[Essay appears in Mamas & Papas anthology, (San Diego: City Works Press) October 2010. ISBN # 978-0-9816020-8-0]
If you’re going to beat the odds of birthing a dead baby, you arrive to the medical center before you give birth. The transport team wheels you into an elevator. You’re strapped down and drugged so you cannot even lift a finger to scratch the place that tickles on your neck. You send silent messages to your unborn infant not to struggle, not to seek the light at the end of the birth canal.
You find yourself in a lonely room overlooking the bay and you try to roll over for a better view of the Golden Gate Bridge. You wonder whether the next time you cross that bridge you will be nursing an infant or carrying an urn of her remains. Somewhere out there, cypress trees sway in a salty breeze that you wish you could still smell.
The duty nurse assures you that you are considered low risk. The monitor shows a strong heart beat. Newborns have survived at 24 weeks gestation while yours is already 29. Another mother just delivered quintuplets, all less than 3 pounds and all stable. You hope for more than stable. You want your baby to wail into the night and crawl into mischief. You want her to run the Bay-to-Breakers like her daddy did last year. You worry about your toddler at home who wonders where the ambulance took his mommy.
You spend the next four days immobilized. The IV drip dings periodically. The nurse assures you it won’t be long. You want it to be long. You want eight more weeks of umbilical insurance that your baby will survive. You make silent bargains with a god you are not sure you believe in. Six more weeks? Five? The doctor insists that this is not what you want, because your water has broken. Soon, the demons of infection stalking the polished hospital corridors will find your baby and harm her.
You yearn to ditch the apparatus of the monitors, and the disinfectant stink, and the pain of cervix examination, and the chill of jelly on your belly when the ultrasonographer manipulates the fetus for a better view. You dream to walk a hundred miles home and hide in the forest where you will build a nest of ferns and birth your baby alone, the way the ancestors knew how to do. Forget technology. Let nature take her course.
The attending physician explains every detail of fetal lung development to eight very serious interns. When you look at the monitor, you realize that your daughter’s arms and legs are smaller than the thinnest twigs on last summer’s cherry tree. She swims, suspended in amniotic oblivion, connected to every tide, to every moon, to a universe where she knows everything and you know nothing.
A very small voice calls to you from a far away place. The voice says mommy. The staff suddenly promises: your daughter will now be able to breathe on her own. They wheel you down the corridor to the operating room, just in case. You are beyond fear. She is calling. This is the moment. She slips into her father’s hands for just a touch before they wheel her away in an isolette.
The next day, everything changes. You are free to leave, anytime before noon. But your baby must stay. Two months, maybe three. The intensive care nurse takes your soft, musical lamb toy and promises to play the wind-up lullaby every so often. You do not want to leave your daughter here, but you must. She will be fine, they promise. You want to believe them, as you walk out the front door of the hospital, alone.