september 27, 2007. 10:40 am
12 inches. 15.6 ounces.

“thursday’s child has far to go…”

ruby grace smith was born still on a rainy thursday morning. my water had broken at 4 am two weeks earlier; i had been sleeping fitfully and so had left our room to sleep in the guest bedroom. i woke up leaking and stood up to a gush.

since we’d done this before with earl we knew the drill: grab stuff, get to hospital. unlike the first time, this time i didn’t stop to call the doctor. instead i grabbed the camera. i knew i’d want pictures of the baby i was about to lose.

mairin in tow, we zipped to the er and were admitted to l&d immediately. people kept saying “she thinks her water has broken.” finally i said “no, i don’t think so. it’s broken. there is no question.” there is no way to confuse this with anything else. still, to test my theory, the attending ob rested my hips on an inverted bedpan and warmed up her speculum. about, oh, half a centimeter into the exam i gushed more fluid. “oh. yep. you’re right. your water has broken.”

the next few hours were a flurry of confusion. we found out the baby was a girl. instead of being told i had to deliver her, we were told that we had choices. we could deliver her if we wanted to, but we didn’t have to. if we chose to deliver her i would have to be induced, and the hospital i was at would not induce me at 20 weeks, so i would have to change hospitals. if i didn’t want to change hospitals i could stay for a while to see if labor kicked in on its own. or if i really didn’t want to deliver the baby i could go home and wait to see what would happen.

waiting: a more than 50% chance that i would get an infection and start labor on my own within a week. an 80% chance that, no matter what, the baby would die. a 15% chance that if she survived she would be severely disabled, with problems ranging from chronic lung disease to cerebral palsy. a 5% chance that she would survive in the womb, be delivered after viability, and live a full and healthy and totally normal life.

my friend b. has a daughter who was born at 26 weeks. she was days away from being released from the nicu when her doc decided to do one final brain scan just to be sure. that’s when they found that she had new bleeding on the brain. she now has severe cerebral palsy. i called b immediately to talk about what was happening to us. he told me what i thought he would: that their daughter had changed his family immeasurably and in very difficult ways, but she is a beautiful, vibrant child whom they love dearly and deeply, and their family is better for having her a part of it.

s & i stayed in the hospital overnight. by morning, we had both, independently, come to the same conclusion: we stick with the baby, no matter what. our fear was enormous. what a risk to our daughter, what a possibly unfair decision we were making. how could do this to her? i have never, ever been so afraid of anything in my life. but our love for the baby was bigger than our fear. so we went home.

my two weeks of bedrest had a surreal kind of beauty. s kept describing me as “zen-like.” i felt calm. i didn’t really think we had much of a chance, but i knew that every day i had with the baby was lucky, an extra day to love her and take care of her. i spent those two weeks talking to her, playing with her as she kicked around, telling her about her family. it felt wonderfully extravagant to focus all my time and energy on her.

and it was hard. i cried a lot. i called my friends, my friends called me. people who love us and live near us brought us food; those who live far away had it delivered. one very close friend came to visit. i meditated through the hard bits. i loved, loved, loved my little daughter.

two weeks after my water broke, at 5 am on thursday the 27th, i woke up feeling lousy. i tried to parse my symptoms. i thought maybe i’d come down with the flu. maybe i’d eaten something bad. then i quit thinking. as soon as i relaxed i realized what was happening: i was in labor.

labor started off easy and unorganized, but 5 minutes after i got off the phone with dr. l my contractions were coming every 2 minutes and lasting 90 seconds. i wasn’t dressed. m was still sleeping. i was not ready for this. i used the 30 seconds of rest between contractions to get dressed, finish packing the (already-mostly-packed) hospital bag, waking and dressing m. s fed the animals, called his mother, got us ready to go. it started pouring rain. i refused to be touched and wouldn’t put on a raincoat. i forgot how to breathe through the pain. i forgot how to focus. i forgot everything my doulas had taught me, everything that had gotten me through my labor with m without drugs. i started crying.

by the time we got to l&d i was screaming. i needed the pain to stop. my anger and fear were making things worse, and although i knew this i was unable to do anything about it. i was a wreck. over the phone dr. l, who was finishing up a c-section, approved nubane. what a trippy drug: you still feel pain and discomfort, but you don’t really care about it. when dr. l showed up i was actually chipper. he looked at me sadly and said “yeah, that’s the nubane. i don’t really like that drug.” the nubane wore off at roughly the same moment as ruby started pushing her way out. dr. l had gone to check on his c-section patient and was due back in 10 minutes. i told my loving and patient nurse, nurse t, that i couldn’t wait. i yelled at her. i begged her to help me. i screamed and screamed.

when dr. l came back he had me push. ruby was coming out feet-first. he reached inside and turned her around. i pushed. out came her arm. he reached inside and turned her around again. jesus god did that hurt. i kept telling him she was too small for this much pain. i cried more. i screamed more. i could not calm down. i could not bear down. i could barely breathe. nurse t and s did all they could to help me relax, to get me focused on pushing. finally ruby came out, head first, slippery and red. and dead.

s cut her cord. nurse t wrapped her in a blanket and gave her to us to hold. we kissed her and cried and studied her little body and cried and held hands and cried. when things had calmed down and just dr. l and i were in the room, i unwrapped ruby and held her, naked, on my lap. i watched the left side of her chest rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall. i called over dr. l. he sat with me and together we watched her little heart keep beating. i believed she was dead but i couldn’t hold that thought in my head at the same time that i was watching this sad little sign of life. dr. l held his finger over her heart and confirmed that yes, it was beating. he re-checked for a pulse and confirmed that no, there was none.

“sometimes,” he said, “sometimes bodies just don’t want to give up. ruby’s heart does not want to give up. but it’s not pumping any blood. she’s not alive.”

little ruby grace. my little thursday’s child. so far to go, indeed.


One Response to “ruby grace”

  1. grace Says:

    my deepest sympathy. its broke my heart after reading this.

    i was on google (i was googling my name, your sweet angel and i share the same name) and it led me to this page.


    she’s an angel watching over you.

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