In retrospect, Dave and i both somehow felt intuitively that something would be difficult or "wrong" about Cassius' birth, but neither of us voiced our premonitions because...well, you don't want to give any credence to your fears. And the birth itself was a complete cakewalk. I (finally) had an epidural, and my husband was like, "Why the hell didn't you do this before??? It's so QUIET in here! " Beau was there, and when i said i could feel that the baby was ready to be born, Beau chose to stay, holding a washcloth on my forehead as i pushed. "Don't look down Beau", i advised. "If you do, you'll never want to see another vagina as long as you live." He listened, but after what happened next, he didn't talk much for the next few days, and I wish he hadn't had to cope with such a weighty situation.
My mother in law on one side, and my love and sweet oldest son on the other, Cassius came into the world. He was beautiful: curly haired, blond, and a total synthesis of his three predecessors. "Oh God, look at him. I swear, this never gets old," Dave said, smiling. I held Cassius for a moment, and fell in love, as only a mother does. But he didn't cry. Instead, a gurgling sound came out, and the midwife handed him quickly to the nurses, who looked at each other ominously and shook their heads. And then they took him from me.
Evidently he had "fluid in his lungs." I didn't see him for hours, and when i did, he was unswaddled, in only a diaper under heat lamps, with oxygen tubes in his nose and a mask near his mouth. According to the monitors, air levels were still low and his breathing was haggard and erratic. He looked helpless and awful. I wasn't allowed to hold him, and barely allowed to even touch him. But he seemed to be holding on.
After a few hours of sleep, the nurse woke me and said that he was stable, and that he had relaxed a bit, but when i went to see him, it was obvious he was still fighting hard. They had started antibiotics, presuming an infection and probable pneumonia, and the oxygen mask was kept on more consistently.
And then, the following day, he dropped like a rock. A nurse came running for me and asked me to speak to the doctor over the phone. Dave was out getting us some food and my mom was at the airport still, so i was alone.
--"Mrs. Chamberlain, we are going to go ahead and get him to the university hospital. He's... well, he's going downhill a li-i-i-i-tle faster than I'd like to see, and just as a precautionary measure, we're going to get him up there where they're a little better equipped to help him out."
--"He's going to be ok then???"i asked.
--(Pause)"We're just going to take him up there now. You know, we could wait and see, but it's probably best we just have him over there before we're in a panic. They should be there in the next couple of hours."
Just as he said that, a Life Flight team burst through the doors and came to my baby son's bedside. At the same time, Dave came running through the doors as well and held my shaking shoulders as i sobbed uncontrollably. We watched for a minute as our baby's chest completely collapsed, the top of his chest sinking all the way into his tiny spine. He looked exactly like a caught fish out of water, desperate for breath. I knew then that there wasn't much time, and he could only fight a little longer. He was dying in front of us, and thought i would die too. The head nurse, Beverly (who had helped me deliver Georgia two years earlier) escorted me back to my room as i was backing away, unable to watch helplessly.
Beverly then left to see what was happening with Gus. She returned after a bit and reported he had been stabilized and put on a life support--an oscillating breathing machine inserted into his windpipe--and given morphine in order to rest. Apparently he had been working so hard to breathe in the 20 hours since he'd been born that he hadn't slept or rested at all, which is normally all babies do. He was being transported to the University of Utah Primary Children's hospital, and we were to follow.
We arrived, and after waiting for an hour or so, we were told he was stable, and went to see him. All the nurses were so confident, level headed and sharp, and it boosted our confidence that he was in the best possible hands. However, although positive, they told us we were not out of the woods yet. He was still on the breathing machine, and would remain on it for a day or so longer. He had tubes in his nose, one in his mouth that went down into his stomach, and several going in through his new belly button. It was hard to see, but at least he was resting and at peace.
Then we had to leave him and go home without a baby in our arms. For me that was super difficult. The first night, i slept with the assistance of the painkillers they give postpartum, but i awoke sobbing after a few hours. It felt like my heart was literally breaking, the emotional pain becoming physical. But thankfully my husband and my sweet mom were there, and she rushed into our bedroom and rocked me, her baby, in her arms until i was able to calm down, then stayed up talking to me until i fell asleep again. And my in-laws let us stay at their house, which is adjacent to the hospital, for the subsequent nights when i had to pump breast milk and Dave had to drive it to the NICU every three hours. We were well supported and very loved throughout the ordeal.
So the short version from here is that he went off the breathing machine after a day or so and was put on a high-flow oxygen cannula , then a low flow, then eventually down to breathing regular room air. After several days, the antibiotics that were fighting his pneumonia took effect, and a week later i was able to nurse him for the first time. (Normally i hate nursing's guts, but this was a brilliant moment for sure.) He stayed in the NICU for a total of eleven days, but since he was only a little early, he made a full and fabulous recovery without any residual problems or expected long term effects. We couldn't believe our luck, especially after seeing what the majority of the NICU looked like. Cassius's roommate, for example, weighed 1 1/2 pounds when she was born, and was at 2 1/2 when we were introduced to her. But she was still here, and still fighting. There were babies with obvious, heart-wrenching deformities, those that would suffer long-term complications, and those that would not simply make it, despite the heroic efforts of the nurses. My heart goes out all these children and their parents--or any parent who has to watch their child suffer.
The nurses were the most special breed of person i have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and are all walking angels, i swear. One of Cassius's nurses worked the night shift, ran a tax service with her husband during the day, had six sons (five surviving sons, she said), and a three-year-old grandson in her custody. She was incredibly on top of her game, completely pleasant, and joked and laughed with us as she shared her stories. It really blew my mind. All of them cooed and loved these babies as if every one was the most important thing in their world. It was beautiful.
All and all, this was life altering. This was the accidental child whose presence in our life seemed too daunting to cope with when i got pregnant. And then i thought i lost him at 4 months, and then i thought i was going to lose him again after he was born, and the mere threat of that was unbearable. All this has not made life any less hectic or stressful, and bringing him home has been quite a circus (although thankfully our burden was much eased by my mom's six week stay). But it has changed the way i look at my kids. They are the most beautiful, miraculous little beings, and i am so incredibly lucky to have their healthy little bodies in my arms every day. I am so thankful for my husband and how much i love him, and for the incredible, unwavering support of our amazing parents and family. We are truly blessed. Baby Cassius is aptly named, growing like a weed, and totally awesome.