The lights on the 3rd floor of the hospital are bright at 11pm. I’m exhausted, my face tear-stained, as I punch the down button and listen to the groan of the elevator ascending its shaft to meet me. I need my sleeping bag, still in the trunk of our car, which waits in the parking structure to the west. The doors open to an empty compartment, and I enter obediently, praying with my hands for the first floor, the next step on the way to eventual rest. I rest my body uneasily against the wall as the compartment lurches and begins to descend.
Kari is safe in the room, though she has lost so much blood, and I can’t yet tell how much pain she’s in. I left her in the bed, after a nurse helped her move out of her wheelchair and laid her down, slowly, like putting a child to sleep. Children. Immy. I start to cry again. The doors that would release me to the hospital’s west courtyard don’t budge as I lean my weight against their tall, cold glass. Something from the hospital tour about these doors locking after hours, about the need to use the emergency room to check-in if Kari’s labor progressed after dark, floats to the surface of my exhausted mind. I’ve got to go east, down a long corridor, out the open doors and around the circular medical center in order to return to almost this very spot on my way to the parking garage. I’ve been moving since 5am, but it’s not the energy I lack. It’s the fear of being alone with my thoughts for that much longer that keeps me pressed to the automatic glass door, immobile and disabled and inviting me to face this a little longer tonight.
I really don’t choose, I can only submit. I need my sleeping bag if I’m going to get any rest at all. And the pediatrician on the floor ordered this for the both of us, that we try to sleep now. I turn and start walking slowly towards the only doors that will let me out of this place, into the night where I know I will weep.
I walk the path towards the garage, the same concrete Kari, Renee and I followed in over 12 hours ago. We had waited at her parent’s house, laboring until the rhythm of contractions and rest indicated that we pack up and drive to Kaiser Baldwin Park, to labor and delivery, where our midwife was waiting. I remember us pausing by the bench to my right. I held Kari in my arms as she sounded through a contraction, rocking with her and doing my best to match her tones with my own voice. You are not alone, I hoped to tell her in this way. We had practiced this in our birthing class, sounding together. The class so many parents from church had done before us. The courtyard had been bright, the lawn and water features doing their best to keep us calm. How many expectant mothers, parents, walked this path, pausing to breathe through the next wave as their child, or children, moved closer to the waking world? How many found themselves afraid for their child, their partner? Now the grounds were deserted, only a few stray cats lingered near a garbage can by the doors that refused to let me out 20 minutes ago. Or was it 5 minutes? I begin to weep. I still walk slowly towards the car.
For years, I have participated in liturgies that include infant dedication, infant baptism. Our communion loves children, and babies are a reminder of how we all once were small and dependent, how we are all still loveable as babies. Josh has brought this up more in the past few years, the part about us all once having been babies ourselves. Children reveal God’s image to us in a way we can often forget to notice in each other, I think that’s one of the ideas we are meant to ponder during those services. We are also there to hear parents gush about their children, what they are like when we all aren’t there to stare at them, smiling, like some obsessive and oblivious extended family, each of us wanting a piece of that child’s gaze, their smile, their time. We really do love children at church. These services, this special liturgy, speaks a lot about how babies are to be given to God. Given. Something that requires letting go.
I keep walking. The prayer forms like vomit in my throat, like a disruption. I sob, but keep walking because I am so tired. The sound comes from the hollowness inside me. The hallowedness we are wading through together. I think of Sunday mornings, of children being dedicated and baptized, of all of us committing to caring for them, while parents are asked to let their children go. Someone at church recently talked about this act of letting go as the main act of parenting. I begin to pray. I don’t know the words to use. I just let go. I don’t know how loud I am. The cats are probably staring at me over their feast of trash. I pray to let Immy go, and see the moon, bright and cut in half, dimming the stars above me. Blurred by the liquid that changes my vision. We are being baptized.
I am at the stairwell, I am at the car. I ransack the vehicle for anything I think will be useful to us over the next 12 hours, stuff it in my sleeping bag, and begin the walk back to the room. To Kari.
Immy is in the NICU. She was born around 7pm. Amazing, mysterious little ball of life lying on the bed. She entered the world moments after the midwife exited the room. Kari leaning up against me, her sister Courtney witnessing it all by her mother’s side in the corner. Immy’s head appeared, calm, and within moments she had fallen gracefully to bed from Kari, making her grand appearance unassisted by medical professionals. Though without the midwife’s coaching, it may have been longer for Kari and Immy to finally meet face to face. The next two hours were joy, relief and anxiety all moving in and out of room #5 on the labor and delivery floor. Immy and Kari cuddling for the first time. Me holding Immy. Kari and I wrapping her up and laying hands on her to bring her temperature up to something less alarming to the charge nurse. The charge nurse taking Immy and I across the room, to watch her breathing, as she calmly explained to me that something was wrong and the pediatrician was on his way. The latter explaining that he had been monitoring Immy since she was born, behind the scenes, and was now convinced she needed immediate treatment in the NICU. We wouldn’t let him take her until he said it. Emergency. We then let her go instantly, consented to whatever was prescribed. Please just take her now, why are we still talking? Kari was left without husband or child, and was only beginning to lose what ended up being a lot of blood. No medications, something the staff seemed to have forgotten as they removed uterine blood clots, as they re-stitched. As they asked her family to leave. As I stayed with Immy, walked with her as she was rolled down the hall. Delayed her entrance into the NICU as I shouted to family in the waiting room to come and see her, now was their chance.
Immy had a tear in her left lung, and she had aspirated fluid sometime during the process of her birth. The fluid was contaminated with meconium. All of this meant she had trouble breathing. The doctor asked me questions about Kari and I as the nurses in the NICU set to work, placing the oxygen hood over Immy’s head and shoulders, inserting the IV into the top of her right hand just below her knuckles. He’s good at keeping me calm, I reflect silently. I keep making noise, sounding as I had done with Kari for the last 14 hours, to try and tell Immy that she’s not alone, even as I’m asked to stand away from her while they begin x-rays and other procedures. You’re not alone.
When I made it back to delivery room #5, forced to leave Immy to the care of the NICU staff only hours after her entrance into the world, Kari was white and shaking. She wanted to know how Immy was doing. She looked ghostly, separated and surviving. It took what seemed like hours to help her finally board the wheelchair to go visit Immy in the NICU on the way to our recovery room. When we reached Immy’s crib, her body was covered in blue surgical paper below her neck line, where her oxygen hood began. A minor procedure, we were assured, to install an IV directly connecting to her umbilical artery. To monitor her oxygen levels, we were instructed. Kari couldn’t stand. Immy’s crib, a clear plastic box with two football-sized doors on each side and a roof that could be raised and lowered with the push of a button, was higher than Kari’s eye-line, and the hood, now showing heavy condensation on the inside, was all she could see rising from the blue mound that hid her daughter from view. She needed sleep, and we were gently guided out of the NICU, towards the recovery room. The doctor didn’t know how Immy would do through the night. I’ll visit you at 6:30 tomorrow morning, he said. If you don’t hear from me before then, that’s a good sign. Please try to sleep now. We will take care of her for you.
Someone left a door open on the eastside of the building. Probably a janitor. Hallelujah. I move around the cleaning cart and the piled trash bags, and through the half open sliding glass door, sleeping bag slung over my back. The lights on the first floor are softer than up in labor and delivery, and I start to wonder if anyone can tell I’ve been crying, but the idea of caring about this is so absurd I let out a quiet snort. The best version of a laugh I can muster right now. I find the hall where our elevator is waiting to take me back upstairs. Again, I don’t choose, I submit. I punch the arrow and wait. A couple around our age enters with me, and illuminates the 3rd floor disc on the panel. I’m oddly grateful that I don’t have to. They are so pregnant. I wonder if they’re checking in, but can’t muster the energy to ask. I’m afraid to show them my eyes, to reveal any part of the fear I’m carrying. I don’t want them to worry.
I find our room. Kari is in the bed, crying. I join her, pulling the sheets over us, burying my face in her neck, and weep. Soon, I’ll lay out my sleeping bag on the floor and try to rest, but right now we are still in labor, still waiting for our daughter, still hoping she’ll make it through this alright. We weep, fighting off sleep.