I have really been struggling these past few days with why this happened to us. With why, with all the many precautions I took for 17 months and 12 days (plus the nine months that she was in my belly), why I couldn’t save Hudson’s life. Even though I have gotten over the worst of the guilt, I still, always, imagine in my head how things might have been different if we’d made that trip to the ER at 4AM. I want so badly to have a do-over, one that somehow brings Hudson back to us. Because I have also been struggling, again, with the finality of all this. I look at the pictures of my sweet girl, and I just can’t fathom that she is really gone forever. It just seems like there has to be some way to bring her back.
When I was pregnant with Hudson, I read a lot about breastfeeding and attended several breastfeeding classes. I knew I wanted to try to breastfeed her for at least a year, so I wanted to have as strong a foundation for that as possible. One of the things I read was most important for establishing the breastfeeding relationship early on was frequent skin-to-skin contact, starting as soon as the baby is born. I’d read that the baby should spend some time on the mama’s bare chest just as soon as possible, and certainly before the baby is whisked away for measurements and eye goop and cleaning.
When they held Hudson up in front of me, my first reaction was, “It’s a girl!” realizing only then for the first time that despite all my assertions that I didn’t care what we had, I’d wanted a girl the whole time. My next reaction, a split second later, was to start tearing my hospital gown off—it was tied in the back and I couldn’t get the knot undone. I was desperate to get that little girl on my chest, to hold her close so she could smell me and try nursing. (I realize now, as a member of many online grief communities for babylost parents, how fortunate I was to have that time with Hudson, how lucky we were that she was born perfectly healthy and did not have to be whisked away to the NICU.) We sat together, with Ed right next to us, for at least 20 or 30 minutes, with the OB, the nurse, and the doula all nearby trying to help Hudson and me learn how to become a successful “breastfeeding pair.” Again, I know now how incredibly lucky we were yet again that Hudson took to nursing like a champ, that breastfeeding came very easily to us. But for as long as I live, I’ll never forget my fervor in trying to get that gown off so I could pull my daughter close to my skin, trying to give her the best start I could.
On the day Hudson died, we spent the entire day with her, knowing it would be our last, knowing that at around 8:30 that night, the doctors would do a second test for brain death and that barring a miracle (which thousands of people we knew and didn’t know were hoping and praying for), she would be declared dead. The doctors and nurses had told us that we could hold her, even though she was still hooked up to so many different tubes and machines that were keeping her systems functioning so that the results of the brain death test would be accurate. We pulled an armchair up as close as possible to the bed, trying to make the distance we had to move her as small as possible. I sat down and as the nurses began to prepare to try to move her into my lap, I said out loud, “You know, I’m also tempted to tell everyone to get out so I can take my shirt off and hold her skin-to-skin.” My sister looked at me and said, “Do you want us to?” I thought about it for a second. I remembered what Ed’s friend Scott had told me earlier that morning—he’d said that I should be sure to do anything I wanted to today and to say no to anything I didn’t want to happen. He said, “You don’t want to have any regrets about today.” I looked at my sister and said, “Yeah, I think I do.” I thought to myself that maybe, just like when Hudson was born, the skin-to-skin contact would have a magical effect, that just having my skin so close to hers might make her well. I pictured her in my arms, against my chest, slowly regaining consciousness.
I didn’t want to come to the end of the day and regret not having at least tried.
The rest of the family left the room. I was still a little shy and at first took off only my shirt, but then I realized that these were nurses and had seen a lot more, and probably a lot stranger, than a bare-chested mother holding her baby close, so then I took off my bra, too. We got Hudson situated in my arms--it was no easy feat. My poor little girl, so very different than the tiny baby that had been placed on my chest 17 months and 12 days before. So much bigger and yet so lifeless. I wished so hard that she would open her eyes. I thought wildly that if I could just nurse her (which I had not done in almost 5 months), then she would be healed. I wondered whether she’d have been able to avoid the terrible strep pneumo bacteria if I’d continued breastfeeding her after the first year—maybe her immune system would have been stronger or I could have given her the antibodies to fight it off. She slumped against me. The day before, her temp had dropped into the high 80s before anyone realized it—a very bad sign for her brain activity—and she’d been getting warming fluids and lying under a warming blanket ever since to keep her temperature normal. When they took her out from under the blanket, her temperature dropped a few tenths of a degree. I held her and waited, hoping that my skin next to hers would make that temperature start to rise again, just like skin-to-skin contact is supposed to help regulate the temperatures of newborns. I waited, and was crushed to see that her temp dropped another tenth of a degree while she was sitting with me. I could not save her. My chance to save her had been early Monday morning and I had missed it. I could not save her. I could not save her.
We then changed places so Ed could hold her for a while. I can’t remember if he took off his shirt, too—we’d tried hard when Hudson was younger to let her have skin-to-skin contact with her daddy, too, although it obviously wasn’t nearly as frequent. Moving her to the chair in the first place, though, had inadvertently caused a crack in her central line apparatus, but no one had realized it yet. Her blood pressure kept dropping, marked each time by a terrible alarm on the machine that monitored it. I thought it was possible that we might lose her then and there (even though we knew, of course, that she was already gone—her body was only with us because of the all the medicines being pumped into her). At one point, about 4 different nurses and the attending physician were in there, trying to replace the central line valves so that her medications could start flowing regularly again. The doctor told us that it was possible that these fluctuations in her blood pressure were just a sign of her body shutting down, that Hudson might not make it until tonight for the second test, and the doctor needed to know whether we wanted them perform any life-saving measures. We both immediately said no. As I said, we knew she was gone—all we were holding on for was a little more time to be with her, or with her body at least, and a chance to really say goodbye without alarms sounding all over the place. Ed and I looked at each other and I think I said something like, “We need to be prepared that this may be it.” And he nodded. We were so incredibly calm somehow. But they managed to get the central line fixed, which stabilized everything pretty quickly. I remember feeling traumatized that our attempts to hold her had almost been the end. How very wrong that seemed.
I have been thinking about these moments—again, two very incongruous images battling in my head—all weekend as I’ve been struggling again with disbelief, with the question “WHY?” and with my torment over my inability to keep my sweet girl alive, or to bring her back from the brink of death, or now, to bring her back from I don’t know where. Two poignant and precious moments: my first chance to hold her skin-to-skin seconds after she was born, and then my last chance to hold her skin-to-skin when she was only hours away from death. If only the latter could have saved her. Why couldn’t I save her?