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When the ground falls away

April 18th, 2010 at 10:52 PM

I am currently reading Plan B (about half done now) and several times I have been reminded of my greatest 'Plan B Moment'. Before I write on that moment, let me begin by stating that my wife and I know the pain and loss associated with miscarriage. 4 times we have grieved with each other over the loss of a pregnancy - 3 times in an office where a heart beat could not be found on the ultrasound and the fourth time in an emergency room. On that fourth occasion I had carried my wife across the emergency room threshold as blood poured out of my her, over me, and onto the floor. It was our first pregnancy that 'prepared' us for those following miscarriages. My wife and I had married young, at the age of 19 to be exact. We were never serious about birth control following during our first years of marriage, so it was no surprise that we became pregnant during the second year. It was pretty exciting news - we were going to be parents. She wished for a little girl and I was happy for either sex so I went along with her and wished for a little girl. We were the typical giddy newly-expecting-parents who went out and bought the baby books on what to expect during pregnancy and what names to pick. We started eating differently, doing things differently, and dreaming differently. 4 months into the pregnancy my wife had the typical ultrasound and was so excited to find out that we were having a little girl that she stopped by my place of work to let me know. We could officially tie the correct gender dreams to our future daughter. I envisioned the blond pigtails and the freckled nose that would scrunch up in the sunlight. Tea parties attended by mom, dad, and teddy. Walks in the park to look for leaves and catch flutterby's. I dreamed of my daughter. That was on December 21, 1992. Then we got the call to stop by the doctor's office on December 23rd because they needed to discuss results from the ultrasound. My wife was sure that meant something was wrong and I tried to reassure her that it was just typical medical practice to have the doctor review the ultrasound and schedule a follow-up. I remember being ushered into the doctor's office and all of us taking a seat. She, the doctor, didn't take any time in telling us that our fetus was non-viable and that we should consider an abortion as soon as possible as we were fast approaching the deadline to have one done in our state. Just like that. Matter of fact. No softening.... just the shattering of a dream. My world fell out from under me in that moment. I got up and left the doctor and my wife sitting in the office and almost ran to the parking lot so that I could weep. I was almost 22 years old and for the first time in my life I was facing something that I could not control... change.. or manipulate. Life was different that night at home. Though the baby that my wife carried was still a living entity, we had started thinking of it as an 'it'. The baby books were forgotten, the dreams shattered, and joy was gone. Instead we had an awful decision to weigh... and so many questions. How do you ask a young couple to choose to take the life of their first baby? Why had this happened to us? What were we supposed to do? In the days that followed, we had second, third, and even fourth opinions from genetic counselors and neurosurgeons. We talked at length with our families seeking counsel and comfort... and everything kept pointing us back to that awful decision. I remember sitting in the tiny bathroom of our upper floor duplex with my wife and just telling her that I couldn't live with the questions that would follow me the rest of my life if we had the abortion. It would be easier for me to deal with the results of having a baby that could not survive than to make the decision for it. My wife struggled with going through a delivery of that manner. Discussions with the docs had come to the point where they were talking about going out of state to have the abortion done because my wife and I could not come to a quick decision. If we had the abortion done, then the matter would be over and we could move on with our grieving process. If, however, we did not go through with the abortion, then we had 5 months of waiting for the inevitable. Either decision seemed to be excruciating. Somewhere in the three weeks following the ultrasound results, my wife and I came to a mutual agreement that we would wait it out.. that we couldn't live with the questions - that we couldn't just lose all hope even though the doctors had given us none. On January 19th, a week shy of our 5th month, my wife had a routine 'high-risk' pregnancy check up and we were given more bad news. She had lost her mucus plug, was dilated to 4 cms and the amniotic bag was prolapsed (coming out) through the cervix. She was immediately admitted to the hospital and given magnesium-sulfate to stop the labor. Oh, and she was turned upside down in hopes that gravity would also help with the amniotic prolapse. For those of you that are not aware, magnesium-sulfate can cause extreme nausea. I became the bucket holder for my poor wife who had to puke upside down. That was Tuesday morning. Things would basically remain in this manner until Saturday. On Saturday, the 23rd of January, 1993, my wife's water broke. Our daughter was 5 month's along in gestation, she had a large hole in her back which is referred to generically as Spina Bifida (hers was very severe and has a much longer scientific name), she was also suffering from hydrocephalus which is secondary to the Spina Bifida. The only hope that could be given to this non-viable fetus was an emergency c-section and immediate surgery which would require her to be transported to a nearby Children's Hospital that was equipped for such procedures. I was allowed to sit by my wife's head as the doctor's cut into her abdomen and briskly pulled parts of her out of the way in order to reach the uterus. A quick cut by deft surgical hands and my daughter was pulled out of my wife's stomach. The first thing I saw was a little hand reaching toward heaven. There was no sound because she was too small to breathe on her own. She weighed 1 pound and 8 ounces. I only saw her for those few brief seconds as they rushed her out of the room and worked to stabilize her for transport to Childrens. It would take the docs nearly 2 hours to get her stabilized. Once she was though, they wheeled her incubator up to my wife and I so that we could say hello and good bye. She was so small. My wife's gentle hand went into the incubator (I can't tell you how much my wife went through to be awake for that moment lying in her own bed) and stroked our daughter's back. I put my hand into the incubator but I wasn't sure how I could touch her. My finger was bigger than her arm. Finally, I put the end of my pinkie into the palm of her hand and her tiny fingers wrapped around the tip of my finger and squeezed so hard. Ah... but my heart melted in that moment. And we still didn't know if she would survive the day. I had to follow the ambulance from one hospital to the other as my wife stayed behind to recupe from the c-section. When we arrived at Children's, the surgical team there took me into a room and sat me down. More bad news. They explained that if they were just dealing with prematurity they could manage that. Or if they were just dealing with the surgery, that would be manageable. But having both was not a likely scenario for survival. I sat in a waiting room from 4pm on Saturday to 6am on Sunday morning, trying to figure out how I would tell my wife that our daughter had passed while she was lay in a different hospital. I was sick, I was tired, I was hurting, I was scared. And so was my wife... and now we were separated during this very trying ordeal. I remember the doctor walking out at 6am on Sunday morning shaking his head. My stomach dropped because I figured that meant our daughter had not made it through the surgery. Instead, he was befuddled at how she had been able to survive and his words to me were, "What a trouper." That non-viable fetus has a name today. We call her Lauren - a name that we had picked from a baby book before it had been forgotten during that long Christmas season. She is paralyzed from the chest down and has undergone nearly 50 surgeries and many close calls since those first moments of life. On her next birthday she will be 18 years old and, God willing, a couple months later she will graduate high school. Time and again, God has reminded our family of Plan B's through circumstances that surround both of our children - (we were fortunate to have a second live birth at full gestation and we named that one Brianna :) ) I think that God has always had a plan A for us and what we consider to be plan B's are just His way of pointing us back to A. God Bless

Tony York


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