I was holding my breath. They asked us to talk to her, "talk to your baby, Nicole."
I sat there. Silent.
I looked up at my husband, his face as confused as mine. We both sat there and watched as they tried to save her.
I finally spoke, "C'mon sweet girl, let mama hear you cry."
"Sweet baby, you can do it - just let us hear you cry."
"Oh God, please....let her cry. Please God, I'm begging you, let her cry!"
I heard one midwife say that she was having a hard time getting a suction on the oxygen mask. Then the paramedics came. It was at that moment that I knew she was going to the hospital. The promise we'd be eating dinner with our baby was gone. She was leaving - I would not get the birth I had wanted.
In the midst of the craziness, everyone remained calm. They attempted CPR, but were unable to intubate her due to the fluid in her lungs. One paramedic was on the phone with an ER doc at the hospital asking what they should do. I wanted to scream at him, "how do you not know what to do?!" But I didn't.
They told us they needed to move fast as she had already gone too long without oxygen. My husband got his shoes on and left with them. I lay back on the bed wondering what just happened. Sirens.
I was told that I would be released from the birthing center once I was cleaned up, had gone to the bathroom and eaten something. I tried to do all of those things as quickly as I could. I needed to get to my baby. She needed her mommy. I still could not comprehend what had happened. I knew, having an out of hospital birth, that there may be a chance one or both of us would need to be transported to a hospital. We had mentally prepared for this. We HAD NOT prepared for the worst - to us- a hospital transport was the worst. Death was not an option.
As I was getting cleaned up my husband called. He was using phrases like "do not resuscitate" and "call a chaplain to baptize her", he was talking like she was going to die. One doctor wanted to call time of death but another found a weak pulse. That meant they were able to move her to the NICU. He told me she had gone about 30 minutes without oxygen, she still made no sound. My daughter was not going to die. I told him to just have them stabilize her and I'd be there as soon as I could.
Silence. I hung up the phone and one of the midwives asked if I wanted to pray. I said yes, and so we prayed.
I went to the bathroom and they brought me some toast with peanut butter to eat. The last thing I wanted to do was eat, but I knew if I didn't, they wouldn't let me leave. I gagged down the toast. They sent someone in to sit with me, a sweet woman who I would later realize belonged to a Facebook community of mothers that I had previously joined. She sat in the rocking chair while I ate my toast. I thanked her for sitting with me and asked her if she had children.
I called my parents. I told them that they had a granddaughter, but that they needed to meet us at Children's hospital. It didn't look good.
About that time I was told that I was able to leave - with strict instructions to take care of myself. One of the midwives and a doula drove me to Children's. I was wheeled up to the NICU and found my husband and inlaws sitting in the waiting room. My husband looked so sad. There didn't seem to be much news, other than she was stable and on a cooling blanket, where she would stay for the next 72 hours. Our midwife had arranged for us to get a room in the NICU so we could sleep there and be close by.
My husband wheeled me into her room, we still hadn't named her. There laid "Baby Girl Smith" with wires and tubes, but she was gorgeous. The most beautiful baby I had ever laid eyes on. My daughter. I asked the doctors some questions about what they were doing. At that point we just got pretty general answers - she was stable and they would monitor her over the next few days to see how she was doing. I held her hand, she squeezed back. My husband would tickle her foot and she would curl her toes. Later they would tell us that she didn't have these reactions, but I felt it - she felt us. I will not let anyone take that away from us.
I told her that mama was here and that she was so beautiful and strong. I told her how much I loved her and that there were a lot of people praying for her. My heart was heavy - but full.
When we returned to the waiting room there were many more people - my grandparents, parents, siblings and other extended family. The waiting room would remain full for the next 24 hours - we were so loved. That evening I went to bed hopeful. We went back to our room and chose a name for her - a name I had been in love with, even though my husband had been unsure. As we spoke, we agreed that Olive Elizabeth was perfect. My husband went back to see her one more time and to tell the nurses that Baby Girl Smith had a name.
The next morning we received a phone call from the on call doctor who had treated Olive in the ER. She informed us that the initial ultrasound of her head showed severe tissue damage in her brain and the EEG had shown no brain activity at all. I believe that started to solidify things for my husband. I, on the other hand, was still holding out for a miracle. Surely God would save our daughter. I prepared myself that she may have some disabilities, but death was still not something I would entertain.
That morning I took a shower and as I looked down at my empty belly I fell to my knees. "Take me. Take me instead. I can't do this. I am not strong enough for whatever this is - I did not sign up for this." I wished she was back inside me - where I knew I could take care of her. Afterall, when she was in my belly - that was the safest she had ever been. Even though these doctors and nurses were well trained, they WERE NOT her mother. I was her mother. I couldn't save her anymore.
Throughout the day I was either at her bedside or with family. My husband chose to either be at her bedside or by himself. He was beginning to shut down and I could sense that this was going to be a long road.
That afternoon we were given news that there was more organ damage than originally thought. Olive's pH levels were off, her blood pressure was weak and they were increasing her meds, even though they thought that was really just a bandaid. The doctor didn't sound hopeful. That made me so angry - why were all of these people talking to me like my child was going to die? This was Children's Hospital - they save babies all the time, and babies much smaller and weaker than mine. My baby was full term, a whopping 8 lbs 2 oz. She had good color and we had a healthy pregnancy - just use the machines and medications that you have available to you and SAVE MY DAUGHTER! It was that simple.
It was not that simple. That evening we were told that we needed to make some difficult decisions. Olive's cooling blanket had begun to warm her. She was unable to maintain her body temperature and that was when we knew she was losing her battle. Our pastors came. Olive was baptized, many people were able to meet her and pray over her. They were able to hold her hand and kiss her sweet head. She was so very loved.
The doctors told us that we needed to decide when to move her to a more simple ventilator. Once we did that, we would be able to hold her until she passed. We might have hours, we might have days - no one knew for sure. The only thing that stuck in my head was holding her meant letting her go. My husband wanted to move her that evening, he felt like we knew our fate and just needed to face it. I, on the other hand, couldn't bear to do it. We hadn't slept more than a few hours in the last two days, we had barely eaten and were still running off of adrenaline. If we were going to get the possibility of a day or more with Olive, I wanted to be rested and able to hold her all day long. And then I told him the truth - I was mad at God. I was so very angry at Him. I didn't understand how He let me carry her for 9 months, feel her moving inside me. How could He let me go through 15 hours of labor and birth her in a beautiful and peaceful birth and then take her away from me? I would not give her back that easily.
We stayed at her side until midnight that night and then decided to get a few hours of sleep and move her in the morning.
At 1:00am our phone rang. I will never forget that call.
"The doctor is requesting you and your husband at Olive's bedside."
I hung up. My heart sank.
My husband was already awake. I put on my robe and we made our way downstairs. They told us what we already knew. Olive's blood pressure was dropping and she was maxed out on the medication they could give her. She had spared us both and made the difficult decision for us. She was ready.
It took about an hour and half for them to get her ready - they removed as many of the tubes and things that they were able. A sweet nurse came in and made a mold of her feet and some other crafty things. Things I knew they were doing for us so that we would have memories. My heart broke. We hadn't even made memories yet! All of our "memories" involved terror and heartache, hospital machines beeping at us and a lifeless child. Now we'd be sent home with a small box of "things" that they would call hers, her "belongings". Old people have belongings, people who have lived a full life have belongings - babies don't have belongings.
They put her in a gown and wrapped her in a swaddle blanket that I had packed. These were items that we were supposed to put our healthy baby in. Items that would keep her warm in the birthing center - extra items in case she pooped or peed on something else she was wearing. These items were not packed for her to die in. Yet that's the purpose they would now serve. She was going to die, and these "items" would become part of her "belongings."
They escorted my husband and I into a private room with a couch that pulled into a bed. Shortly after they brought her in to us and laid her in my arms. What a glorious feeling! The weight of that sweet baby felt so right - so natural. This was the weight I should have felt moments after birth, and now I was clinging to her, not knowing if I would have minutes, hours or days.
They got us situated and left us. I told her how proud I was of her and how much we loved her. I apologized that we would never paint our nails or go shopping for princess dresses. I thanked her for making me a mommy. We fell asleep.
I awoke to a doctor coming in to check her heartbeat. It was still there, so she left us alone again.
I remember thinking that I was so very tired, but I couldn't bear to sleep. I wanted to soak up every minute that I could. I stared at her, I touched her cheeks, her nose, held her hand. How could this be happening? Flashes of everything I was losing were staring me in the face - she would never learn to ride a bike, never go to school or learn to tie her shoes. She would never have a first date, a bad grade or a boo-boo. I would never attend a field trip or girl scout meeting. Birthday parties for Olive were now going to be about celebrating how old she would have been, instead of how old she is. How were we going to do this?
The doctor returned again and found her heartbeat. They left us.
I moved her over to my husband. I wanted him to experience the weight of her on his body, in his arms. I wanted him to be able to have that memory too. I wanted to see him hold her- something I had dreamt of for so long. I wanted to see him be her daddy.
The next time the doctors came in, it was harder for them to find her heartbeat. They sent 3 more doctors in before they found it. I knew it must be weak. I knew it wouldn't be long. We were not going to get the days we had hoped for - 2 hours was all she was going to give us. I could tell. Each time they came in, more and more life had left her body. I could see it in her color and feel it in the temperature of her hand. We didn't have much longer.
My husband fell back asleep. Trying not to wake him, I had our final mommy/daughter moment. I told her that it was Ok to let go, that she should go be with Jesus. I knew He was waiting for her and she was going to be so very happy. No pain, no suffering, no fear - just paradise. I held her hand and we did what we would have done every other night had she been able to live. We prayed.
Now I lay me
Down to sleep
I pray the Lord
My soul to keep
If I should die
Before I wake
I pray the Lord
My soul to take
It's OK sweet girl. Mommy is here and we will be OK. I love you so much.
The doctor's returned. I heard her ask a nurse for the time. 5:25.
They removed her tubes and turned off the machines. For the first time since that moment at 5:18pm, 36 short hours prior, we had the opportunity to just hold her. As soon as she was free I brought her to my chest and clung to her. My husband had his arms around us both and we just sobbed. Sobbed into her lifeless body. After I held her for awhile I gave her back to him. We just sat there, holding our daughter's shell.
About an hour later the doctor's returned, we discussed a few things and took her back to her room in the NICU. We called our family and tried to sleep. At this point it was 6:30 in the morning, I didn't know what that day would hold but knew I needed to try and sleep. When we left the hospital we were given a pink and purple box of her belongings - the thermometer they used to check her temperature, the smallest little blood pressure cuff that I'd ever seen, a diaper (not used), her name bracelet - Baby Girl Smith, the mold of her feet, the hat, gown and blanket she was in when she died.
Those "belongings" have become the very things I now use to comfort me. Every single night I open that box. I hold her gown up to me, I run my fingers over those little feet and I bring that blanket up to my face - just to breathe her in. Her smell is hospital smell, but it's still her smell. Every night I take myself back there, every night I tell her that we're doing OK and that I wish her sweet dreams. Every night I ask God, even though I'm certain it works differently in heaven, I ask Him to let her know I love her.
I know she doesn't need my love anymore. She has more love than I ever would have been able to give her on this earth. But I still ask. I ask Him, even though I know she is happier than she's ever been and loved more than she could ever have imagined, I ask Him to give her a little extra. He doesn't have to tell her it's from me - since that's probably not how it all works up there, but in His own heavenly way, I ask Him to do this.
And I will for the rest of my earthly life.
This is the only physical connection I have to her. This gown, hat and blanket have her DNA on it - making her real. She was here, albeit a very short time, she lived and she died.
My arms may be empty but my heart is full of love for her. My daughter. My firstborn.