Tuesday, January 27, 2009


When we arrived at the hospital, I got out and a man pushed a wheelchair to me. I was dressed in only a t-shirt and panties, with a towel covering the rest. Modesty had not even crossed my mind. He wheeled me straight to registration in the ER. That's what they do with pregnant women at our hospital. The woman at the desk asked me why I was there, and I don't remember what I was trying to say, but nothing really came out. My husband walked up after having parked the van, and said, "Did you tell her you are hemorrhaging?"

The woman asked me if my water had broken, and I said yes. She was up in an instant and getting me sent up to Labor and Delivery. This is when I finally remembered what I had heard in childbirth class again and again. At our hospital, the magic words to get things moving are, "My water broke."

Once we made it to Labor and Delivery, I remember trying to convince them that it was a large amount of blood. They just weren't listening. They decided to put me on a fetal monitor to check on the baby. When they first found the heartbeat, it was only about 40. But instead of rushing me for a C-section, they decided to "wait and see." Her heart rate soon went back up to about 140, and they were happier. But she still wasn't moving. I knew something was wrong.

At some point--my sense of time during all this is unreliable--a doctor walked in. I had made it a priority during my last few weeks of pregnancy to meet and get to know all the midwives in the midwifery where I was receiving my care. But the new, and very young, back-up physician...that's another story. He came and stood by the bed and explained that the baby's heart rate seemed too unresponsive. It was basically flatlined at 140. He felt like we needed to do an emergency C-section. I instantly agreed, but Loren, ever practical, started asking questions. I remember looking at him and saying, very convincingly, that I wanted the C-section right away.

He nodded his consent, but as the doctor was walking away, Loren asked, "Are you a praying man?" Dr. Sepesi stopped and turned, and said, "Yes. Yes, I am." He knelt and we all held hands, and this man we had never met instantly bonded our hearts with his own as he prayed fervently over me, our family, our baby's life, his hands as the surgeon, and the NICU team as they took over with the baby. His prayer was one spoken to a close friend and Savior, not a strange God in the sky. I was reminded that no matter the outcome, I still had a Comforter.

The nurses quickly prepped me for surgery, and they explained to me that I needed to go under general anesthesia in order to get the baby out faster. I consented, said goodbye to my husband after telling him to make sure he stayed with the baby, and fell asleep.

When I started to wake up, the nurse in my room had her back to me. I was trying to ask the hardest question of my life. "Is the baby okay?" But for some reason, it wasn't coming out right. It took me a minute or so to realize that I wasn't fully awake, but I had at least made some sound. The nurse asked me if I was in pain (I was), but I just asked again, "Is she okay? Did she make it?" She didn't know how to answer me, I could tell. Then Loren walked into the room. He could see I was in pain, and asked the nurse if she could give me something, but I said, "No, first tell me if she's okay!"

"She's alive," he said. "It's not good, but she is alive." I don't remember all the words. I only remember that I wanted to be with her. I was so afraid she would die before I ever got to tell her I loved her or kiss her head or hold her to my chest where she belonged. Somehow I got all the information that still floats around in my mind. I don't really remember who told me which details: She was 5 lbs 15 oz... She was nearly completely white at birth, needing immediate blood transfusions (the blood on my floor was hers)... They couldn't take her length measurements because it was not important to her medical care... She had pulmonary hypertension. Someone brought me a Polaroid picture of her.

At some point, they moved me from the recovery room to the family care room. I was wheeled straight passed the room where they were working on my baby. Loren came to me (this may have been before I was moved, I'm not sure) and told me that while they were giving her a transfusion she had hemorrhaged. Blood had come out of her eyes, nose, mouth, and vagina. This was not good. She had some sort of clotting disorder they thought. It was the most horrible thing for him to see, and for once, I was glad I had not been there. I had seen so much blood already.

So many details are all mixed up in my head, whether from the pain medication, the stress, or the amount of time that has passed. My mom and dad showed up early in the morning sometime. So did Pastor Steve Stringham from church. The senior pastor was out of town, but he called. Some other people visited, but I don't remember who exactly. I still had not even seen her. I remember calling my best friend, Valerye, to tell her the baby had been born. Her joyful exclamation was shortlived as I explained that the baby was not okay. She didn't know what to say.

Loren and I had disagreed over her name throughout the pregnancy. I had wanted to call her Abigail, and he had wanted to call her Sarah. He held my hand and caressed my face and told me he wanted me to decide her name. Really, there was nothing he could do for me, and he wanted to do something. It was a beautiful gift. I told him we should name her Sarah. This was my gift to him. But he understood why I said Sarah, and he said he wanted her name to be Abigail. So Baby Girl Hankins became Abigail Noel Hankins.

Finally, I was allowed to be wheeled in to see her. But I was not to touch her. Her fragile condition worsened in response to noises and touch. I'll never forget those first glances. She had cords everywhere, and she was still so white. The nurse allowed me a few moments to look at her before insisting that I get back to bed.

Later, a solemn looking doctor asked all our visitors to leave the room so she could talk with us. It seems like I remember us insisting that they be allowed to stay, but I don't recall whether they stayed or not. They had put our baby girl into an induced coma, she said. It was the only way she had a chance. She explained to us that Abigail needed a special breathing machine that our hospital did not have. They wanted to send her to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. There was a fancy ambulance headed our way. It was set up specially for transporting critically ill newborn infants.

Loren, ever practical, and not driven to thinking with his emotions even in times as tough as these, asked a question that took my breath away. "Do you really think we should? I mean, do you think there is a good chance of her survival, or do you think we should just let her go?" It was a question that angered me (you mean, give up on her?!) and then instantly convicted me that I may not have been thinking of what was best for our daughter. Should we make her life, however short or long, be full of painful procedures and cradled only by an isolette, or should we let her go peacefully in our loving arms?

The doctor's demeanor changed a bit. She relaxed forward, and said, "I believe in letting a baby go when there is no hope, and I understand how hard it is to even consider that, but I believe Abigail will have a decent chance if she goes to Atlanta."

I'm afraid I'll have to wait to share more. Thank you for your prayers and your patience, and mostly for your love which I can feel as I share.


Anonymous said...

wow. how heart breaking. I am so sorry you had to go through this, I know there is a reason but, I don't know what that is but, I am thankful you were able to have her, for her to be a part of your life.


Rebecca said...

I miss reading your story!!!

Shelley said...

Sheila...thank you for your encouraging words.

Rebecca...thank you for your gentle nudge. I've allowed life to get in the way of writing this story, probably as an excuse. I'll try to be more consistent...I think.