One of the hardest parts about moving on from the hospital experience is moving on from the reality that life hung in the balance every single day we were in that hospital. With a placenta abruption time is of the essence, and because I had a partial abruption I was always hovering over the reality of a full abruption happening at any moment. For context, a full abruption means almost certain death for the mother and the baby in a matter of minutes. A full abruption gives no warning until it is too late, and then you are on the clock to save mom and baby. That is where we lived for three weeks, death crouching at our door. Every day we begged God not to let it walk right through to take Ben and me.
There was another aspect of death that hovered over us. Labor and delivery is largely a happy place for most people. But when it’s not happy, it’s awful. We lived in the high-risk unit, where women are routinely rushed off to deliver babies far too soon or far too sick to enter the world. We walked the halls of labor and delivery three times a day. We were not immune to the reality of death even in a place that welcomes such abundant life. And for those who know our story, this wasn’t our first time in these halls. All of our pregnancies have led us to this point, with one last one to capstone a multi-year struggle with life and death.
These are just some of my reflections that I wrote while in the hospital. I’ve yet to write something fresh since leaving. Maybe soon, we shall see. They are raw, but I pray they shed light on the reality of life in the high-risk unit, but also life when labor goes horribly wrong
In our first few times walking the halls three times a day [for exercise to prevent blood clots] we saw a white dove on the door of one of the labor and delivery rooms. It took us a few days to ask our nurse what the dove meant, but we wondered if it meant something bad had happened. Every room where a woman is in labor is filled with hope and expectation. Some of the doors are decorated with baby announcements, simply waiting for the final details of the birth to be filled in. In an attempt to mask the pain that the “dove rooms” carry, a white dove softens the blow. But we knew. Death was looming there.
If your only experience of the labor and delivery unit is the two days you spend post-partum, or the happy visits to friends who have recently had a child, the doves can seem like a difficult blow. So can the ante-partum unit, where we lived. Ante-partum is filled with women who are hoping to stay pregnant a little longer, and nurses who do their best to ensure that happens. Daily monitoring. Blood draws. Invasive questions. Usually pregnant women can’t wait to be un-pregnant. But in ante-partum, every day counts. Every day means greater health for your baby. Until it doesn’t.
Which is why the white doves are so terrifying for a mom in ante-partum. We have lost the wonder of pregnancy. We know that things can go tragically wrong in an instant. While life might be living inside us right now, we know that at any moment our bodies can give up life and produce death instead. And we don’t want the white doves to be part of our story.
Life and death hang in the balance here, yet it’s so often missed in the joy that comes with an ordinary pregnancy. Ante-partum changes you. It reminds you that life is fragile. It reminds you that there really is nothing you can control about pregnancy. You are simply a host for a precious life that you so desperately want to come out screaming, not silent.
This is where I live every day, somewhere between life and death, hope and despair. Every walk throughout the unit threatens to remind me that the white doves are real, and death is no respecter of persons. It fills me with dread.
Lord, please don’t let this be us, I pray.
In God’s mercy, the white doves weren’t part of our story. On June 11 (4 weeks early), after a bad heart rate reading on the monitor (which meant the placenta wasn’t doing its job anymore), we were taken in to the operating room for one final delivery. Benjamin John Reissig came out crying. He made noise. He was alive. And so was I.
I got to take my baby home after six days in the NICU. But many, many women do not. I’ll never forget them. Or the doves.