This is the story of our beautiful daughter Anastasia Laelyn. We are writing it for two reasons. 1. We are writing to remember: we want to be able to look back one day and share the details with our precious girl. 2. We are writing to share with you the miracle our God gave us. To read the other parts to this story click here.
All I heard was silence, but I wasn’t worried. Looking back, I see God in that moment. Naturally, I’m a worrier. I’m also a fighter. Never have I been known to lie down or still when something is wrong. I’m a get it done, make your own destiny, I can do all things type of girl. But in that moment, I lay still and waited in peace. I thought about my baby. It never crossed my mind that people weren’t celebrating. It never crossed my mind that nobody held her up to show her to me. It never crossed my mind that they didn’t tell me the time, her gender or if she had all her fingers and toes. I laid there, at peace, fully trusting the doctors and nurses who said, “Your baby is doing fine, we just need to do a little bit of work on her.” Looking back, I see God wrapping his Spirit of peace over me.
I laid there alone on a table, while everybody else in the room was fighting to save my daughter’s life. I laid there wondering when I would be allowed to get up, when I could hold my baby and see her face – I wanted to prove to everybody that I was right when I said, “I think she will have Kris’ nose,” based on our ultrasound picture. I laid there and looked at Kris who was sitting against the wall looking pale, and snickered a little bit thinking, “Can’t hack the birth…men.” I had no idea that he was having a completely different experience…
All Randi heard was silence. I heard three whimpers…then silence. I remember sitting there, holding Randi’s hand, waiting to hear a cry. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m pretty good at keeping my stuff together when something is happening to me. It’s when someone else is hurt or being worked on by doctors, etc. that I turn a little gray and need to sit down. So throughout this whole Operating Room experience I had been fighting to keep myself upright through the sounds, the smells (cauterization isn’t exactly roses), and knowing that on the other side of the curtain my wife’s body was being worked on. A couple minutes into this waiting game, the anesthesiologist noticed me looking a bit gray and asked if I needed to sit against the wall. Randi said that would be fine, and the doctor and nurse helped me over to the side of the room.
I still wasn’t sure what was going on since I hadn’t heard a cry yet. I looked to my left and noticed a bunch of nurses standing around a hi-tech table with a monitor on it and warming lights above it. I watched as numbers flashed up and down the arm that connected the table to the lights above. I heard the nurses shouting out numbers, moving back and forth, grabbing pieces of equipment. That’s when I noticed the anesthesiologist had joined them. Then I saw it: my child’s body lying lifeless on the table. I felt confused as I watched a nurse rhythmically squeezing a breathing bag with a hose that went over my daughter’s face. Then horror struck as I noticed the nurse standing across from her, steadily pushing two fingers up and down on my child’s chest. Why are they doing chest compressions? Why is her heart not beating? Why are there six nurses and a doctor all working on her at once? And why have they been doing this for the past several minutes?
One of the nurses must have noticed me watching because all of a sudden she was kneeling down in front of me telling me, “Everything is okay. They’re just trying to get her oxygen levels up.” I didn’t believe her. If everything is okay, why are they shoving a tube down her throat right now? Why are they doing chest compressions to keep blood pumping through her body? All I could think was, “How long do they do this before they stop and call, ‘Time of death…?'”
I looked over at Randi and thought, “She must feel so alone right now.” I wanted to go to her, but I just couldn’t move…
At this point, my peace was interrupted when one of the nurses came and sat by me. All I remember is that she had really pretty big brown doe eyes. She looked at me and said, “How are you doing? You can cry if you want to. It’s okay to cry.” I thought to myself, “A sensitive one. Can somebody get this Debbie Downer away from me? Why would I cry? I’m happy that my baby was just born. I can’t wait to see her!” I looked at her and said, “I’m fine, but I’m having some trouble breathing.”
I can’t explain the sadness I feel when I look back at that moment and think that I complained about not being able to breath when my daughter had still not taken her first breath. But I didn’t know. Nobody told me. (Which I do want to insert here, was a good thing. It was the professional thing, and it was the best thing. Had they told me, I would have probably tried to get off the table and they would have had a psychotic mess of a person on their hands. I want to reiterate the doctors and nurses did an amazing job and had complete control of the situation. I will forever be grateful and indebted to them for their actions and wisdom that day.)
After what seemed like forever, the anesthesiologist finally announced that she was stable enough to move on to the next step. He came over to me and explained that she was doing okay, but they needed to do some more work on her and wouldn’t be allowed to let us hold her yet. They were going to have to move her to a different room so the on-call pediatrician could put in an umbilical IV. At that point he called me over to the table and said, “You can touch her…” I hesitated, thinking, “I don’t want to screw anything up.” They already had a tube going down her throat with two people holding it in place to make sure she didn’t rip it out. The nurse encouraged me again: “Really…it’s okay…you can touch her.” I reached out and put my finger on her hand. I was so frightened by the thought of making things worse, but the nurses kept telling me I can touch my baby. I stood there with my finger in her hand while the anesthesiologist walked over to Randi.
They brought the anesthesiologist back over to me and sat me up a little bit, but I still could not see what was going on. The next thing I remember is that they told me they had to take my baby and do a little more work on her. “Wave goodbye,” somebody said. “Bye, baby,” I called out as I saw them push a small a table out the door. I never saw her. They brought Kris over next to me and the pediatrician stood next to us with a lot of sad in his eyes. He explained a bunch of stuff, which I don’t remember now, only that our girl had inhaled meconium while still in the womb. They told us that she was in the trauma room and that Kris could go with her, but I would need to go to recovery.
When I got to the recovery room, Kris was sitting there and said he wasn’t allowed into the trauma room yet. Eventually he left, and my mom came and sat with me. I think we were there for about an hour, although at this point I still had no concept of time. We had a really perky nurse who I liked because she looked like my dear friend, Sharon – but she irritated my mom because my mom isn’t a perky people type person. At some point during that hour my mom got to go and see the baby and they brought Kris back. It was then we were told that a team was coming from Sacramento to pick up our daughter and transport her to a hospital there. She would be leaving soon, but they would let me say goodbye. Immediately I looked at Kris and said, “Go with her.”
Again, this was a moment when I knew God was with us. A few weeks before, Kris and I had a conversation about what we would do if ever faced with this type of situation. It was a random conversation based on a story I saw on Facebook of another woman whose baby was moved to a different hospital. I now see that as a divine conversation, and I told Kris with absolute certainty that day, “If anything goes wrong, you go with the baby. The baby needs to know that one of us is with her at all times. I can fend for myself – I don’t care what goes on with me – go with our baby.”
So, in that moment, when this became our reality, we had a plan. Kris was going to Sacramento with our baby, and I would stay behind with my mom and get there as soon as possible. Then, they asked if I would like to see her. She was still in trauma, but I could spend a few minutes there before heading to my room.
As Randi said, I was told to wait in the Recovery Room for what seemed like forever. Eventually Randi was wheeled in. Shortly after that, they came and took me to the small Level 2 Nursery where they were preparing to insert the umbilical IV. There were two respiratory therapists who worked tirelessly to make sure the baby didn’t pull the tubes out of her throat (they did this nonstop for at least 2 hours…we are so thankful for them).It was then that it finally felt okay to go up and actually touch her, talk to her, feel a little bit of closeness to her. As I went back and forth between the baby and Randi, I kept wondering how long I could hold it together. At one point my dad called, and I remember sitting in the hall of the hospital holding back tears. Eventually, a nurse found us in the recovery room and let me know they had moved all our stuff to our post-op room and they would be moving Randi there soon. I decided to head back to the nursery, but on my way there I slipped into our new room. I shut the door behind me, then slipped into the bathroom and shut that door. As soon as the door clicked close, I collapsed into the corner of the bathroom and slid down the wall. I squatted in the corner, weeping. I cried out, “GOD, HOLD HER! Hold her! Let her know we love her, let her know she’s not alone! She’s been out of the womb for three hours and still has no idea if anyone in the world even cares about her! Just hold her, God! Please, hold her!” I’ve never cried so hard in my life.
I sat weeping for several minutes. When I got up, I washed my face and walked back down to the nursery and waited for them to bring Randi there.
When we entered the trauma room I was told that my baby was a fighter. While the doctors and nurses intubated her, she tried to bite them repeatedly. I had never been more proud. This girl was going to take after me. After a few minutes, they ushered us to my room.
The next bit was a whirlwind, but I remember being asked what her name was (to which I replied, I need to see her before I name her. The picture above was the only glimpse I had of my baby thus far – so basically I had seen blue cloths and tubes.) and I asked all the important info: time of birth, weight, height, are all fingers and toes accounted for?
10 fingers and 10 toes
They brought in two nurses from Sacramento who explained to us everything that had happened and would happen. They explained that they would be dropping our baby’s body temperature and “cooling” her for three days to minimize any secondary reactions to the trauma. I sent out Facebook requests asking for prayer, and Kris prepared to leave.
Let me say, never in my life have I felt so overwhelmed by the blessing of community. All day I got messages through Facebook and texts letting me know that we were being upheld in prayer and that people were standing with us. It was one of the best moments in my life in the midst of the darkest moment of my life. God gives us community for times such as these and the people who responded – whom I could not respond back to because there were simply too many – loved us as Jesus loves and were quite literally Jesus’ hands and feet to us. I will never be able to say thank you enough for all the people who simply said, “Praying for you,” because each time it was said I felt a little bit of strength, and I knew that, no matter what, we were storming the gates of heaven together on behalf of my baby girl.
Not only were people with us, but God was with us every step of the way. Sometimes in the midst of tragedy people become angry at God and wonder where he is. I understand that. For me, I chose to believe that God was with me and on my side. One of the ways he showed himself present that day is that he reminded me of a song that had been stuck in my head every day of the week leading up to the birth. It’s an old hymn called, “In Christ Alone.” The words I had been singing repeatedly were:
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
I should say though, it never really occurred to me that our baby could die. 1. I still wasn’t entirely sure what the heck was going on and I was on drugs. 2. God had told me this baby would be a gift to me and if you read part one of this story, God had given us a name for her which meant resurrection. Again, I believe he was surrounding me with HIS peace that I could not understand at the time, and this peace was allowing me to rest in his promises.
Eventually, they told me they would be bringing my baby into my room and I would be able to (actually) see her for the first time. They told me I could touch her hand, but that was it and not to rub it because it would disturb her.
All I remember saying is, “Hi baby. Hi.” Then later, “Her name is Anastasia.” After about 5 minutes they told me they had to take her, and then she was gone. And Kris was gone. And there I was. I quickly informed my nurse that I would be leaving in the morning and to get things prepared. I sort of watched the next World Cup game (suddenly it had lost all importance to me), hung out with my mom (who I had never been more thankful to have by my side in my entire life), I checked Facebook a lot and let the words and prayers wash over me, filled out Anastasia’s birth certificate (Why do they let people do this while on drugs? I was so sure I was going to spell her name wrong.), visited with my friends Jackie and David, napped and got up and began doing laps around the nurses’ station that evening. My mom told me that if I wanted out I would have to prove to them I was okay.
Here’s the thing about that day. It was a really sad day. I didn’t really want people to come visit me (and asked some not to) because what was there to say? I didn’t have a baby for anybody to “oooh” and “ahhh” over, and I didn’t have any answers. It was sad to eat my celebratory steak dinner without Kris. It was sad to get photos from Kris and see my baby girl and know that she was going through so much without me there. It was sad to go to sleep and hear the cries of other babies. It was sad.
When we learned that Anastasia would be taken to Sacramento, I began thinking about who could take me down there since we only had one car and Randi and her mom would need a car to drive down whenever they were released. Since it was a Wednesday, I had to think of someone who would be willing to leave work to come get me. Two people came to mind: Pastor Phil and Larry Root, two people I knew would drop anything to come help out if at all possible. Phil came and picked me up just in time. We arrived at the hospital 15 minutes after Anastasia, which was perfect since they had just gotten her into the room and were working to set her up. Phil stayed for about 15 minutes, but we quickly realized there wouldn’t be enough room for both of us to be there. He prayed with me, then left for home. It was then that I met the angel God gave me for that long first day – Jen. She talked me through everything, helped me understand what was happening, assured me that everything would be okay. She was an absolute God-send.
As soon as my mom found out what had happened that morning, she threw an extra shirt in her purse and headed straight for the airport. She arrived at the hospital about three hours after I did. We spent that day talking to Anastasia, praying for her, loving on her and sending updates and pictures to Randi. We watched as they set up an EEG (brain scan), ran a plethora of tests, hooked up multiple machines, and ran many wires, tubes and IVs into my daughter’s body.
That night, after being awake for 40 straight hours, I finally fell asleep in a hotel room we booked for the night. I slept about four hours before getting up and going back to the hospital to relieve my mom who had taken the night shift. I forced her to go to the hotel and get at least a couple hours of sleep before beginning what would be another long day.
Before I fell asleep that night I asked the nurse to wake me up at 5:00 am so I could start getting ready to go. She told me I would have to shower before they let me go, and I said no problem. When 5:00 came, I got up, got a shower (oh, the pain), put on clothes and began my laps around the nurses’ station. My goal was to lap them until they freed me. My doctor came to visit and gave me my release. My mom drove me home, and then the train hit. A wave of pain washed over me, and I could barely move. I laid on the couch and my mom did a couple loads of laundry, packed clothes for Kris, me and herself and then took us to Dutch Bros before heading to Sacramento.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the new hospital, I realized that I was having a hard time remembering things. Kris met me there and immediately took me up to see Anastasia. It was hard for me to look at this little baby lying on the table and think that that baby was my baby. Everything was so confusing. The nurses told us that we only had a couple of minutes because they had to put in a “picc line” and, since the environment had to be sterile, we would have to leave.
I can’t even begin to tell you what a relief it was to finally have Randi there. My mom and the nurses did a great job of being there and helping me and Anastasia get through the day, but there was absolutely no replacement for having Randi there with me as we walked this journey together as a family.
Since this would take a couple of hours, we headed to Olive Garden with our moms. During dinner I remained pretty quiet because I was feeling more and more confused. I couldn’t remember where we were. One moment I was thinking we were in our home town. Then I would think we were in the town of our first hospital. Then I would look at our moms and think we were in Texas or Michigan, and, finally, I would remind myself that we were in Sacramento. It was a strange and sad dinner. We were out to eat and should have been celebrating but there was no new baby with us. We also all had our cell phones out and turned on (which would become the norm over the next couple of weeks) in case the NICU called with emergency news.
The waitress brought our food and messed up Kris’ order. He sent it back and my mom asked if we could take the wrong order home because we were staying at the hospital. She explained the situation and the waitress said she would see what she could do. She never gave us the extra food. She just returned it to the kitchen to be thrown away. We were all pretty mad about this. It seems trivial, but we needed something to let our anger out on. Not getting an extra dinner from Olive Garden seemed like a pretty good outlet. We ordered a piece of chocolate cake to go and when the waitress brought it over (in a box) she dropped it on the floor. She apologized, picked up the box (which had not opened), put it on a tray to be taken back to the kitchen and told us she would go and get us a new piece. She returned with the new piece and since we had already paid our bill we stood up, took our food and swiped the second piece of chocolate cake off the tray as we headed out the door. Yes, the point of this story is that we stole chocolate cake (that would have been thrown away or eaten by our waitress with
her our extra dinner) from Olive Garden. Drugs, people. I was on drugs. And, apparently family tragedy turns us all into a bunch of hooligans. So we committed a crime. A cake crime. In some weird way that helped a little bit. It was the only thing we could control.
Kris and I returned to hospital so I could say goodnight to our sweet Anastasia – he would be staying part of the night with her and then our moms would take turns sitting with her as well. Everybody was forcing me to sleep and told me I could not participate on night shift watch. My biggest fear at night was that she would feel alone. I wanted somebody with her 24/7. (At this point we were not allowed to hold her, she had yet to be held, and we did not know when we would be able to do so.) On our way into her room (which she shared with three other babies the first night and many more throughout her time there) we stopped at the nurses’ station and asked if we could have a second hospital parking pass. The nurses told us they were only allowed to give one parking pass per family. We slipped into her room, which was less like a hospital room and more like another section of the large gigantic NICU with huge glass windows so everybody could see everything that was happening at all times. I stood in front of Anastasia’s bed and began to sob. I told her that I loved her and that I would be back first thing in the morning.
One of the rules of the NICU is that you are not supposed to look at anybody else. Since there is no privacy, the only privacy given is through the respect of the other people. However, as I stood there and cried, I saw all the people watching me. That’s when a nurse slipped in and handed me a second parking pass. They stole their own chocolate cake that night… broke the rules. In that moment, when none of us had control of anything, it was the only thing they could tangibly do.