Nina, my doula, puts her face close to mine. She speaks slowly.
“Look. In these situations, the pediatric surgeon will come back with a report. I’m not too worried yet. My guess is this will go one of two ways. Either they have stabilized Gus and he’s fine, or the doctor will tell you he will need to be transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital. I know it is hard to imagine him anywhere but here with you at this hospital, but the NICU at Children’s is much more equipped than the one here. You need to prepare for that possibility.”
Time is messed up. The clock says it has been twenty minutes, but I haven’t felt it.
Jack comes back in and tells us what he saw. “Gus is okay for the moment, but they had to intubate him.” Suddenly it all sinks in. We are back at the hospital. Another emergency. Like with Simon.
No, not like with Simon. I can’t lose it like I did then. Gus will be fine. We will be fine. Very soon.
The doctor comes in. “Your son has been stabilized. He’s okay for the moment. His heart valve isn’t working properly. This may resolve itself within a few hours, or it may be an indication of a heart defect. Either way, the best place for him to be is Children’s Hospital. ”
The best place?
The doctor goes on: “Their NICU was built for situations just like this. We are prepping him for transfer, and you and your husband can come to our NICU and see him before he goes. Your husband can follow while you stay here and recover.”
I try to focus. “He might have a heart defect?”
“We don’t know that yet,” the doctor says. “The doctors at Children’s will take care of him and you will know more after that.”
I don’t understand.
“I have to say goodbye to him before he goes. Can I do that?” The doctor is patient. “Yes, you can go see him in about ten minutes. I’ll be there to answer any more questions.” He walks out.
Jack and I look at each other. He pauses and says “I don’t want to leave you alone, but I also think I should follow Gus to Children’s. I’m not sure what to do.”
I’m not sure either.
Nina says. “We can do whatever you guys decide. I can stay here with Rebecca all night, as long as you need.”
I want to go myself. Selfish.
Gus needs one of us now, and I can’t even walk yet. I don’t want Jack to leave me. What am I, a baby?
I shake the thoughts away.
“Jack, of course you have to go. Nina can stay with me, and you’ll come back once everything’s okay.”
“You’re right.” His shoulders relax. “Rebecca, everything has happened so fast that we haven’t called anyone. I’d like to make some calls, get some help. Is that okay?”
I know what he is thinking. When Simon had his accident I wouldn’t let him call anyone.
“Yes, I’d like some help. Can you call Deborah and ask her to come here?” I feel relieved just thinking of my friend. “And then can we go see Gus?”
Nina pushes me in a wheelchair down narrow gray hallways to see Gus. Jack pulls my IV alongside us. I am wearing a hospital gown and that net underwear they give you with a pad inside it. The epidural is wearing off and I wiggle in the seat, trying to shift the weight off of my sore backside. The temporary NICU is small and colorless, with three or four incubators lined up. Gus is on a baby hospital bed, sort of a tall crib, intubated and with tubes and electrodes attached to his body.
Oh, right here, right now, he looks just like Simon, the same little hand with an IV attached to it.
The EMT’s are standing by with a portable incubator, ready to load Gus in. Nina wheels me beside Gus’ bed and Jack helps me stand up. I’m vaguely aware that my gown is hanging open in the back, exposing my net underwear and pad to the EMT’s.
I grasp Gus’ hand. “Hi, sweetie. Your name is Gus and I’m your mama.” I lean in real close, rub my cheek against his tummy between electrodes. I move up to his face and our cheeks meet. I inhale and try to memorize the smell. “I’m going to see you soon. Daddy is going with you, don’t worry.” Jack leans in on the other side of the crib and puts his hand on Gus’ chest. I lay my hand on top of his and we feel Gus’ chest go up and down in soft staccato movements.
“It’s time for him to go now,” The doctor cuts in. Jack and I stand as the EMT’s lift Gus up on a baby-sized stretcher and put him into a small plastic, climate controlled tube for transport.
Jack helps me ease back into the wheelchair. I look down and see that my chest is damp, my breasts leaking. It’s time for me to go to my own hospital room. A nurse leads the way and Nina pushes the wheelchair again. Jack takes the IV stand and our little caravan shuffles down the hall. The nurse leads us to a remote wing, just off the maternity ward.
This is where they put the moms whose babies die.
I put my hand to my forehead and lean in, trying to physically push out the bad thoughts as I look at Jack.
I set him free. “Don’t worry about me, really. I can’t believe how easy the actual birth was. Physically I’m fine. Just go, and call me the instant you’ve seen him. And after that the instant you know something.”
Jack goes. I croak out to Nina: “I need to talk to my therapist.”
Nina says “Okay. But after this, you need to rest. Remember, your friend is coming and soon, you’ll need to start pumping.”
It dawns on me that I won’t be able to nurse Gus yet. Will he know his mama? Slowly sinking into the hospital bed, I reach for the phone.