Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sometimes life is a blink

As a neonatal nurse, I am truly privileged to witness miracles each and every time I go to work. To see a sweet baby take its first breath is so beautiful. But sometimes I am just as privileged to see that infant take its last breath. Yes, it is a privilege. I recently had the honor of attending a birth that was so sweet and miraculous... not because the baby lived, but because of the circumstances surrounding her birth. I learned that living is not the only miracle sometimes.

***Circumstances surrounding this birth have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.***

I'll call this little girl Jill, although that is not her real name. I knew before Jill was even born that she would not live. She had a condition which was sadly not compatible with life. Moreover, this condition caused certain parts of her body to be very disfigured, so I also knew that she would not look normal. The mother of this baby, despite knowing of the death sentence early in the pregnancy, chose to carry this little girl to full term. (And I have to say I would have done the same, not that that matters.) I can only imagine how hard it was for Steve and Sarah (also not their real names) to come to the hospital to have their baby, knowing that she may not be born alive or if she was, she would not live for very long.

Labor progressed slowly through the night and then as the shift began to wind down, I knew that Jill was coming. As the nursery nurse, I entered the room as Sarah began pushing. I had baby blankets ready in case Sarah chose not to look at Jill's body, which is sometimes the case when disfiguration occurs.

As Sarah pushed, I saw the familiar bulge that tells me the baby's head will be visible soon. What I saw took me by surprise. Rather than hair, I saw eyes and then a nose and then a mouth... a true face presentation. (If you wish to know what this looks like, you may click this link but please be warned that this picture is an actual photograph. If you are not comfortable with birth nudity, please do not click on the link.) This is a rare and odd presentation because the head must be either hyper-extended or hyper-flexed in order for the face to be the presenting part. We were shocked to see Jill's face... but what a beautiful face she had. As we watched her, she began making sucking movements with her lips and tongue. She also let out a very small whimper as she lay there, waiting for the rest of her body to be born.

At that point, Sarah stopped pushing for awhile and we just stood there and watched little Jill's face. And at that moment, the feeling in that room was so intense. I could feel angels around me, just waiting patiently for Jill to arrive... angels waiting to take Jill into their awaiting arms and escort her home. Truly, Jill had an immense and beautiful spirit and I could only imagine what great endeavors were awaiting her on the other side of the veil. Truly the veil was so thin that it almost seemed nonexistent to me. Again, there is no way to put into words what I experienced... I couldn't see these angels with my mortal eyes, but I could "see" them with my spiritual eyes and they were beautiful.

Also in that moment it was as though I could hear Jill talking to us, trying her best to help us understand who she was. It was as though I could hear her saying to us, "Hey... look at me... see me... see how beautiful I am. I am only showing you my face right now because that's all I want you to see. I want you to know that I am ALIVE and I am BEAUTIFUL. I am not the sum total of my broken body. My broken body is not ME. I am so much more than that. And I know that this experience will be the only earthly experience I get, so I want to relish this moment with my mom. I want to catch one glimpse of this world while I'm still alive and I want to suck and taste the air and feel the air on my face and see my father's face just once before I go. See me... see ME... see how beautiful I am and know that I am so much more than this broken body."

After a lot more pushing, Jill finally came into this world and I don't think she ever took even a single breath on her own. She was placed on her mama's belly and I immediately felt for a heart beat but her little heart was silent. Sarah and Steve just cried and cried. And finally, Sarah asked me to take Jill away and dress her... she didn't want to look at her body anymore and I don't fault her for that. Jill's face was so beautiful. So I took sweet Jill and dried her off and then weighed and measured her and then I bathed her. I dried her off tenderly and then dressed her and wrapped her in warm blankets and gave her back to her mother who sobbed and said, "Why? Why?" And it was so heart wrenching to see her. We hugged her. And her labor nurse (a nurse I really love) held her and kissed her and told her what an amazing mother she was.

What an absolute honor it was for me to be able to welcome Jill into this world... and an even greater honor to bid her farewell as she went home with waiting angels. I am blown away by the miracles God allows me to participate in. I am so honored to witness such breathtaking beauty. Jill did not have a perfect body, nor did she live, but I think her birth was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

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