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Woman holding baby

When Looking Fear in the Face Means Looking at Your Daughter

This is part six of my mini-series “Welcome to Motherhood.” Miss the beginning? Start here.

Our pastor spoke into our impasse. “I could go see her first, and tell you what to expect, if that’s ok with you.”

Again I wondered if he was an angel. “Yes, that would be great,” we agreed.

He and Dr. Schwartz walked out, and I laid down on the vinyl-covered couch. My breasts were bigger, harder, more painful than I had ever dreamed possible. I couldn’t get comfortable. Even the smallest movement triggered more stinging burning. But while wrapping my arms around them helped immobilize them, the pressure hurt too. I needed to pump but now? When Elli might die any moment? No. I huddled in the fetal position in every kind of agony.

I don’t know how long it was before Russ returned.

“You can go see her if you’d like. She has a tube in her mouth, taped to her face, and quite a few monitor wires and lines. She’s surrounded by a lot of equipment, but if you just focus on her, you’ll be okay. It would be good to talk to her. Even if she doesn’t appear to respond, she can hear you. We know people hear what’s going on around them when they are unconscious. Let her hear a familiar voice.”

Scott looked pale, but I think he knew how important this was to me. “Okay, I’ll go.”

I stood slowly, hugged my arms around my aching chest, and followed Russ out the door.

“I asked the doctors something things just now,” he said. “You’ll have to trust me with it for awhile.”

Normally, I would have demanded to know the secret. The idea that he knew something I didn’t would have made me crazy. But today, I couldn’t handle one more thing. I just wanted to see Elli.

Still, as we neared Pod H, fear wrapped nausea around me. We stood in the doorway for a minute, scanning the machines, the blinking lights, the numbers, the crowd of people at her bedside.

My eyes rested on a little white card with blue stars. “Four-Star Award” it read, “To Elli Bennett For being so SWEET and cute as a button :).” It was signed by last night’s nurse. Her kindness gave me courage to step a little closer and look.

Elli on the ventilator

After the eye protectors came off

This baby, trembling, swollen, face covered with eye shields, tubes, and tape, was not the baby I kissed goodnight just 8 hours ago. This baby wasn’t filling her own lungs. Her lips couldn’t pucker kisses at us. She looked so fragile. I tried to speak to her around the lump in my throat, “Hi Elli. I’m here. It’s your mom. You’re doing great.”

Scott touched her hand, the one hand not covered with bandages. We asked what all the numbers meant. I looked for something, anything, to show that she heard me. Nothing.

Dr. Schwartz spoke softly. “We have a room open in the CICU, so we’re going to move her up there now. You can check in up there and we’ll call when she’s settled in.”

We returned to the library, and I cried and blew my nose on those awful tissues. I thought how badly crying and wiping hurt my face, and how strange it was that I even noticed something like that in light of what I’d just seen and heard.

Then Russ said, “You two need to call your parents.”

I looked at the phone, tried to imagine how to tell them, and sobbed great gasping sobs. I can’t speak when I’m crying. How could I deliver such horrible news to people I loved?

“You are strong, Joy. You have to tell them. You can do it,” he urged.

Scott reached for the phone. “I’ll go first.”

I listened as he spoke, in a steady voice. He only cracked once. Then it was my turn. I reached for the phone in a quiet moment, but as soon as I heard my mom’s voice, tears leaked in spite of myself.

I sobbed, “Mom, it’s really bad. Elli’s heart stopped beating this morning. She’s still here, but she’s really really sick.”

Mom cried with me and we talked about when they could come see Elli. When I hung up, I knew what I needed to do next.

“Scott, I hurt so bad. I have to pump. Do you think you should wait in the CICU waiting room so one of us is there when they call out?”

He nodded. “I’ll go up with Russ.”

I set out to find a room and a tiny bit of relief. As milk streamed into bottles, I cried again. Oh that she would be well enough to drink it.

Read part seven, The [Heart] Beat Goes On, here.

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