I fastened my hospital-issued smock and hefted my achy body onto the bed. Machines hummed. The smell of disinfectant permeated the air. A Christmas morning kind of excitement buzzed inside of me. Today was the day! After 39 weeks, we were going to meet our second child.
A fierce kick jabbed my belly. I looked over at my husband and grinned. “Baby boy’s moving and grooving in here. He’s ready.”
“Oh good,” Jay said, looking up from his phone. He surveyed the room’s white walls, tiled floor and medical bassinet. “Babe, I’m pretty sure this is where you stayed after your first c-section,” he said.
“Really? This room…” I said, trailing off, scrutinizing the space. Five years ago, I came to this hospital to deliver our first child. After hours in a birthing suite, contractions pulsating through my pelvis, fear rising in my throat, body laboring to deliver and failing, I was rushed to the operating room. Following our newborn Jack was swept away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with my husband, and I supposedly landed here. “I don’t remember it,” I continued. “Maybe I was in shock?”
To mother a NICU babe is to walk the fine line between fear and joy, hope and heartache, holding on and letting go. We were lucky enough to bring our miracle home within the week, but like the c-section scar above my uterus, the trauma and relief of it all still marked me. Something about today’s procedure felt like closure. If this could just go smoothly, I prayed. If you could give us peace, O God. Please.
A resident appeared at the front of my bed with a clipboard in one hand and pen poised in the other. My nurse stood at my side, working to attach my IV while the resident fired off a series of medical questions:
Do you smoke or drink?
Is this your first c-section?
What went unsaid: the first was an emergency. My OB, who performed the surgery, recommended this planned c-section for our second baby. I wished she was here now so I could stop answering these questions.
The IV finally landed, pricking my hand. I flinched. “Sorry,” the nurse said. “That had to hurt.”
“Any other surgeries?” the resident asked.
“Yes, I, um, had a D&C last spring,” I replied, straining to keep my voice even.
Her face dropped. “I’m sorry.”
I glanced toward Jay from his chair near the bed. He grimaced. I hated how this line of questioning laid bare our greatest pains. I would always remember the baby we lost, but I would not let grief darken this joyful day. “It’s okay,” I said, placing my hand over my belly instinctively. A tremor of movement grounded me.
Mercifully, the resident had reached the end of her list and excused herself. The heart rate monitor quickened, its percussive beeps filling the void.
“Your baby’s heart rate just kicked up a notch,” the nurse clucked. “He’s fine. He must know today is his birthday!”
“Oh yes,” I laughed, sensing the tension in the air dissipate. “Let’s get this kid out of here!”
Medical staff in blue scrubs and hair nets milled about, readying the Operating Room for surgery. I sat on the edge of the table and thought of Jack. My five-year-old would love all the blue here — it’s his favorite color. Would he also love his baby brother? Or would the transition from only child to big brother upset him?
From the age of three he’d cajoled, “Can you get me a baby brother?”
“It’s not that simple,” I’d explained.”You can’t just ‘get’ them. Babies are a gift from God. All we can do is pray for one, and even then it might not work out. ”
So, during bedtime prayers Jack began asking God for a baby brother. Jay and I prayed too. For years, I thought the answer might be “no.” Today, we’d get to hold our holy “yes.”
“We’re going to have you curl your torso forward,” a nurse commanded, bringing me to the present. Tightness coursed through my body — Jay wasn’t yet in the OR, and I missed his calming presence. Softening her voice, she said, “I’ll hold your body against this pillow, like I’m giving you a hug. Ready?”
I held my breath and leaned forward while my anesthesiologist began his work. The position grew more and more uncomfortable by the minute. Soon my legs would begin to tingle, I knew. Soon they would position me on the table. And then what?
Up until this point the c-section had sat on my calendar as a finishing line, the glory at the end of a marathon pregnancy that included two jarring hospital visits for monitoring preterm contractions. But it wasn’t the finish line at all — first, I had to endure this surgery.
Unlike my last c-section, I’d be awake for much of the procedure. I’d been so focused on making it to this day I hadn’t considered what it would feel like. I shifted in my seat.
“Erin, I’m gonna need you to be still just a little longer,” the anesthesiologist directed.
“Almost done,” the nurse murmured. “Lean into me again.”
With one final push, the dosing was complete. A fuzzy feeling crawled up my legs while the nurses repositioned them on the table and assisted me in laying down. While they prepped my stomach and groin for surgery, I felt a strange sensation, almost as if my soul was suspended over my body. Let this go smoothly, I prayed. Let his life begin peacefully.
Jay appeared at my side, bringing me down to earth. I couldn’t feel my legs or wiggle my toes but I felt his hand on my shoulder, an anchor.
“How are you doing, babe?” Jay asked.
“OK,” I exhaled. “A little nervous.”
“You’re doing great. Once this is over, we’ll have our baby.”
When my OB entered the room, I don’t remember what she said but I do remember hearing her voice and feeling comforted.
Tools clattered behind the blue curtain separating me from the lower half of my body. Surgery had begun. As the medical team worked, I busied myself with visions of holding my newborn skin-to-skin post-delivery, an experience I didn’t get with Jack. The nurse had assured me this time would be different.
The surgery progressed slowly. At one point, my OB called for extra support and I felt my breathing quicken. A queasy sensation came over me. I turned my head right, then left, then faced the ceiling. Was this what a panic attack feels like? I turned to the anesthesiologist and said, “I think I’m feeling sick.”
“I’m adjusting your medicine,” he said. “Hang in there — you’re almost done.”
Almost done — almost at the finish line. I closed my eyes and focused on the warmth of Jay’s hand on my shoulder. My breath, flowing in and out. The cold table against my upper back.
Something was happening behind the blue curtain. “Nay, nay, nay!” rang out across the OR.
In a moment reminiscent of the opening to The Lion King, a chunky baby held by gloved hands soared above the curtain. Our Adam. He was alive. He was healthy — he looked so healthy. I blinked back tears of joy.
“He’s here,” I whispered to Jay. “He’s finally here.”
“I know!’ he replied, smiling wide. “Good job, babe.”
While the staff cleaned and tested Adam, my surgery continued behind the curtain. I felt slight pressure as the medical team worked to clear the placenta from my uterus.
A friendly nurse placed a swaddled Adam in Jay’s arms so we could greet him. I kissed his forehead and turned to Jay. “He’s just so beautiful,” I said, eyes shining.
“You have to get a picture,” the nurse gushed, and just like that Jay was handing over his phone and we were crowding around our newborn.
In the photo, Adam’s sweet face squishes against mine while Jay’s hand cradles his small body. You can see my oxygen tube, hospital smock and silly hairnet. Jay, too, wears a hairnet with his mask and scrubs. You can see a mom and dad beaming so big, we appear to be glowing.
Daylight fell softly through the blinds of my maternity suite. Propped up in bed, I held Adam to my chest and studied his face while Jay dozed on the pullout couch in front of us. Adam’s eyes may have been shut tight, but he was awake and hungry, his tiny mouth nuzzling my skin in search of nourishment.
It’s funny how some life events create a full circle. Adam was born five years and two days after his older brother. In the same hospital. Same procedure. Same doctor. Like his brother, Adam is a miracle.
Two boys born five years apart was not my original vision for my family. I had a plan for us and my life now looks nothing like I thought it would. In fact, it’s better.
While I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, I trust that God is the author of all that is good. I trust in little graces — moments when God’s presence shines through and wakes us up to our identity as God’s beloved. Preceded by a difficult birth, two cancer diagnoses, a pandemic and a miscarriage, Adam is a very good gift only God could bring forth.
Adam began to nay softly. My free hand positioned him in my arms for breastfeeding, laying his body sideways atop a stack of hospital pillows. The movement took herculean effort after surgery. I felt the sharp jab of his mouth latching to my breast, then leaned my head back against a pillow.
In Hebrew, Adam means “(hu)man” or “the one formed from the ground.” Jay and I chose his name less for its biblical origins and more because we liked how it sounded. Nevertheless, I can only attribute Adam’s arrival to the faith that grounds me. God had given me a second chance to become a mother. God had held Adam and me throughout surgery, keeping us safe. And God was holding us now as we learned to love each other.
Satisfied for the moment, Adam pulled his head back and pursed his lips, settling into sleep. Soon I’d need to rouse Jay so he could help me swaddle him. For the time being, I cradled our little grace in the sunlight, delighting in every breath he took.