It’s been a month now. I haven’t done much writing other than my morning pages. My practice of handwriting three pages as soon as I get out of bed and have my first cup of tea brewed is more therapy than creativity; a brain flow without any deep thinking, editing or re-reading with a critical eye. I let my thoughts and feelings fly directly from mind to pen onto paper. This daily ritual was my saving grace as I grieved for my Nana … pages of tear-stained anguish that eventually became sweet memories.
But for the past four weeks, I’ve purposely not allowed myself to write about the birth of my granddaughter, afraid to give in to the emotions that I can feel creeping around my heart when I revisit the almost tragic event. Because I am keeping those emotions blocked, it has blocked my desire and inspiration for all writing. I can feel the beginning of the slippery slide into depression. And now I’m at a Writer’s Retreat with the opportunity to set and crush goals and I just can’t. It’s never happened to me before; I have ideas but the words won’t come together into coherent sentences.
So I break away from the timed group challenges and sharing/feedback session to sit on the deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I attempt to tease my mind into weaving a story for the next Shorts submission or create a recipe for my blog. Nothing. With a deep sigh I give up. I close the computer screen and gaze at the waves. The vastness of the gray-blue water stretching to the horizon makes me feel tiny and insignificant. A wave of emotions roll over me as the helplessness I felt in the room where my daughter almost bled out returns.
This time I let my mind drift back to the day of what should have been a routine delivery of my first granddaughter, just like the arrivals of my two grandsons. The C-Section wasn’t an emergency but wasn’t planned in advance either. It happened after the baby’s heart rate began to drop as labor progressed. No one was concerned until the flow of blood didn’t slow as usual following what was a fairly routine surgery.
As I held that precious hours-old baby girl in my arms in the recovery room, a nurse changed the soaked bedding and a pool of my child’s blood poured off the bed and onto the floor, inches from my feet. I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of that bright red puddle creeping towards me, the concerned sound of the hushed doctor’s voices, my son-in-law’s hand clutching mine and the realization that my daughter might die.
Blood was ordered to replace what she was losing and she was prepped for emergency surgery and a possible hysterectomy as the doctors worked to figure out why she was hemorrhaging. Everything happened so quickly and suddenly I was sitting on a bed in the maternity ward clutching my granddaughter, praying like I have never prayed before in my life.
The surgery was a success and the bleeding, caused by a ruptured artery in her abdomen, was stopped. But having lost all of her own blood twice over, she was far from out of the woods yet. Those first days in hospital are a blur … my son-in-law keeping a bedside vigil next to his wife in the intensive care unit, my husband and I caring for the baby and taking her down to nurse with her mama every three hours. The feedings were to keep my daughter’s spirits up and stimulate her milk production, but after 15 minutes she was visibly exhausted from the effort. We would return to the quiet room in maternity to feed the hungry little girl a bottle and I would cry. My daughter is a breast-feeding warrior and we made it a point to not mention the formula and upset her. She was weak from the nine blood transfusions and we all wanted her pure focus to be on healing.
Most difficult of all was not allowing my fear to show when I saw my daughter hooked up to machines with an angel donor’s blood dripping into her veins. Her usual tan was replaced with a ghostly pallor and she was heavily bloated from the fluids and medications pumping into her body. Still, beneath her distress I saw the chubby little toddler holding her arms out for a hug, confident swim-team adolescent, crazy teenager and most beautiful bride in the world … My Child. I remembered her own birth and the overwhelming joy when I snuggled her for the first time. I never questioned God or my faith during this time. It was in his hands and I simply went through the motions from hour to hour, praying for strength and grace and clinging to the baby and my husband.
After two days her blood count stabilized and she was transferred from ICU to the maternity ward, finally able to fully embrace her newborn daughter for the first time since delivery. Her sons came to meet their new sister and she grew stronger with every hour. Two days later, we escorted her home to begin life as a family of five. And we resumed our own life without much ado.
A month later, it’s hitting me now. Hard. I’m almost nauseous with the thought of “what if?” She is my first-born, my pride and joy, mother of my three favorite people in the entire world and the sunshine in my life. What if she had died? Even as I write this, I feel an aching, fathomless fear creep from my belly, surround my heart and squeeze. Losing my beloved Nana at 98 was heartbreaking; it is impossible to comprehend losing my 31-year-old daughter. I should die decades before her life is over because that’s the proper course of life. I can now begin to understand, in a very small way, how my friends who have lost children feel.
The tears flow as I listen to the undulation of the waves. They hit the shore with a soft roar and then retreat back, over and over. I let my mind rest, close my eyes and breath in deeply and simply be in the moment. I’m allowing myself to finally acknowledge the after-effects of the absolute terror and powerlessness I felt in being unable to protect and care for my beloved child.
She didn’t die. She is already making a full recovery quicker than her doctors expected. She will see her daughter’s first steps, watch her boys grow into men and dance with proud joy at her children’s Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and weddings. Those kids will also break her heart as teenagers and then become her best friends as adults. She’ll be a Nana someday and discover the special, unconditional love that only exists between children and their grandparents such as I had with my own Nana and now have with my three Grands.
I’m ready now. I open the computer to put into words those horrible days where my child wavered between life and death and I had no idea how I would survive without her.
I pray that she continues to eat up life in big bites and also savors every delicious moment of being a mother. May she never experience the trauma of her children being in mortal danger and may she always, always know how very much she is loved by her own mother.
Written in September 2018 at the To Live & Write in Alameda’s “Write to the Waves” retreat at Sea Ranch in Northern California. I submitted it for the October “Alameda Shorts” with the theme of “Creep” but decided to publish here instead of reading aloud, if chosen. I can’t even begin to believe that I would be able to get through it without becoming a blubbering mess.
Throughout my daughter’s entire stay at Marin General Hospital, every single person that we came in contact with went above and beyond to ensure that my daughter and granddaughter were treated with the absolute highest quality of care and true concern. They were so very kind to my son-in-law, husband and me and we will be forever grateful for everything they did for all us.
One month after this traumatic experience, the Wood Family is home and bonding as if nothing ever happened. The boys go to school, gymnastics class and soccer games, make a mess in their playroom, and adore their new baby sister. Little Miss Ellie is a thriving, happy, content bundle of joy. Mama is taking it slow and recovering well and Daddy is the rock that holds them all together. My daughter’s breast milk is in such abundance that she has over 100 ounces frozen and will soon donate it to a milk bank. Just as donors gave blood for her to live, so will she contribute to another family in need.
I am incredibly Blessed.