I had gone back to work for half a day, I was going to do those for a couple of weeks before coming back full time. I was desperate to savor as much vacation and sick leave as I could so that when Leo was out of the hospital I would be able to have maternity leave as usual. That’s what I was operating on and that was my plan. Leo would come home around his due date and I would get three blissful months alone with my not-so-newborn who would be the size and shape and developmental age of a newborn. Until then, I would go back to work full time, adjust my hours so I could take an hour long lunch, and go see him at the hospital every day. A friend had already told me he would drive me to and from whenever I needed, and I had talked to my mother-in-law about borrowing a bike for the summer so I could bike over.
So it’s my first half-day back and my terror of a manager has me rushing to meet the deadline for purchasing shit by the end of the fiscal year. Yes, this was something she or someone else could have done in the time I was out. No, nobody did anything so I had a mountain of work to accomplish in four hours in addition to figuring out how to pump in my office and also not break down into a puddle of tears. I’m doing the best I can at everything and my sister starts to text me. Amanda was assigned to be Leo’s “person” in the absence of Blake and I. She could be in the room without us and receive information on his health. She did it beautifully and perfectly.
Today the news wasn’t looking good. I was so stressed that morning, anxious. Trying to get back into the swing of work but also immensely worried about Leo. Finally, about ten minutes before I was going to leave anyway, Amanda sent me a text saying “Tim wants you and Blake to get here, things aren’t looking good.” A once-devoted friend drove me over to the hospital and I called Blake from the car to tell him to get to the hospital as quickly and safely as he could. I remember being so calm and telling him not to panic, that nothing was set in stone, and to just drive safely and remain calm. When I hung up, I looked at my friend and said, “I’m afraid he’s going to die.” My friend looked at me, took me by the hand, and told me not to think that way, but I couldn’t help it. It was a real possibility.
In the hospital room, I just wasn’t sure. Leo’s doctor, Tim, seemed worried. When Blake arrived he told us that he wasn’t sure how much fight Leo had left in him. That it seemed like Leo was trying to tell us that he couldn’t hold on anymore. He then explained that he never wanted a baby to die alone on a table. He wanted someone to hold them, preferably the parents, but said he would do it if nobody else could. That was when I truly understood how incredible of a man Tim Elgin is. He has and would continue to hold dying babies in his arms so they felt loved and safe as they left this Earth.
I stood over Leo and assessed him thoroughly. My mom heart wasn’t convinced he was going to die today. There was just a nagging feeling that this wasn’t it. I have a way of (sometimes inappropriately) making jokes to lighten the mood, so I referenced Game of Thrones and said “what do we say to the God of Death, Leo? We say, ‘not today’.” That gave me some comfort. To think there was a master of death I could bargain with or say, “fuck off, leave my son alone” to. That Leo and I were in control and in on the scheme together. Mommy and son couldn’t possibly be separated. There was nothing that could break that bond. My voice and touch soothed him and settled his vitals. Surely nothing was more powerful than that?
After a couple of hours, Leo improved and things calmed down quite a bit. Blake and I decided to stay at the hospital overnight with him just in case, so we had family bring us clothes and toiletries and we called for a cot. I slept in the recliner that I used when I was pumping in Leo’s room. Natalie, Leo’s favorite nurse and an incredible advocate for his health, had the night shift that night. We joked that Leo just wanted mom and dad to sleep over. Then I realized that this was the first time all three of us had slept in the same room and it broke my heart a little.
So much of the traditional “firsts” that a mom and baby are “supposed to” have didn’t happen for Leo and I. I didn’t get to hold him on my chest when he was born. He never got to latch. In fact, I didn’t lay eyes on him for hours. The only reason I knew what he looked like is because Blake took a photo and brought it to my room to show me. I had finished delivering the placenta and was trying to figure out the whole going to the bathroom after delivering a baby thing.
Looking back on it, it makes my heart ache, all those missed firsts. We have such a unique story and we have reminisced on what now feels like the weirdest things. When you de-satted in front of everyone during rounds and we laughed after because it felt like you were showing off. Me learning to pump while Blake watched in amazement, you in a completely different wing of the hospital. Weird things that make us a family in our own way.
The next day I stayed at the hospital with you, didn’t go into work. I joked that you just wanted me to be a stay at home mommy and I started to consider it. It was an uneventful day so when Friday rolled around I decided to try a half day again. So in to work I went, and when noon hit my friend took me to the hospital again. He told me he really thought things were going to be ok and that Leo was going to come home. It was a nice, quick drive over and I was so grateful for the support.
When I got to Leo’s room, the energy was completely off. It felt so tense and awkward. He had a nurse I had never met before and she seemed to be way in over her head. Additionally, she was the type of nurse who bitched and complained about other nurses, doctors, etc., anything to shirk responsibility for things. I immediately didn’t like her and I didn’t feel that my baby was safe with her. I kept asking people, “is it really that serious or is she just not able to handle it?” and getting very diplomatic responses.
I don’t remember if I called Blake from work early, I think I did. But I remember him getting to the hospital to join me and feeling relief. At some point over the previous few days, I had noticed a dark spot on Leo’s tummy that nobody else had. I remember being nervous, the medical team wasn’t ever able to figure out what it was, but I also felt a sense of pride about my motherhood. I knew something was off with my baby and I wanted someone to do something about it. Which was again how I felt in the room that final day. I just knew something was wrong. The energy was frantic and I felt the weight of what was coming but nobody said it out loud.
A lot of details are a blur, to be honest. But I do remember Blake sitting next to me while I pumped. I remember my dad coming with my sister to check in on us and I know he felt it too, that Leo didn’t have long. He was quiet and leaned over to pet my head, soft strokes. He looked so concerned and I could tell he would have given anything to fix this for me. I was crying while he touched me. I knew. I knew that even if Leo made it through tonight, he wouldn’t live for long. I knew he was never coming home. There are no words to describe what that’s like, knowing that your sweet infant son is going to die.
A little bit later I pumped again, and while I was pumping Pearl came into the room. Pearl had resuscitated Leo. Given him life when I couldn’t anymore. She asked me if she could give me a hug and I said yes. We held each other and cried, she knew too. Later Blake and I would laugh lightly about how we hugged each other while I was still pumping, bottles attached to my chest. Some time passed and the care team suggested that we go home and get some rest, since he was stable again. It would be important to rest because he needed us to be strong and healthy.
We went home, I remember laying on the wood floor talking to my family. Blake and I finally decided to get ready for bed, and my parents decided to head to their hotel for the night. But before we could even change our clothes, the hospital called. They told us we needed to get there, because they were worried about Leo. The rest is really a blur, everything until we held him as he died. We sped to the hospital, I offered to be on the lookout for police so Blake could drive quick. The hospital doors were locked and we were panicked. We got up to his room and they were keeping him alive by pushing a syringe of fluid through him. There was no way he would live.
I had known, the hours leading up to this. My heart knew. This was the moment, this was goodbye. I know I have a full life to live ahead of me, and at the same time I cannot wait to see my baby boy again. My firstborn. A love so deep and unconditional that nothing else could match it.