I am carrying a child who is almost precisely the gestational age her brother was when he was born. And when he died. And this is scaring the shit out of me.
26 weeks, 1 day is actually pretty decent for a micropreemie. They told me Finn had at least a 75% chance of survival without major complications, statistically...even if he was a white male fetus, that most vulnerable creature of the species.
I have learned, more viscerally than any professor could ever have hammered through my skull had I actually braved such a subject in my studies, that statistics lie. Or that only fools believe they will come out on the positive end of them, at least. He did have major complications, ones that proved insurmountable, fatal. Despite steroid shots, his lungs collapsed. One so severely that they tubed him directly through his skin, through his tender, papery flesh and the tissue of his tiny ribcage. I do not even know if there was anesthesia...I was ten rooms away, trying to recover some feeling in my legs and a blood pressure reading high enough to qualify as alive, to prove to the nurses that I could stand so that they'd let me hop in a wheelchair and go to him. When we finally won that fight and were ushered to his incubator, the wounds of his own battle were already vivid upon him. His little fingertips and toes were blackened from lack of oxygen, and his chest had been cut, his throat tubed. Before his mama ever held him. Before there was ever a gentle touch or a voice that spoke his name.
Then we did hold his hand, and he squeezed our fingers, and we stroked his little feet and marvelled at him, and in the end hours upon hours later when the outcome of the battle was undeniable we surrendered and unplugged him and held him and tried to fit a lifetime of love and comfort into one last hour, before he was gone. We were lucky, beyond measure, to have that time. And he was medicated, probably more than I even realized, so I do not think there was pain for him at the end. I allow myself to think that. I need to think that.
But for the longest time the rest, those brutal early hours, were something I simply did not allow myself to think about at all, because there was this primal cry that would rise in my throat and choke me. Because my baby, my tiny baby, had been born to a shock and suffering that even now I know I only know the half of. Because that was the first of his brief hours of life. And because it was me who enabled it to be that way, me who made the decision, at 26 weeks exactly, that we would rescind our previous "no heroics" designation and go all out to save the baby I believed by then could be saved.
I don't exactly think I made the wrong decision...that's not why I lie here in a cold sweat before dawn some mornings. The odds were that he might have survived and thrived. I would, I think, have felt worse had we done nothing and lost a baby who might otherwise have come through okay. And I don't exactly feel guilt, because I made the decision without guile and on the basis of the best advice I could get at the time. But owning that decision and the pain that it - that I - caused that tiny boy will sit with me, part of me, until the day I die. It is, if I am honest with myself, the cruellest thing I have ever caused to happen to another human being, no matter my intentions, my investment, the depths of my love. And what wakens me in the thin light of 4:30 am these days, heart pounding, is the fear that sometime in the next week or two I may have to face it again, to choose again.
Choice is often and in many ways a privilege. When you have no real control over the outcome of your choices, though, it can feel like a mockery, like a bitter joke.
They ask me if I want the steroid shots and I say, i don't know and I cast my eyes around the room like a trapped animal, wondering hell, do i look like i'm writing this story, like i'm in charge here? The truth is if my cervix is showing significant weakness of course I want them NOW and if it's not I want to wait because they are most effective when given within two weeks of delivery and preferably after 28 weeks but sometimes it's weak and soft and sometimes it's not, that tricksy cervix. The truth is these same practices have taken far less significant decisions out of my hands in the past, in the crises of labour, so the fact that they defer to me on this Big Thing just leaves me wary, puzzled. The truth is they don't know what's going to happen and I don't know what's going to happen and I don't want control of Big Decisions in this liminal boundary zone because I know it is a fool's game.
I am chickenshit, burnt crispy. I want to abdicate.
The little life that hangs in the balance...for my own sake, sure, I want her at all costs. But for hers? That is the road I do not seem to know how to walk this time, the road I wish I could close my eyes to and ignore until it is safely past and I get to believe, maybe, that I will not have to choose again whether or not my child's brief life will be one of pain and machines and invasive procedures, until we reach a place where I can breathe and hope that I will get to play mother this time, not hapless, impotent god.
I whisper, please. give me a few more weeks, and i'll happily pretend that I'm bossing you around for the rest of my life.