Thanksgiving Day, 2009, was November 26. As Matthew’s due date was the 24th, and no one could believe that I’d go that far considering how big he was getting and how little I’d started, I felt fairly safe in buying the sweetest little “My First Thanksgiving” outfit.
As I sat at Thanksgiving dinner with John, Mom and Andi...swollen, back aching and ribs hurting, I gratefully thought in my head, “That little turkey…already outgrowing clothes and he hasn’t even been born yet!”
Dr. Shonekan had taken mercy on me earlier in that week, and we’d scheduled Matthew’s induction for the Monday after Thanksgiving. Imagine my surprise when one of Matthew’s L & D Guardian Angels (unbeknownst to me at the time, of course!) called and told me that they had been looking through the files and mine was one that Dr. Shonekan had said would be a good one to schedule earlier if I wanted. She said that they’d love to have me come in on Friday night. While she didn’t say it, I got the impression that Monday may have been busier than Friday was shaping up to be, and Dr. Shonekan expected me to be one of those deliveries that may have needed a little more hand-holding and I would probably have that coming in Friday.
I remember what I was wearing as I hung the phone up. I started to shake, and teared up a bit. I was at the top of the stairs and called John to the bottom. I told him the hospital wondered if we wanted to come in early, and without skipping a beat, he told me, “Let’s do it!!!!”
Of course he was excited! I was scared to death.
I called back and told them we’d see them the next day. I don’t know how I slept that night, or remember much of the next day other than I wrote out the last of the thank-you notes I needed to write. THANK GOD I kept up with those…I’d never have been able to write them after.
Before we left, I hung Matthew’s stocking on the mantle. I wanted to have it there when we got home.
Mom took one last family photo of us before we left and we were off.
The hospital is about 20 minutes away. I shook the entire time. John was near giddy and I was just shaking with anxiety. I had all the music I’d been listening to throughout my pregnancy playing, and I was trying to sing with each song. The only song I remember, though, is the Brad Paisley version of “When We All Get To Heaven.” I sang that song, in tears of fear and nerves, over and over as I looked out the window. I couldn’t believe we were finally about to meet my sweet boy.
When we got to the hospital, and walked through the L & D doors, my knees nearly buckled. They took us into our room, and it was the same room we’d been in about two weeks before when my blood pressure was so high. At that time, there had been some crazy CD left in the player—Heavy Metal songs done in classical lullaby type renditions. It had cracked John and me up then and as I was again in that room, it gave me a smile.
We started to get settled and my sweet, sweet night nurse Jade said, “Are you okay? You look like you’re very nervous.” I was still shaking and very jittery and I told her I was scared to death. She told me everything would be fine. There was such a sweet and familiar way in which she spoke with us, I totally believed her.
I had brought a ton of chocolate and every time anyone came in, I made sure to offer some. I knew I was going to be high maintenance and wanted to apologize in advance for being so!
It’s here where things start getting blurry for me. The plan was to give me the Cervidil in hopes of helping me dilate some. I was pretty much Fort Knox as Dr. Shonekan had said, and we hoped that would make a difference. I think I started having some contractions, but honestly, I don’t remember being in any pain. In fact, I remember having some cramping and John telling me that I was having contractions and I thought, “Hmmm….that’s not that bad! I felt worse when Matthew kicked me!” Someone had advised me to ask about Ambien for the night so I could get some sleep, and I asked Jade whether she thought that was a good idea. She said she’d ask the doctor, and Dr. Shonekan was fine with it. I honestly don’t remember whether or not I took it because I’d done all the reading about medications and not wanting the baby to be sleepy when born. I don’t think I did take it, but we did talk about Stadol since sometimes the Cervidil could make one uncomfortable and I’m pretty sure I forsook the Ambien in favor of the Stadol. What I remember most about that night is that neither of us slept much—the monitor kept going off for no reason and I just couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t in pain, even though John said the contractions were fairly strong and close, I just couldn’t sleep. As the morning came, I remember wondering where the night had gone because time seemed to just disappear. Jade told me she’d see me and our sweet baby that night because she’d be coming back and though I’d be on the post-partum side, she’d make sure she saw me. Before she left, she introduced me to Ruth, and I remember thinking, “Oh good…another sweet smile.”
The day wore on. Everyone said my contractions were closer and fairly intense, but I didn’t really feel much pain. I kept waiting for the pain! I knew it was coming…and had thus far been surprised by labor! I was exhausted and wanted desperately to sleep, I just couldn’t. I think I dozed in and out because time passed, but I don’t remember really sleeping. My friend Deb came that morning and brought a sweet little sock monkey for Matthew. Dr. Shonekan came and reminded me of how stubborn my boy was because I still wasn’t progressing much at all. We talked about my epidural even though I was struggling to get to 4 cm. She said to go for it, so the anesthesiologist was called. Everyone told me that he was wonderful and I was lucky he was on call. When he came in, he sat me the way I needed to sit and as I looked down, I saw his UVA crocs! I had forgotten that it was the big Tech/UVA game and he was all dressed for it! We made the appropriate Wahoo/Hokie jokes and I thanked God for such a good-natured anesthesiologist. I had been worried about the epidural and felt completely ok with him. He complimented me on how still I was able to sit and how easy it was to get where he needed to go because my back was so lean! Ahhh….music to a very large pregnant lady’s ears! He gave us his best wishes, in spite of our Hokie loyalties, and I finally felt like we might be close.
I do not really have any idea of the time factor. I had no cognizance of what time it was but I knew it was getting on in the afternoon. Mom and John had just been biding their time and I think it was a little after 4 when Dr. Shonekan came in and said that she thought we were going to have to go in and get him! There had been some weird readings on the monitor, which didn’t really faze me because that monitor had been acting sort of weird anyway and earlier in the day they’d had me lay on my left side and things were fine. She told me she wanted to put the little monitor that screws into his head on so she could see what was going on and I started to cry a bit. Not because I was worried but because I had seen that little hook in our birth class and I didn’t want my sweet boy to have to have that in his head! She also told me she’d go ahead and break my water while she was in there. I asked if she had to, because I really didn’t want it broken, especially if we were going to go the c-section route anyway. She said it didn’t make a difference either way, and I told her I’d rather not—I didn’t want to make a mess for my sweet nurses. She started to do whatever it was that she was doing with that hook thing and said, “Well, he didn’t like that! He has really good scalp stimulation! In fact, put that on the board,” and Ruth started to write it on the white board. She said she was breaking my water while she was there and I said, “Oh, ok…” and in what seemed like seconds, she said, “Well….Mr. Matthew is calling my bluff.”
In an instant, everything…EVERYTHING changed. She started moving like I’d never seen (and she was nearly 9 months pregnant herself!) and started prepping me for a c-section. She was giving orders, people were moving and Dr. Finkleston, the anesthesiologist came back in. I didn’t know what was going on, but it was very apparent that Dr. Shonekan wanted people to MOVE. Dr. Finkleston told me he was going to get me ready for surgery, and I reminded him he’d already given me my epidural. He said, “Oh honey, you’re going to get a few more things for this.”
The next thing I knew, Dr. Shonekan was pulling my bed out of my room and to the OR HERSELF!! We banged against the door, and I realized this was not right. I started praying to God to bless each and every hand that touched me and that touched Matthew…to give them wisdom and courage.
I have to say that I did NOT DOUBT for ONE SECOND that this would not be anything but a dramatic entrance…and all would be fine. I was still joking around, and started to get a bit nervous that no one was joking back with me. When Dr. Finkleston and the other nurses were trying to get me onto the table from my bed, he said, “How much do you weigh? About 160?”
I died laughing. As a woman who barely broke 100 pounds for most of my adult life, I couldn’t BELIEVE he was guess-timating me that heavy. (In reality, he was only about 13 pounds off!) He then apologized for ‘insulting’ me and told me he was just asking to know how much medicine he needed to give.
I was still jovial.
I was still unaware of the severity of the situation.
But everyone else knew.
One of the surgical technicians, Margaret Ann, came to me and held my left hand. She asked me if I believed in God. I told her, “Yes.” She asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ. I told her, “Yes.” She asked if she could pray for me. I begged her to do so. I don’t remember what she said, but I do remember thinking, “Wow, they all think this is really serious.”
But I didn’t.
Because God was faithful.
He’d promised me Matthew; He'd shown him to me in dreams and given me his name. He’d blessed us with this miracle after 10 years of heartache.
I was not worried.
Someone asked the time and I heard, “4:50.”
John came into the OR and sat up by my head. Before he came in, Margaret Ann had been holding my left hand and Dr. Finkelston my right. John took my right hand and I kept asking what was happening. I saw Dr. Shonekan lift Matthew out, though I didn’t see him, and hand him to the nurses. I still couldn’t see what was going on but it was very, very quiet. I kept asking what was happening and finally, John said, “They’re doing CPR.”
I did not like the sound of that, yet told John, “He’ll be fine. He’s going to be fine. I know he is going to be fine.” I kept telling John and anyone else who would listen that Matthew would be fine.
I asked what his birth time was. “4:56,” is what I was told. That amazing pregnant woman had the nerves and strength to that baby out of me in 6 minutes. I was awestruck.
It seemed like it was about two or three minutes and then I saw the backs of two nurses whisking Matthew away. That was my first glimpse of him—the back of his sweet little head with dark hair and a wavy pattern. I told John to follow him and NOT leave him, that I’d be fine.
No one was really saying much…I guess there wasn’t much to say. The surgery had been so fast they had not been able to do the instrument count, and had to wait for an x-ray of my insides to be sure nothing had been left. I was pretty impressed with their thoroughness.
From what I remember, Margaret Ann continued to hold my hand and Dr. Finkelston sort of went back and forth from the nursery to me to give me an idea of what was going on, but in truth, I think everyone was so shocked and surprised that they were all on autopilot. I saw Dr. Shonekan and another woman in the corner of the room looking over something, which I later figured out was my placenta. I guess they also were just trying to figure out what the heck had happened.
After the X-Ray, someone I didn’t know or recognize came and wheeled me into a different room. I wasn’t really sure of where I was in relationship to the room they’d just wheeled me out of not a half hour before. I think the poor person wheeling me in there was sort of shell-shocked and didn’t really know what to say, and I feel bad for her because I just kept telling anyone and everyone who kept popping in and out of the room that Matthew was going to be fine. She must have thought I was nuts.
Time again gets very, very blurry here. I remember John coming in and out with some details…Matthew peed all over the nurses and they were glad! Matthew was holding his hand. Deb came in with pictures for me and said he’d given her the look we call “The Stink-Eye” in our family. They said he was fighting and that they were going to have to med evac him to Children’s.
In hindsight, I do not know what on earth kept me in that room. I needed to be in that nursery. I know John was torn about leaving me, but we’d already discussed that he needed to be with the baby at all times. I just wish I had gone to the nursery myself.
Other news came in…they had a hard time getting a line in to Matthew…something about not being able to give a transfusion…Children’s wasn’t available so it was going to be Georgetown. I remember telling John he couldn’t go by himself and he’d called our family friend Jeff to take him up there because there wouldn’t be room in the helicopter. How ironic…my husband could fly that aircraft but there wouldn’t be room for him to be with his son.
I told anyone who would listen that before Matthew left, I wanted them to come into my room. I guess one of the reasons no one had helped me to the nursery was because I’d just had an emergency surgery and the Duramorph left me pretty much unable to move. Jade was back with me, as Deb had switched her so she could be with me that night also. The little things that those women and men did that night are priceless to me.
When the Georgetown people finally came in with Matthew’s huge isolette, I couldn’t believe how big it was. It was hard to move close to my bed and the Georgetown doctor seemed pretty much in a hurry to get out of there. She told me over and over that he was a very sick little boy and they would do all they could to help him. In my head, I barely heard her words because I was screaming, “You’re WRONG! He’s going to be fine! He’s perfectly healthy!!!! God promised him to me! He is going to be the miracle you all talk about! YOU WILL ALL BE TALKING ABOUT MY SON FOR YEARS TO COME.”
I don’t think I was entirely wrong, sadly.
I told them I wanted to touch him…there was no way that baby was getting out of the hospital without his mama feeling him and letting him know I was there. The Georgetown doctor looked skeptical, as I couldn’t move and they couldn’t get him close to me.
I didn’t care and neither did Jade, since I saw her look at the doctor in a way that said, “Seriously? We’re going to get this lady to touch her baby!” I asked Jade to help me, and I got out of that bed. As I did, a gush of blood went everywhere and I felt awful. I just remember saying, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry” and again, those sweet people told me it was ok. I used a chair or maybe Jade’s arm to sort of hold on to, but I walked the couple of steps over to his isolette and reached in the little circle that was where his head was. I touched his shoulder and caressed his sweet little face. It was so amazingly soft…I couldn’t believe it. I had expected that since he was overdue, he’d be a dry and leathery little baby boy…and he had the softest, creamiest skin I’d ever touched.
Still…I still felt that it was only a matter of time until we’d be home and that he’d be fine.
I honestly don’t know how I had gotten out of that bed, because as soon as he left, I got back in the bed and literally couldn’t move my legs. Someone had to move them for me back into the bed.
As they took him out, I blew him a kiss. I remember thinking, “Wow. A little melodramatic, Lori. He’s going to be fine and you know it.”
I of course wanted to leave and go to Georgetown. Dr. Shonekan told me she couldn’t discharge me with the procedures and medicines I’d just had. I asked about just leaving and she said I could, but then insurance would have a field day in not paying considering I’d be leaving against medical advice.
So that amazing woman said, “I’m going to get you into post-partum at Georgetown but we have to get you up there with an ambulance. I’m going to go work on that right now.”
And she did. As she did, various people kept coming in and out. The pediatrician and I had a long, long talk. I asked her the same question I had earlier asked Dr. Shonekan about survivability. Both had told me that there would probably be issues, as Matthew had lost a tremendous amount of blood and some oxygen, but they were fairly confident he’d survive. As the pediatrician and I were talking, she got called out for a phone call. I now know that phone call was Georgetown telling them that things were not good.
Time is blurry here too…It seemed to me that she left my room and a few minutes later, mom and my neighbor Connie came in my room. Seeing as mom had been gone for a while, her coming back was not encouraging to me. She told me I needed to call John.
I called John and he told me that there was basically nothing they could do…that they were telling him we’d probably have to make a decision about Matthew. He’d apparently crashed 5 times on the helicopter ride out to Georgetown and whatever procedure they’d wanted to try with him was simply not going to be successful.
I was in shock. I did not believe him and told him there would be no making of any decision. There was no decision to be made. Matthew was living. Period.
I don’t remember much more of that conversation, only that mom said she’d gotten in touch with Bert, a family friend and pastor. It was a little after one in the morning and John called back. He told me that there was nothing else to do and no decision to be made…Matthew was making the decision.
He was dying.
John was alone, holding Matthew, as he was dying.
I had Bert on mom’s cell phone speaker and John on my cell phone speaker, and together, with mom and Connie (and I think Jade, but I’m fuzzy), Bert read verses and ushered Matthew into Heaven.
Matthew died at 1:26 am on November 29.
My precious miracle left this earth, without even knowing me…and I was shattered.
I don’t remember much more other than John crying, “Lori, I’m sorry….I’m so, so, sorry. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”
That broke my heart, and still does. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, and later realized he was worried that in losing Matthew, he’d lose me.
At the time, the initial guess was that it was a placental abruption that caused Matthew to lose so much blood. We of course found out a couple of days later that it was vasa previa, and more, a sort of rare presentation of vasa previa.
In all my planning and all my research and all my worrying…never had I even heard of that.
Why would I? It’s that thing that doctors read about in medical school and think, “Hmm…doubt I’ll ever see that, thank goodness,” because it’s just rare.
Really, it didn’t matter why.
Matthew was gone. Is gone.
And my world is forever changed.