When I transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, everything came with me–large plastic bags stuffed with clothing, haphazardly stacked books and magazines, a jumble of flower arrangements. All of this traveled on a large, noisy cart as I was rushed from labor & delivery down to the ICU.
A nurse from labor & delivery also came with me. She was there to be an advocate for myself and my baby and to keep me connected to the doctors who had been caring for me upstairs.
Having my belongings and my family provided me comfort, but it was my doctors and nurses from labor & delivery who provided the security and knowledge that would ultimately save my life.
The chaos from upstairs traveled with me down to the ICU. A lot happened in that ICU before Dorothy was born. This part of my story is where I rely heavily on Mike to fill in the blanks. Through his careful recollection I know that I was on oxygen, that I had several blood transfusions, and that it was in the ICU when they realized that my kidneys had shut down. I was no longer producing urine and I was experiencing renal failure.
In addition to my kidneys shutting down, my liver was starting to decrease in function.
This happens with when a patient with preeclampsia also develops HELLP syndrome. Having HELLP syndrome means that your platelet counts are very low and your liver enzymes are elevated. Preeclampsia and HELLP can join forces and cause a host of complications for mother and baby. The most serious complication is mortality.
The preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome were killing me and the only thing that would begin to save me was delivering the baby and the placenta.
This was obvious to my doctors and nurses from L&D, but the doctors and nurses from the ICU were not as familiar with my condition and they were trying other avenues to stabilize me. There was a lot of back and forth between these specialized teams; each trying to do what they thought was best for their patient.
I was oblivious to this back and forth. In fact, I was oblivious to most everything that was going on around me. All I wanted was to sleep and even though my eyelids felt so heavy, I couldn’t close them.
Underneath the weakness and the fatigue was a nagging feeling inside of me that knew if I closed my eyes, they might not ever open again.
I was so scared. Even more scary, was the fact that I didn’t have the strength to explain what was happening to anyone. I just lay there trying to figure out how to rise out of the weakness. If only I had something to focus on; something to channel energy from. It was then that I felt a contraction. There was still a chance to see my daughter.
Quickly, I scanned the room for my nurse from L&D. She could help me. I told her what was happening and she ran to the phone to call for my doctors. One of my doctors, Dr. Mari, came to check my cervix. I was 10 centimeters dilated and fully effaced.
It was time to have a baby.
I froze. I was wrong. I couldn’t do this. If I gave birth to Dorothy then this would all be real. I knew she was gone. As long as she stayed inside of me, I could feed on the delusional hope that she was somehow alive. Giving birth to her meant putting an end to the hope.
I wanted there to be another option. What I was facing was impossible. How could I go through the pain of childbirth knowing that I was giving birth to death?
I turned to Mike for permission to give up but once I looked at him I didn’t inquire further. In his eyes, I found the strength I needed to keep going.
There was so much about my birth with Dorothy that was imperfect. I was frustrated by the wires and tubes that got in the way while I labored. The oxygen mask kept getting pushed up into my eyes and obstructing my vision. The room was full of machines that beeped and squealed their unpleasant reminders of where I was being forced to deliver. It was so far from the ideal birth scenario.
And still, I gave birth.
I labored and pushed. I panted and screamed. I was slick with sweat and blood and tears. I did it all.
At 10:14 in the morning, on February 22, 2016, Dorothy Grace Helena Whalen came into the world. She never made a sound and her eyes never opened, but she was perfection.
As the nurse placed her in my arms, I felt the weight of her tiny body. Even though she was so small, I immediately sensed her impact. Her lightness bore a heaviness that settled on my heart.
I knew right then and there that my life would never be the same.
In that silent moment, I could only imagine the pain that was to come for our family. I didn’t yet realize the heartache and agony that would fill our days without her. I could not know what was ahead for us in our journey through grief and loss.
The only thing I could focus on was her. Her tiny lips and delicate face. The way it felt to carefully pass her to Mike and watch him rock her. The rush of joy it brought me to sing to her and whisper her name–Dorothy.
Before the heartbreak of her death truly set in, all I could feel was the love of a mother and her child.
It was a love that was pouring from my heart and spilling onto my cheeks. A love that was escaping me in breathy sobs and tiny kisses. It was a love that I had never felt before and it was all because of her.
When Dorothy arrived, the love came with her. As I delivered her into this world, she delivered to us an everlasting gift. Because even when she had to leave, the love is what stayed.
And it was the love she left us with that has carried us through the aftermath.