This story is by Matthew Arant and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Walking by the surgery desk, Stacy was on the phone with the labor and delivery department. “I’ll send someone from anesthesia”.
…And then she turned to me.
“OB needs someone to come speak with a couple about an epidural, but…”
Her next words crashed into my head and my heart.
“…it’s about delivering a stillborn. They came in because the mother hasn’t felt the baby move since yesterday.”
Making my way to the OB floor, I stood in the hallway and stared at the door to their room wondering, trying to remember, trying to be ready, trying to keep it together.
Healthcare professionals become pragmatic to handle various situations and think clearly under pressure. We can appreciate the joy seen in healthcare, but we must be able to separate from the agony which accompanies many of our shifts. There remain some experiences that still sneak or, in this case, blow through and sweep you back to your own heartache.
Wednesday, October 10th, 2007, started by getting home from a long night on call at the hospital.
My wife, Michelle, was preparing for work, but had not felt well the last couple of days.
“I just passed some blood,” she said.
“You do what you know you need to. I’ll go into work for you.” I replied.
We got our girls ready and into the van. Michelle took Mackenzie to school, Brooklyn and Lauren to the sitter, and herself to the doctor.
“Who can I call to meet her so she’s not alone?” I asked myself. “Someone to hold her hand today.” The only person that came to mind was the right one. Krista met Michelle at the ER and the first thing she did was hold her hand.
At twenty-four weeks, there was little hope as viability is related to age and the baby just wasn’t there yet. We didn’t want to believe the worst because Michelle’s pregnancies had all gone well…till now.
She was transferred to the high risk maternal/fetal department with interventions to stop labor. Intravenous medicines, complete bedrest, and regular ultrasounds to check for any changes. Now, waiting, fear stuck cold, bony fingers into our life.
We discovered Michelle was battling an infection which threatened our baby. All efforts were made to control it with hopes the baby would respond. With the circumstances, Michelle and I wanted to give our child a name. The ultrasound revealed a girl and we chose Savannah Nicole.
My journal carries the rest of the story.
Friday, Oct 12, 2007
Today’s been calm. The doctor said Michelle’s water had broken, however Savannah is making fluid so it’s not a bad thing. Just not what we wanted to happen.
After sending the girls home, Michelle said, “I think she’ll come tonight.”
“How do you pray now?” I asked.
We prayed anyway, asking God to keep our faith during this misery and that He be glorified, knowing we weren’t the first to experience tragedy and certainly not the last. Family and friends had made their way to us, but I suddenly felt very alone. And afraid. In hindsight, every person entering our room was so good at it. The way they approached pain and misery, entering our personal heartache with grace, gentleness, and reassurance. Not a single person acted as if they’d anything to do except take care of us. Each staff member cleaning, bringing food, delivering care or providing exams took moments to ask how we were and offer words of encouragement.
Saturday, Oct 13,2007
No baby born overnite!
Sunday, Oct 14, 2007
We understand more after Dr. Lombardi came by. No potential abruption as was thought. For all practical purposes, Savannah is as safe as if nothing had happened…except something has.
Monday, Oct 15, 2007
Worked until early afternoon when Michelle called, “I need you to be with me.”
I let my chief know I needed to leave immediately. “We’ll do what we can Matt.” Two agonizing hours later, I left. As I mentioned earlier, pragmatism is well developed in healthcare, but when your wife says, “It doesn’t look good,” all a husband knows is he HAS to be there. I rushed home, got the girls and Michelle’s step-mother, Pipi, and left. The seventeen miles to I-24 were covered in ten minutes, the remaining 45 miles to the hospital in thirty-five minutes. I had to get there before Savannah died. We did.
After the doctor’s ultrasound, he had told Michelle, “Delivery is imminent. She’s moved into the birth canal. We’ve hours to possibly a day.”
But nothing happened.
Michelle remained stable, pain-free and without contractions.
Savannah’s heart rate was in the 160s. Higher than it has been, so she may be stressed. “The beginning of the end?”
Tuesday, Oct 16, 2007
Dr. Spears came by this morning, “Prognosis is still poor, but I’ve no explanation for this.”
“Maybe this is giving us time to learn to let go,” Michelle said later.
When I started nursing school, an instructor and I spoke about our children. Her’s were grown and mine just starting. She shared her experience of losing a pregnancy and all she wanted was that one child back in her arms. “It didn’t matter that I had three others at home needing me. I wanted the one I lost,” she said. At the time, I could only imagine, but here, Michelle and I discovered that grief for ourselves and in the end…she was right. For the first time in my life, I began to ask God, “If You’re real, where are You?”. From our window, I saw cars on the Nashville streets, driven by people with no idea of the anguish in our room.
“How dare they have a fine life,” I thought. “Why can’t ours be fine? Where are You?” I silently shouted.
I realized I didn’t know a man who’d lost a child except Job and I began to read his story in the Bible. In a heavenly meeting God asks Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job?” Long story short, Satan claims Job serves God because of blessings and wealth. God allows Satan to test Job. Ten children, all his livestock, and all his household are taken away in sequential catastrophes with barely time for one servant to deliver news before another enters with more calamity. Job suffered horribly. By comparison, I was losing one child. My job remained. My home remained. My lawnmower, vehicles, tools, toys…all of it was still there. My three girls, all safe and sound. Only one daughter at risk here. And yet, I suffered too. Job’s agony is so profound when three buddies show up, they say nothing… for seven days. Our “suffering” was ten days and there was a lot of talking. They tried to convince Job he had unconfessed sin causing this curse. Job stood fast, saying nothing was unconfessed between him and God. Toward the end, Job did ask “Why?”. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the awesomeness of God overwhelms the pain Job and we experienced without reducing it. We know we’ve been there because the memories and scars are evidence. “How in the midst of agony can our Creator swoon us?” He honors us, not by reducing our pain, but by revealing Himself in the starry night sky, the massive and microscopic creatures of nature, and in the faces and hands of our friends and family. God was there all along looking like my friends; Krista, Chuck, Cindy, Randy, Melinda, and many others. He looks like nurses and doctors who cannot imagine doing anything else but stepping into tragedy after tragedy. It’s not comfortable to accept, but is comforting to know a Creator who’s amazing and more complex than our most intimate and agonizing grief. This grandeur overwhelms the pain without minimizing our experience in it.
Friday, Oct 19, 2007
Savannah is gone. No answers. Such painful and gentle misery.
Oct 20, 2007
Savannah was delivered shortly after noon. She was beautiful. She fit in my hand, all twenty ounces. She was like a vapor, having to look to know she was there.
My nursing instructor’s story was understood now…she was right.
Our lives are stories. All of them different, yet we can relate, sympathize, and empathize with others.
I heard Hemingway wrote a six word story that reflects our own.
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
In time, we’ve come to understand our lives are not our own.
What is twenty-five weeks or ninety years to an infinite Creator? Savannah never wore her baby shoes, but her life mattered. We experienced truth more fully and life more completely. I look forward to seeing my little Savannah in a yellow dress running to me one day in the future…barefoot.
So, I stepped toward the door and reached for the doorknob.
All I had to do was hold their hand.