Surprises (a very long post)

October 8, 2008

Some people love surprises and some hate them. I’ve never felt strongly about them one way or another, but I’ve been thinking a lot about surprises lately, about how some are huge and happy while some are huge and horrifying, and about how some surprises are small enough that, good or bad, you can weather them without losing equilibrium.

Last week my doctor and I talked about all of the postpartum stuff – exercise, what to watch for in terms of depression, birth control, when we might try again. “Trying again.” Funny words, full of moment and not precisely accurate in our case. Teddy was an unexpected though welcome surprise; while we were overjoyed to learn of his existence, we hadn’t “tried” for him in the first place.

Meeting N was one of the big, happy surprises. I was 28 years old and till then didn’t really think that I’d be lucky enough to meet anyone I wanted to share my life with. I didn’t think children were in my future, and I was fine with that, if not precisely happy about it. After only a couple of dates, however, N and I started seeing our future selves as a family and I started to want children. I was 32 when we married, and kept thinking that we needed to settle things like student loans, credit card debt, and where we both were in our careers before we added any more people to our family. I also knew that, because of my age, we couldn’t put “trying” off much longer.

I was only off of the birth control for one month. The prescription lapsed and it took me longer than it should have to arrange for a doctor’s appointment. I could have called to ask to see if my doctor would have renewed the prescription for a month, but I didn’t even think of it. I thought, I’m stressed and N is stressed and smoking and what are the chances, really, that anything would happen? It’s just one month. And somehow during that month the stars aligned, the cosmos laughed, and in spite of holiday stress, and stress over bills and in spite of winter colds and who knows what kind of statistical odds, Teddy came into being.

Before I knew about Teddy, however, I had a less joyful surprise, an abnormal PAP test result. Abnormal enough that the nurse who called me with the news scared me into a panic (she wasn’t cold or mean, but she wasn’t especially informative, and she hung up before I could ask questions). More than a week later, after I’d hysterically resigned myself to possible cervical cancer, I went to the doctor’s office again, for a colposcopy and mentioned that my period was a bit late, but I was sure it was coming because I’d started having mild cramps. My doc cocked her head to one side and asked if there was any chance I might be pregnant. When I said, oh maybe, she ordered a pregnancy test. Surprise.

The diaphragmatic hernia was a surprise, too. All of the other tests were encouraging, and when I went in for my second ultrasound at 20 weeks I was just starting to lose my fear that perhaps I’d warped my little fetus with what I’d done before I knew I was pregnant (those two glasses of champagne on New Year’s, that hot bath) or what I’d done after I knew (that plane trip, standing within five feet of a microwave oven).

The ultrasound tech thought we were having a girl, and set up another ultrasound appointment so that she could get better views of the heart. But at the next ultrasound, she could see we were having a boy (surprise!) and thought the heart looked a bit high, so they scheduled another ultrasound for us at a Maternal Fetal clinic in the neighboring big city. The words “diaphragmatic hernia” were mentioned, and we were scared, but the high-resolution ultrasound was encouraging. Nothing seemed to be wrong. And at our follow-up ultrasound, nothing seemed to be wrong except that my amniotic fluid levels were high. The perinatologist said, I really don’t think he has it. I don’t think anything is wrong. But we’ll check to be sure.

So yet another ultrasound was scheduled, and scheduled at a time when my parents would be visiting. N and I thought it would make Mom happy, to come to the ultrasound appointment and get a sneak peek at her first grandchild. See? See how cocky we were, how full the belief that things would be okay? That, of course, was the ultrasound where we learned that things were not okay. Sitting in the darkened room with Teddy’s image on the screen and my Mom sitting, shocked, in a corner, we listened while the specialist explained what was wrong and what we were up against. Surprise, damn it. Surprise.

What followed were weeks of worry and hope. Weeks of fearing that the high amniotic fluid levels would make me go into premature labor, weeks of me talking to my baby with my hand over my belly, telling him he was loved and dear, that he needed to grow and to be strong and to fight for us because we wanted all the time we could get to learn to know him and to love him.

There were more surprises during those weeks of waiting, though not earth shattering ones. My blood pressure went up, not a lot, but enough to warrant bed rest (surprise). Our insurance declined to cover us at the wonderful hospital in Portland that our local doctors had recommended (surprise), and then agreed to cover us in Portland after we had appealed and thought our appeal wouldn’t do any good (surprise). And then there were labor and delivery surprises – the long induction (after all of those premature labor fears – surprise), the long contractions, the fever, the pushing (finally), and the c-section.

The biggest surprise? Seeing the top of my baby’s head from the hospital bed, feeling him grasp my finger in his small hand, knowing that we had chosen the right name and that he was Teddy, all the while being flooded with more love and hope than I ever knew could exist in one person. I loved him when he was inside me, but I never knew how much I loved him until I saw him. Surprise.

He had a bad night, a very bad night. There wasn’t much lung tissue at all, and his blood ph levels were not good, were acedotic, and because of this they brought his body temperature way down to minimize damage to his brain. It cut both of us so deeply, that our sweet little boy, who should have been cuddled and kept warm, had to sleep on a cold bed. And there was damage, or at least they were pretty sure there was. He didn’t stabilize. He was very slowly slipping away. And the morning after he was born N and I found ourselves talking over heartbreaking options with a team of doctors. We could have hooked Teddy up to a machine that would have taken over for his heart and lungs, but the chances of his survival on this machine were small, and there probably would have been pain. When the team of doctors left, after warning us that there wasn’t much time, we talked about it and both of us knew that if we asked to put Teddy on the machine, we would have been doing it more for us, because we wanted to keep him, than for him. We didn’t want him to have to deal with cold beds and tubes and operations any longer. So we found out that our one big act of parenting was to make the decision that allowed our little boy to die. Surprise.

This has turned into the story of how we came to be here, in Lost Baby Land, and isn’t really what I meant to write at all, but I’ll let it stand. I’m afraid of big surprises, but I’m learning again to handle the small ones. I’m getting used to Lost Baby Land, which has its own surprises – the days when things are bordering on normal, the emotional land mines, the glimpses of laughter that seem almost obscene in the face of loss, the ability to tell this story.


  1. Magnificent… Tears rolling down my cheeks. Letting go is sometimes the greatest act of love.

  2. I am so, so, sorry for the loss of your sweet boy Teddy. Letting go is the hardest of all; your words are heartbreakingly beautiful.

    I hope you find comfort in this blogoverse. I know I have.

  3. Very lovely. Thanks so much for sharing about Teddy, and for commenting on our blog so I could find yours. So wishing things were different.

  4. such gorgeous writing, and a wonderful way of writing. I am so very sorry for your surprises…Teddy is very much a part of you and your family and for that he will always be.
    Hope more wonderful surprises come along again for you and your beautiful hubby and that Teddy can be a bigger brother for your next wonderful surprise.
    Much love sent your way.

  5. I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing this xx

  6. Reading the story of your sweet Teddy and wishing it didn’t end the way it did. 😦 I’m so sorry for the loss of your brave little son.

  7. Tears down my face reading after all this time has passed. My thoughts are with you, and my hope flies out to Teddy wherever he is on his journey…

  8. And I just read Teddy’s story here. Oh it resonates. Our boys being so unwell. The cold bed to reduce brain damage, how foreign is that? And having to make the worst decision in the world. It’s all just so sad. I send love to Teddy across the night time sky and love to you. xo

  9. I cried the first time I read this. And tears are in my eyes again now.
    Saying I am sorry for your loss sounds cliché and false. But I am so very sorry you went through this ordeal. Teddy should have been here, damn it! I will never look at surprises the same.

  10. I’m so sorry… Our stories are so similar. Thinking of you and your precious little Teddy.

  11. Oh, my dear. This is so beautifully and heartbreakingly written. Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog so that I could find you.


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