January 11th, at about 5 am, I rolled over in bed and felt a warm gush from between my legs, soaking my underwear and my sheets. My immediate, elated reaction was – “My water broke! It’s finally happening!” – I turned on the lamp next to the bed, looked down at my lap and saw…a lot of blood. My heart, my stomach, everything inside of me dropped. I wanted to panic, but I silenced the screaming voices in my head and tried to calmly wake Phillip up. His still-sleepy gaze travelled to the redness staining the sheets, and I saw my fear reflected back at me.
He grabbed some towels as I called my midwife. I attempted to keep the shakiness from my voice as I described the scene to her. Her tone was mellow as always, but the response she gave me was immediate and alert. She told me to get into the shower, to see if I could still feel Milo kicking, and to call her back in a couple of minutes. As I stood in the shower with the warm water pouring over me, I shook uncontrollably. I had not expected to see so much blood, I had not expected it all to be so scary. It felt like I waited there for forever, and then suddenly…a kick! And another! My heart untightened ever so slightly.
Melissa came over to inspect us, and she brought a doppler with her. She found his heartbeat easily, still strong and constant. I began to relax even more. We decided to head to the birth center for more extensive monitoring. But after a couple hours of watching his movements and heart-rate, and seeing no reason to be worried, I was sent home to continue laboring. My cervix had been pretty bleedy in the past, so we just assumed that the gush of blood had been my waters breaking and my cervix bleeding from the pressure.
At home again, I tried to nap on the couch as my mom watched episodes of Doctor Who and Phillip nervously bustled around the house, cleaning and organizing. After a few hours, my contractions really started to pick up. I began trying to move around, using my birth ball, squatting on the floor, hopping in and out of the shower. Soon the contractions were coming faster and faster, becoming more and more intense. At around 1pm, my mother called my midwives and told them that my contractions were about 1 minute apart, and 1 minute long. It was time for them to come over.
At that point, I still felt very much in control. The waves were intense, and I was experiencing more back labor than I had anticipated, but I was riding them out pretty smoothly. I felt like a warrior.
But as the night wore on, I began to feel tired. Really tired. I was tired of riding the seemingly endless waves of pain. Melissa had checked my cervix some time before, and I was discouraged to know I was only 5cm dialated. It seemed like it was taking forever! I begged her to check my progress again, but she wanted to wait, lest I became more discouraged if I wasn’t as far along as I hoped.
I got into the inflatable birthing tub, filled to the brim with warm relief. The water felt good, felt right. My strength somewhat restored, I continued to labor. Phillip and my mom popped in and out of my awareness, sometimes bringing a piece of fruit, sometimes forcing me to take a sip of gatorade. But I was in a completely different world. I felt like I was in a dark, ancient cave, taking part in some dark, ancient ritual. It was both beautiful and terrifying.
Finally, at around 10 pm Melissa agreed to check my cervix again. I was nearly at the end of my rope, and I just needed to know how far we’d come. A very stretchy 8cm! Almost there. And another discovery – my bag of waters was still intact. We decided to break my waters, and the effect of that was immediate. All of a sudden, my long, lazy contractions became rapid-fire, burning with urgency, so close together that it could have just been one long, drowning pain. I grabbed Phillip’s forearms, squatted down, and just moaned like an animal. I could feel him coming.
I got back into the water, and the overwhelming urge to push swept over me. I beared down, I groaned, I yelled, I gritted my teeth, I breathed, I pushed, I completely lost myself over to this most primal experience. My midwives monitored Milo’s heartbeat through each contraction, and it never wavered. He was being strong too. We were a team, we were bringing him into this world fearlessly, together, bringing him closer and closer to being in my arms.
I felt a powerful fire between my legs. Every cell of my body straining, skin stretching, bones aching. I reached down to feel what was happening, and my fingers brushed the softness of Milo’s head, his peach fuzzy noggin. With another deep surge, another fierce push…plop. That fuzzy head escaped! Quickly, with the next push, Melissa grabbed Milo’s shoulders and yanked him out of me and into the world. She passed him, still underwater, into Phillip’s waiting arms, and Phillip immediately brought him to the surface and placed him on my chest.
January 11th, 2014. 11:36pm. 6lbs 14oz. 19.5 inches long.
I gazed down at the face of my son, and I didn’t have to count all his fingers and toes to know that he was perfectly made. I saw surprise, not fear, on his little features, blinking hard from the sudden burst of light. He didn’t come out screaming like you see in movies. It was the most peaceful moment of my life. As if the Universe had frozen, just for a few moments, to give us a little bit of extra time to soak this up. As we started talking to him, he looked around in our direction, recognizing our voices. He knew us.
As I held him in my arms, completely awestruck and lost in my love, it became apparent that I was losing quite a bit of blood. Phillip took Milo so one of my midwives could take his weight, length, test his vitals, as the others helped me out of the tub and into a squatting position to wait for the placenta. As I gently pushed, more and more blood came out. Large, gelatinous clots of blood. I started to feel dizzy, and then with the smallest sensation of pressure, my placenta slid out of my and onto the floor. I stared at the heart-shaped organ that had nourished my beautiful son for 9 months. Finally, my labor was complete.
My midwives, having confirmed that Milo was perfect and healthy, placed our son on Phillip’s chest while they turned their attention towards me. I was still losing blood, but not as rapidly. They hooked me up to an I.V. to replenish my fluids, and gave me a Vitamin K shot to encourage clotting. After a failed attempt to walk me to the bathroom – during which I fainted halfway there, waking up to many unrecognizable and concerned faces hovering over me – it was decided that one of my midwives would stay the night with us to make sure we were okay during the night. They took care of a few other things (I needed some quick stitches for a small tear, and to empty my bladder with the help of a catheter, which was actually almost worse than labor!), and then headed out. Our midwife Sarah set up camp in the livingroom, and said to holler if we needed anything.
And finally…we were alone with our son! That night I was so exhausted, but I still spent hours just staring at him, basking in his baby-scent, his smooth, soft skin, his little cooing sounds. He quickly fell asleep, his heart against my heart, his skin against my skin. Eventually I drifted off too, waking every hour or so to check on him, but Milo slept through the entire night (the first and only time he ever did that)!
Our time with Milo was like a dream. He was so healthy, so adorable, so sweet and calm. The first week had it’s difficulties – My stitches were uncomfortable, my body felt weak and over-stretched, we were all adjusting to a very different life. Milo screamed and screamed in hunger the night before my milk came in, and I thought I would go crazy with exhaustion and desperation. And when my milk finally did come in, issues with his latch left me with cracked and bloody nipples.
But soon, our lives developed a rhythm. We hired a lactation consultant to come over and help us latch, which ended up helping tremendously. My body healed as Milo’s grew. Phillip went back to work, and we settled into our new normal. All of our follow-up appointments were joyous and uncomplicated. Our days were filled with nursing and napping, watching the Office and reading Harry Potter outloud, watching my little one sleep peacefully in my arms.
He was a perfect little gentlman. He rarely cried. He would fuss if he was hungry, or dirty, or just wanted to be held…but he never really cried. He was content to be cuddled, sleeping right on mine or Phillip’s chest (he never liked sleeping in his bassinet). Sometimes I would lay awake watching my two boys sleep, often co-vertly snapping pictures. Before I had Milo, I always made fun of parents who post a *million* pictures of their kids, and then all of a sudden, I had become that annoying parent and I was completely okay with it.
So many sweet memories of those 4 weeks come to mind. The way he pursed his lips into a “Zoolander” face when he looked at you, and it seemed like he was just begging to be kissed. How he would kick his little feet when laying on our chests and wiggle his way up, up, up onto our shoulders. The way he would root around for my nipple, mouth open like a little guppy, and the soft sigh he always exhaled when he finally latched on. His eyes curiously following the little cow rattle that I moved back and forth in front of his face. The way he absolutely *hated* bath time! Going for walks with Phillip and the dogs, Milo snuggled up in the Moby wrap. The way he would gaze up at me as he sleepily nursed in the middle of the night.
And, boy, did Milo eat well. Every two hours, almost on the dot. He grew and grew and grew. Soon, he had not one chin, but three! Huge cherub cheeks, soft rolls at his wrists and ankles, a chubby little piglet! At his 4 week appointment, my midwives weighed him again…10 lbs even! I couldn’t believe how big he’d gotten in such a short period of time! Everyone was proud and amazed, everything seemed perfect. They listened to his heart, his lungs. They passed him around, oogling his cuteness. The only issue I had to report was that he recently seemed a bit gassier than usual, which everyone assured me was very normal for a baby of his age. I drove home with him that day, snow falling softly from the sky, with all the confidence in the world.
The snow continued to fall all day that Thursday. And all day on Friday too. By Saturday morning, there was a good 6 inches on the ground, and the world had turned into a beautiful, silent ice sculpture. But that morning we had realized we were almost completely out of groceries, and so we decided to brave the flurries and make the trek to Fred Meyer’s. The grocery store was less than a mile away, so I had no concerns with us all piling into the car and slowly making our way through the sea of whiteness.
I had bundled Milo up in our favorite outfit, the only clothing item *I* ever bought for him, a cozy brown bear suit complete with a fuzzy-eared hood, and a little rainbow beanie. We tucked a blanket around him after getting him situated into the carseat, and he immediately dozed off.
Once we reached Fred Meyer’s, which was busy and hectic despite the harsh weather, I picked a sleeping Milo up out of his carseat and placed him gently in the Moby wrap that I was wearing. As we made our way through the parking lot, he awoke and lifted his sweet little face towards the sky, snowflakes kissing his soft skin. I shielded his face from the cold and wind, and we walked towards the store entrance.
As soon as we entered the store, he started crying. I immediately knew something was wrong…though, I did not yet know just *how* wrong. I thought that this cry sounded *different*, but still, I was not super concerned. I took him out of the moby wrap and held him to my chest, rocking, swaying, trying to comfort his wailing. I thought that I should take him back out to the car to try to feed him and calm him down, so I kissed Phillip goodbye and started walking back towards the doors…but then, as I approached the exit…Milo stopped crying. I looked at him, and it seemed like he had gone back to sleep. Relieved, I turned and walked back into the madness and chaos of shoppers, trying to find where Phillip had gone.
I didn’t have to look long, he hadn’t gotten far. As I explained to him that Milo had stopped crying, I lowered our baby from his perch against my chest and saw a small amount of blood bubbling from his nose, and his face turning a sickening yellow-ish color. Phillip and I looked at him, looked at each other, and both stood dumb-founded for the longest, most excruciating milli-second of my life. But, snapping back to reality, we ran through the U-Scan area and yelled for an employee to call 911. Immediately, we were swarmed by 3 or 4 workers, surrounded by an even larger group of onlookers. The next few minutes are a blur. One woman said she had experience infant CPR, so I allowed her to take Milo from my arms. The woman on the phone with the paramedics walked her through some steps. Make sure the airway is clear. Pat him on the back. Turn him over. Start compressions. It felt like an eternity, waiting there, trapped in a nightmare, frozen to the spot, unable to understand what was happening.
The ambulance finally arrived, and the paramedic took Milo and immediately began compressions as he ran back out, cradling Milo’s limp body. My son’s face changing colors, from that horrible yellow, to purplish red…so far away from the rosy pinkness that we had become used to seeing.
I rode in the passenger seat of the ambulance while Phillip rode in the fire engine that had also showed up. I watched as the team of paramedics worked on Milo in the back. I talked to him from my seat, yelling towards the back of the vehicle, telling him that Mommy was here, that we loved him, that he would be okay soon. The drive was short, and by the time we reached Legacy Mt. Hood Medical Center they had re-started Milo’s heart.
In the ER, they hooked him up to what seemed like every machine imaginable. His heart was beating and he was trying to take gasping little breaths. I started to feel hopeful – we were in the hospital now. Surely, they would be able to fix him, to take care of him? I mean, he was *healthy*. He was happy, he was growing. He had just had a check-up 2 days prior! I held his foot as the doctors and nurses ran around doing this and that. I just held onto his foot, hoping that he knew I was still there with him.
Though they were able to somewhat stabilize him, it became obvious that something had gone terribly wrong in his little body, and that this hospital was not equipped to deal with such a small patient. They were going to transfer us to Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, but would have to wait for the mobile PICU unit. While we waited, I called my parents. I have no recollection of what I said over the phone, I was in such a haze, but I know that they immediately left to meet us at Randall’s.
Time slowed down, and it felt like we were waiting there for a lfetime. When the new ambulance showed up and we readied to leave, one of the nurses – a young, good-looking man – hugged us and wished us luck as we walked out. I didn’t have enough energy to recognize and appreciate his compassion at the time, but I have thought about that small gesture a lot since then.
Once again, I was able to ride in the ambulance and Phillip was not. That was an agonizing trip. My heart was breaking for my son, as he lay in the back of the bouncing vehicle, strapped to machines and venthilators. My heart was breaking for Phillip, driving himself through this blizzard all alone, surely wondering what was happening to Milo. I kept talking to Milo the whole way. I hoped that he could hear me, that he wouldn’t be scared because he knew I was there, that he would come back to my voice. The voice he first heard while he grew inside of me, the voice he had so easily recognized the night he was born.
When we arrived at Randall’s, our families were already there. They were hungry for answers, but we still had no idea what we had just witnessed. What happened? There was no way to answer that question. One minute he was fine, and the next…still, I was hopeful. Now we were at an even more well-equipped hospital, a hospital specifically for sick children. As I walked through the halls, I saw other babies, I saw other families, other rooms with stacks of clothing and books – so we might have to stay here for a while, like these people, but he will eventually be okay, I thought. I really did think that. I had faith in modern medicine, I had faith in the Universe.
But as the day wore on, things did not get any better. The doctor pulled Phillip and I into a conference room and said that Milo had gone quite a while without oxygen, and there was going to be severe brain damage. As I listened, staring out of the wall-to-ceiling windows, watching the snow still serenely falling…I couldn’t take in the real meaning of those words. I thought to myself, “Well, we can handle that. We can handle a special needs child”. It still did not seem possible that he would not be coming back to us.
Throughout the night, Milo went into cardiac arrest 4 more times. And he kept coming back to us. But every time they had to revive him, I felt my heart sink more and more. I couldn’t bear to watch my small, sweet son have to fight so hard. But he remained strong. I was able to “hold” him by putting my arms underneath his little body as he lay on the bed. I hoped that he could feel my skin on his skin still, that he could hear my voice, that he could at least sense me. I talked to him, trying to keep and fear out of my voice. He was being so strong, I wanted to be strong for him too. Phillip and I tried to rest on the little couch next to his bed, but the stress and the noise made sleep nearly impossible.
The next morning, February 9th, 2014, the doctor came into our room and gently explained that there was nothing else they could do. Milo was getting every treatment they could think of, had had innumerable blood tests, x-rays, antibiotics…nothing was helping him. His organs had suffered too much damage. He was too small and fragile. He would just keep going into cardiac arrest, his body would keep shutting down on him. There was heartbreak etched on the faces of everyone in the room. The voice of our nurse, who had tended to him so attentively throughout the night, cracked as she told us that she had seen many families who never get the chance to hold their babies while they are still alive, and that if we wanted to do that, we could. Phillip broke down as he faced me and said, “I want to hold our baby”. I nodded.
They rolled in a full-sized hospital bed so Phillip and I could lay down. With our arms entwined together, we cradled Milo in between us. As they unplugged the venthilator, a strange calm came over the three of us. We talked to him, our voices choked with sorrow and love. We told him how proud we were, how much we loved him, how we would always love him. His eyes were open, but the light was leaving them rapidly. I have no idea how long we layed there, the three of us huddled together, before he passed on. It didn’t seem like very long. Soon, Phillip was whispering, “I think he’s gone”, and I knew he was right. But we kept laying there. I really believe that Milo held on for as long as he did so that we had the time to make that decision. So that we could hold him and comfort him one last time. For that, I am every grateful.
After a while, Phillip wanted to go talk to his parents, so i layed there alone with Milo. Staring at his face. Memorizing every inch of him. A nurse came in and took footprints. Another attendant came in to take a plaster casting of his hand, his foot. It was surreal, to be watching these strangers handling my dead child like a little doll. A few hours went by before I was ready to say goodbye to his body, and even then, I wasn’t ready. I know that no one is ever ready for that.
We later found out from the autopsy that his death was labeled as Idiopathic Infantile Pulmonary Hemmorage. But we still don’t know why or how. How a perfectly healthy baby can just die? Why it had to be *our* baby?
I don’t know. I still don’t have answers. And I’m starting to realize that there is a definite possibility that I never will. But I do know that Milo’s life and death is the most important thing that has ever happened to me. The most terrible and the most beautiful, all at the same time. He has taught me more about myself and the world than anyone else, and he continues to teach me every day.