Hearts and Stars: A Blessing and a Curse

The first time I saw Jennifer pregnant was five days before Jane was born.  It was September 26, 2009, Grandparent’s Day in the UK.  That day was the first time I met Ryan, Jane’s father, too.

Jennifer was scheduled to have a Caesarean on October 1.  On that day the procedure happened quickly.  When I had walked into the delivery area I heard a faint cry of a newborn.  Instinctively, I knew it was Jane and not someone else’s baby.  I wondered why her cry didn’t sound stronger, more robust.  I had made my way towards the crying baby.  A nurse stood nearby and confirmed it was Jane.  Her skin was perfect — plump, pink.  Her hair was dark brown just like Jennifer’s when she was a baby.  I wanted to hold her, kiss her.  I watched the nurse as she listened to Jane’s chest.  Then, I noticed Jane’s feet were blue.

APGAR.  Suddenly, I had a flashback as an occupational therapy (OT) student when I studied medical terms with several classmates.  AppearanceRespiratory.  I had observed those two qualities of Jane which made me feel uncomfortable, almost sick.

Why are Jane’s feet blue?  Why is her cry weak?

It’s a blessing and a curse to be an occupational therapist, especially when a loved one is unwell.

After I introduced myself to the nurse I pointed out my observations and asked her why, too.  She said she wasn’t sure why Jane’s feet were blue or why her cry wasn’t louder.  The nurse said most likely Jane would stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) overnight for further observations.

A painful, hollow feeling grew from deep inside.  I wanted to hold Jane, but I couldn’t.  I went to see Jennifer instead and put on a poker face.  If I was wrong about my gut feelings the last thing I wanted to do was share them with Jennifer and upset her.

Jane was transferred to another NICU and was discharged home October 9.  She was diagnosed with the following:

Tricuspid Atresia

Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)

Transposition of the great arteries (TGA)

Basically, she was born with only three valves instead of four and a hole in her heart.  Her heart is on the right side of her chest, too.  She would need to undergo open-heart surgery at one month old, six months old, and three years old.

In the last hour of my last day in San Diego, it was quiet in the living room of Jennifer and Ryan’s apartment.  Jennifer fed Jane and gave her some medication.  Moments later she vomited several times.  Jennifer ran to the kitchen and held Jane over the sink.  I followed behind, helpless, clueless on what to do.  I placed my hand on Jennifer’s back and rubbed it while I tried not to make a sound as I cried.  Jennifer and Jane returned to the living room.  I stood in the kitchen, watched the two of them.

“Don’t you want to hold Jane?” Jennifer asked.

“I’m afraid if I do I won’t be able to put her down.”

On the flight to London it felt as though someone squeezed my heart with every mile that separated me from my family.

By the time I walked through the door in my flat in Birmingham, about 24 hours had passed since I said good-bye to Jennifer and Jane.  I was good for nothing, too exhausted to sleep, too exhausted to do anything.  I turned on the television; a nature program about elephants was in progress.  The narrator described the long, dangerous trek the herd must endure, oftentimes at the expense of one of their lives.  The camera then focussed on a baby elephant who was stuck in the mud.  Its mom, a first time mother, struggled to extract her baby from the wet dirt.

Nature programs have a way of showing the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I shook my head, enraged.  Do not let that baby die!  I can’t handle it.  Not tonight.  Let that baby live for God’s sake.

I watched as the mother elephant tried unsuccessfully to remove her baby from the mud.  Then the grandmother elephant went over to the baby, put her trunk around its body, and in one fell swoop she removed it from a certain slow death.

Curled up on the settee in front of the television it felt as though I cried enough tears to fill up the Atlantic Ocean.

This picture of Jane was taken after she threw up her meds, just before I left for the airport.

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