A Wish For Hailey
Monday, November 16, 2009
I love old cemeteries. I love studying the headstones, their documentation of the sorrows of those that came before our time here. The dates of birth and death and the brief tributes are a testament to the hardscrabble life of days gone by.

The young soldiers killed in battle. The great scourges of yellow fever and smallpox, wiping out entire populations. Deaths from fevers, snakebites, horse falls and I will never forget the tombstone that simply stated, "Pined Away."

And the saddest of all to me, the tiny headstones more profuse than any other kind, far too many, blanketing the cemetery. Some, accompanied by a mother's headstone, with matching dates of death.

How far we have come.

Bringing a baby into the world is the most extraordinary moment in the spectrum of a lifetime. For me, those three little girls' entrances into our life were the most transforming moments I will ever know. In the splendor of that miracle, oftentimes we forget how fraught with danger childbirth really is. 

It is only in certain moments that we truly understand. 

I come from a large brood and in the memories from my childhood it seemed like there was always a new baby in the crib or one on the way. 

One year, when I was around the third grade, my parents gave us the news that our large brood would soon grow even larger. We were excited and full of plans for the newest arrival. 

Then came the day we were picked up from school by a neighbor who'd told us our mom was on her way to the hospital and soon we would have another brother or sister in our Brady Bunch clan. I knew, in my little heart, it was too soon. 

Late that night, my father came for us. Our new little sister Amy was here, he told us, his solid voice tinged in sadness. I still remember the absence of joy in his words from a man who, when happy, practically sparkled in joy. He took us home and walked us through our bedtime routines and as he escorted my sister and me to our rooms, I happened to turn around. I don't remember why. I only remember turning and catching a glimpse into the hall bathroom.  The sight made me freeze in horror. The bathtub, the one where my sister and I  splashed in our nightly baths, was splattered in red. Blood soaked the sides of the tub and trailed out of it, spatters covering the floor. 

My father saw my face and snapped the door shut, hurrying us to bed with quick prayers and kisses. 

I lay there in my bed and cried, listening to him clean up the proof of my mother's pregnancy gone horribly awry. Later in life, I learned it was Placenta Previa, a condition so dangerous in days past, it meant certain death for both mother and child. 

I can't remember how long they were there in the hospital. As a child, it seemed like an eternity. The eternity ended the day my dad was there when we arrived home from school. He had an icy, cold Coke at each of our places at the table, a rare treat. As we sat there, our father broke the news that little Amy had died, her tiny body unable to sustain itself, had given up. 

I couldn't swallow that Coke, the lump in my throat was too big. 

Amy died on my mother's birthday. 

My mother came home a few days later, physically weak and a part of her heart, permanently broken. 

The death of Amy was a constant shadow of grief throughout my childhood. Her name was verboten. We knew the utterance of that one sweet word would wash over my parents, bringing back their pain and sadness, especially for my mother, her child lost to her. It was unspoken, yet there, mired in the worst kind of heartbreak. 

How far we have come.

I have been asked to join a group of bloggers around the world today. Today we write for the Amys who now have a chance. Today we write for the babies whose tiny lives have been saved thanks to incredible medical advances in this essential fight. Today we write for all of the precious lives who struggle to breathe and live and grow. Today we write for all the premature babies of the world. Today, The March of Dimes is asking us all to join the noble fight, to raise awareness of the crisis of premature birth.


And today I have the honor of telling Hailey's story.

My daughter, Victoria, is a soccer girl. She has been playing for years. Every year brought a new coach into our lives. Some wonderful, others...not so much.

Then, there came the year, when we showed up for her first practice of the new soccer season. A gaggle of girls were gathered around, but there seemed to be no coach in sight. I took this as a bad sign, a coach late for their own first practice. But then, out of the mix of girls, a sprite of a girl smaller than the rest of the team stepped forward announcing practice was about to start.

And it was in that moment that Coach Julia came into our lives. There has never been another soccer coach since.


Coach Julia ruled over the girls with a quiet voice and a skilled hand. A dedicated young woman, when most girls her age were at happy hour and the mall, she was on the soccer field, coaching our girls with no other payment but the girls' adoration. And adore her, they most certainly did. 

She led us through seasons of championships and more importantly, seasons of loss, teaching the girls the value of playing and sportsmanship, no matter the outcome. 

Along with Julia, we got Rob—a double blessing. A man as kind and giving as our little head coach. A man to watch over our girls. Soccer can sometimes be littered with belligerent parents, coaches and opposing team players. With Big Rob at our girls' side, we had an able-bodied watchman. 

We were there as Julia and Rob grew from new boyfriend and girlfriend into a romance of deep and abiding love. The girls were thrilled when their soccer coaches married. 

It was during a soccer party at my house that Julia announced her pregnancy.

I knew before she said the words. I knew by the way Rob looked at her throughout that whole day, eyes so full of love and the promise of beginnings. I knew.

Sadly, that baby was not meant to be. But in time, they happily announced a new life was coming.

Through the technology of Facebook, Rob and Julia kept us abreast of their baby's progress and Julia's pregnancy. I empathized with Julia and her desire to sleep constantly those first few months and I reveled in the delightful images of their first baby pictures, their high-definition ultrasound, showing off their perfect, healthy baby girl—Hailey Rose.

We were all thrilled—another girl to add to the team. They kept us updated, filling their FB pages with pictures of Hailey's nursery and Rob's deft abilities to put together her crib. 

Two weeks ago, we were supposed to attend Hailey's baby shower. It was to be a day of celebration for this young couple, so filled to the brim with a lifetime's worth of goodness and light and promise. 

It began with the Facebook status of Julia's, commenting in her ultra-casual way that she wasn't feeling well. From that moment on, Julia and Rob would be thrown into a swirling typhoon of darkness and fright, one where precious lives teetered on the narrow precipice of life and death. 

At first, Julia thought it was heartburn. Within hours it had turned into pain, so excruciating she was vomiting from its intensity.  

And this girl is no wuss when it comes to pain. The day after knee surgery, (a soccer player herself), she was on the sidelines coaching our girls' game, from her wheelchair.

Rob rushed her to the hospital, (one of the finest teaching hospitals in our state), where after perfect blood work and a battery of good test results, both on Julia and Hailey, Julia was diagnosed with an ulcer. She was released from the hospital and went back to her regular life of soccer coach and expectant mother in the middle of a vibrant, healthy pregnancy.

The pain returned with a vengeance the next day, radiating up her right side and underneath her ribs. They went back to the hospital. Soon, the high-risk OBGYN was at her side. They still weren't sure what was happening but suddenly her blood work was concerning. Suddenly, frightening terms were being thrown around like, stomach, gall bladder and hepatitis. Suddenly, Julia was admitted to labor and delivery, hooked up to countless monitors with vial after vial of blood being drawn. 

Hepatitis was ruled out, but there were now serious issues with low platelets and high liver enzymes. Julia no longer had a high-risk specialist but a team of them. And as they stood there rattling off counts and levels, they delivered the news that Julia's healthy pregnancy was now at risk. They gave her heartbreaking news. At not yet 28 weeks, they would try to keep Hailey Rose safe in her mother's womb for, at the most, three more weeks. 

They would try. 

Julia was given a double dose of steroids. A dosage for Hailey to speed up her lung development and a dosage for Julia to try and raise her platelet level. 

As she lay there, hooked up to machines, having more blood drawn, Julia's heart began to crack. Her baby wasn't ready. She wasn't ready. She hadn't registered for birthing or child care classes, yet. She hadn't finished the nursery. She hadn't even had a baby shower, yet. She blamed herself. How could she have done this to her baby?

And the answer to that is, she didn't. This is a girl who is a life-long athlete and understands the importance of fitness in her life. This is a girl who eats the healthiest foods, only caving to a few candy corn here and there. This is a girl whose incredibly healthy body allowed her to devote valuable time to keeping her baby in her womb without giving out when it was still too early.

A few days passed in the hospital. Each day brought a roller coaster of highs and lows. Ultrasounds, MRI's and a litany of other tests came and went, each of them ruling out supposed diagnoses. Julia's vitals were returning to normal and the main worry, her platelets, were being brought up to acceptable levels thanks to the steroids. She was downgraded to the postpartum floor and it looked like their terrible scare was drawing to an undramatic close. 

As Julia rested, the steroids made her ravenous. One night, around midnight, she begged her nurse for food. The night nurses scrounged up a frozen pizza. Julia couldn't have been more grateful as she devoured that pizza.

A few hours later, the heartburn started. Julia woke up Rob and with great relief told him their worries were over. It definitely had to be just an ulcer, something she could live with during her pregnancy.  A true litmus test, a greasy pizza, had given her the diagnosis that all the other medical tests were unable to prove.

But in less than a few hours, her pain had turned to agony. White-hot, crippling pain, so intense, she screamed in between her bouts of vomiting. She had to wait several hours in monstrous pain for the doctors and their early morning rounds. When they finally arrived, they were unable to examine her stomach. Her pain was so severe, she screamed at their touch. It was the worst sign possible. 

It was the woman physician of the high-risk group who turned to Julia with tears in her eyes to say, "It's time to have the baby."

As preparations were made around her, Julia's already battered heart, cracked wide open. She sat on the edge of her bed and cried. She and her Rob, only days before blissful in their perfect life, now wept together, their dreams for their new family in certain peril.

As they wheeled Julia through the hallways to labor and delivery, she hid her face, unable to staunch the flow of tears. In the room where Hailey was about to be born, far, far too soon, Julia's team of doctors began administering routine tests. 

One doctor had extracted her blood and was giving it the clot test, rocking the tube of blood and counting the seconds it took to clot. Normal blood clots in about a minute. The doctor noted at two minutes, there was no clotting. She called out at three. 
At four, the doctor shouted for an OR room STAT. She shouted for units of blood on hand. And she shouted that this was going to get bad very fast.

Julia remembers being raced down a hallway. She remembers seeing her frantic husband standing over her in scrubs. She remembers her stretcher being slammed through the OR doors. She remembers doctors and nurses all around her, scrambling in urgency. She remembers a central line being put in her neck, a catheter inserted and lines in her arm. 

And she remembers hearing the words, "She's crashing." 
There was no time for epidurals. As they were rendering her unconscious, she remembers begging them to take care of her baby. 

It was all she remembered.

She awoke, her first thoughts of her baby. 

She asked frantically about her and was told she was tiny but fine with a headful of blonde hair. 

Rob was at her side, shaky with bloodshot eyes. The doctors had informed him just exactly how close he had come to losing his bride. 

Through her haze of anesthesia and meds, Julia focused on one fact: Had her baby cried at delivery?

No one would answer her.

Julia was placed on a morphine pump and given magnesium to prevent further complications. Her outcome was now, after coming too close to losing her life, finally known. She had Hellps Syndrome, a very rare, life-threatening condition in pregnancy. The only treatment—prompt delivery of the baby.

Julia spent the next day in a drug-filled haze. Unable to see her daughter, due to the possible effects the magnesium being pumped into her body could have on the baby, she could only lay there, sick with confusion and worry.

It wasn't until that night when her pre-surgical nurse, Grace, came to visit that Julia learned angels show up in the most ordinary of places at the most extraordinary times. When Grace discovered Julia had not met her baby yet, she deemed it "unacceptable". 

Julia found out that night that the best angels are the ones who break the rules.

Grace and Rob, with herculean effort, stole a wheelchair and managed to get the still weak Julia into the chair. They smuggled her into the neonatal intensive care nursery. 

After scrubbing up, Julia met her Hailey Rose for the first time. 

Nothing in the world can prepare a mother for a moment of that sort of anguish. 
There was Julia's precious, beautiful angel, just days ago, safe and snug, sheltered in her womb, now a helpless, tiny being, smaller than she ever imagined, with wires everywhere, beeping proof of her baby's struggle to stay alive.

So small. So heartbreakingly small.

Julia crawled back into her hospital bed, broken by the sight of her baby being kept alive by artificial means. Broken by the fact that her primal mother's love could not will back time, could not will back the days before when her baby was sound and thriving exactly where she should be, in the safety of her mother's womb. Julia's anguish lay heavy in her heart for the next few days.

It is at this part of the story, I stop to speak of Rob. Rob, the watchman. Rob the one, who stood by, helplessly watching the fate of his wife and child rest in the hands of something so big that even his fierce love could not protect them from what was to come.


Rob and Julia kept us posted on Facebook as best they could. Their statuses were informative, but never letting on to the true agony of what they were going through. I checked my Facebook constantly for their updates. I woke up the morning after Julia had just been able to visit Hailey for the first time and this was Rob's status from 3:21 in the morning:

Juls got to meet Hailey for the first time about an hour ago and it was amazing.she loves her so much but she is so heart broken that she cant hold her or take her home right away cause she is so small. It breaks my heart to see Juls so sad. she is sleeping right now with tears in her eyes. so im going to try to stay awake so if she wakes up she's not alone.

November 6 at 3:21am · 

I wept as I read his status, simple words showing the true and abiding measure of real love. 

In times of great despair, beauty is all around. It was there, in Hailey's steady beating heart. It was there in Julia's fight, almost losing her own life to keep her child's safe. It was there in Rob's words.

And it was truly there, the first time a mother, a strong warrior of a mother got to do this for the very first time.


Today, a 1 pound 10 ounce bundle of preciousness is born and thanks to the blessed advances in premature births, she lives:

She breathes:

She takes baths:

And she is able to grow stronger each and every day as her parents stay by her side, eagerly awaiting the day she is strong enough to go home, to make their family complete.

That day and all the other days to come will be here in the breadth of a moment. Hailey will soon outgrow her Thumbelina diapers and in a minute's time, and through the strength of her mother's breast milk, she will become bigger and stronger by the day. In the whisper of a moment, a baby will leave the hospital. In that fleeting moment, that same baby will grow into a feisty toddler. And before Julia and Rob are ready, there will be crayon drawings on the wall and Goodnight Moon read so many times over, the words will be imprinted on parents' hearts forever. There will be peekaboos and first steps and first words and the pink of little girls and birthday parties and the magic of every Christmas. And before they can take a breath, there will be princesses and Barbies and the cotton candy world of little girls. There will be soccer and dance and school days and swept-up ponytails and triumphs and tears and enough I Love You's shared to wrap around the world and back.

How far we have come.

I am almost finished, but before I end, I would like to tell the rest of the story in Julia's own words:

"It took a few days before I started to come to terms with why I was chosen to have a preemie and what it meant for me and my family. Rob and I realized how strong our daughter was being and how strong we had to be for her. On Sunday I came home and broke down knowing I did not have my daughter with me and she was no longer inside of me. It was the last of our tough nights. We have since become accustomed to visiting in the NICU and realized everything happens for a reason. We understand there is greater plan for Hailey and we may not understand it right now and we may never understand it but she came early to save my life. She is such a brave and strong little girl who has taught us so much about life in the 10 days she has been here. We could not be more proud of our little fighting hero."

If you have an extra cent or two, The March of Dimes is a noble organization who have been instrumental in this all-important fight to save the lives of babies, babies who not long ago, would have been lost to us. 

But, even more importantly, if you can, take a moment on this day and say a prayer for our tiniest souls, the babies born everyday who fight to breathe and grow strong and live, whose parents wait with open hearts for the day they can start their lives anew as one family. 

Today's Magnificent Download: Rascal Flatt's "My Wish". "I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow and each road leads you where you want to go....But, more than anything, more than anything, my wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to. Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small, you never need to carry more than you can hold. And while you're out there gettin where you're gettin to, I hope you know somebody loves you and wants the same things, too. Yeah, this is my wish." 

For Hailey. Grow Strong Precious One. Your life awaits you.






6 comments:

Joanna @ The Casa said...

Oh my goodness. What an amazing story. I hope the very best for their strong family of three. The best is yet to come.

ProudSister said...

Such an amazing story & so beautifully written. I hope she continues to get stronger & healthier every day. I'm going to post this so others will see it and we can all take a moment to be grateful for our healthy little ones.

Aunt Becky said...

That is the most incredible story I have heard today. I'm so sorry that your sister Amy isn't here with you. I'm so sorry.

And Hailey, wow. She looks incredible. As a nurse, I can tell you that baby is going to be fine. She looks perfect. Just perfect. OBVIOUSLY her parents know that, and you know that too, but I can tell you that Miss Hailey will be just fine.

Just like my Mimi. A trooper. Our miracle babies.

xoxo

What an amazing post. Thank you.

Michele Carlisle said...

Julia, Rob & Hailey; my heart is with you always! You took a piece of me years ago! Julia- you are my sister and I LOVE you so much! I know how hard it is having a preemie from my own experience, I can only tell you keep on enjoying every moment, every breath, every touch and cherrish every memory together as a family! She will grown strong and healthy and there will be challenges , but nobody has a perefect life! We will love Hailey forever, as she grows, and we will enjoy watching her grown and transform into a toddler, then a young woman and have her own kids one day. ♥

Sarah L Stone said...

What moving and honest words. . . you have really captured everything Julia and Rob are. . . and obviously Hailey too. It brings both tears to your eyes and a smile to my face knowing that they are an amazing couple and Julia has dealt with everything as you said like a warrior. Thank you for making us realize exactly what she has gone through and still is. So beautiful, touching and real. Thank you for sharing your story too. We often have no idea that the person standing next to us has gone through so much.

Maria Melee said...

What a blessing you've given these parents b y sharing their story. Thank you. So beautiful.

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