a way to communicate with God in words that you yourself may not be able to interpret.


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