- March 17, 2017
I tried desperately to dry the river of tears trickling from the corner of my wife’s eyes as she lay on the operating table. But they won’t stop, and even when I thought I had gotten them all, I still could see their trail.
It was Oct. 9, 2016. And up until this moment, it was the worst day of our lives.
Our baby girl — the surprise pregnancy — wasn’t supposed to be born until December. Then, after Jess was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia and hospitalized in early September, we were praying we could make it to Nov. 8. But on this day — 29-and-one-half weeks into the pregnancy — the nurses couldn’t find our girl’s heartbeat. And a subsequent ultrasound confirmed our greatest fear: She was in distress.
I didn’t have any words for this situation. I kept telling my wife it would be OK. But even as the words came out, they didn’t sound sincere. I closed my eyes — wondering why this all was happening to us. Petrified by what was going on on the other side of the curtain.
Then, breaking through all the beeps and bops of the machines, I heard a collective gasp, followed by the tiniest cry I had ever heard in my life.
She is so beautiful! I heard someone say.
I’m quite sure anyone who works in labor and delivery is taught to say that upon birth. In fact, I suspect it’s even a requirement of the job. But in this case, it wasn’t a lie.
The doctor held our daughter up so we could see. She was the most beautiful person I had seen since the birth of our other daughter, Aria, six years ago.
Calliope Quinn Eng was born at 8:37 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. Ten-and-one-half weeks premature, she weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces and was 15 inches long.
Her ear is the size of my thumbnail, and her tiny head barely the size of an orange. However, don’t mistake tiny for weak. Our Miss Calliope may be small, but she is proving to be quite mighty.
YEP, ANOTHER KID!
After our son Lyric’s birth in 2008 and then Aria’s in 2010, our family had two miscarriages. Then after that, not so much as a scare.
I thought our family was complete with two kids. For years, Jess wanted another. But as the years passed, she, too, settled in to the idea that we were to be a two-child family.
It was a Monday — May 2. As we were getting ready that morning, my wife had a certain glow about her. She had been feeling sick for the past few days, too, but we didn’t think much of it. The whole family seemed to have a bug, so we thought it was just making its way through the house.
Before picking up the kids from school that afternoon, I pulled into a Walgreens.
Let’s just get a test, I said. So we can rule it out.
All the color drained from Jess’ face as she stared at the plus sign. Her hands were shaking. I grabbed hold of her, telling her it would be OK — and sincerely believing it. I looked up and saw us in the bathroom mirror.
Can we do this? Are we ready for this?
Silly questions — and truly a waste of time. Of course, we can do this. And of course, we’re not ready for this. There’s nothing that can prepare you for such an awesome responsibility. But most parents also know this: Nothing can come close to the immense joy that comes from the opportunity to try, either.
A few days later, after we had confirmed the test results with Jess’ doctors, we sat Lyric and Aria down to tell them. We had no idea how they would react. Would they be upset? Jealous? Hurt? They never asked for another sibling.
At first, Lyric looked like he was about to cry. Then, in an instant, his eyes lit up, and a smile spread across his face.
“Oh that’s good — that’ll be another kid to play with,” Lyric said.
Taking her brother’s lead, Aria grinned, too.
“Yep, another kid!” she said.
WORLD TURNED SIDEWAYS
Everything had progressed normally for the first 23 weeks of the pregnancy. Jess’ doctors had suspected she could develop pre-eclampsia — a potentially life-threatening condition characterized by extremely high blood pressure. We monitored her blood pressure twice daily — and had instructions to go to the ER if her systolic pressure ever got above 160 — but that really was all we could do.
It was Tuesday, Sept. 6. I had just finished my night run and was showering, when Jess came into the bathroom with panic painted on her face.
My blood pressure — it’s in the 170s, she said.
We sat her down. Waited 10 minutes. Took it again. It was worse. I woke Lyric and Aria, and the four of us piled into the car.
In those first few hours at the hospital that night, I thought they would prescribe some medicine and send us home.
Boy, was I naïve.
Jess was admitted that night. And for the next five weeks, she remained there, subjected to seemingly endless poking, prodding and monitoring. I morphed into Mr. Mom — attempting to keep our family and home somewhat in order as our world turned sideways.
LIKE THE SUN JUST FELL OUT OF THE SKY
Jess’ systolic pressure had spiked to more than 180 the afternoon of Oct. 9. That, alone, was alarming enough. But then, when the nurses couldn’t find our baby’s heartbeat, a flurry of personnel descended on my wife’s room. In minutes, they had whisked her downstairs and into an operating room.
They were prepping to do the C-section right then and there. But finally, one of the doctors was able to find our baby’s heartbeat — enough to take a breath.
Jess borrowed the midwife’s phone to call me. By the time I arrived, Jess had been moved into a room near the operating room. The distorted scratch of our baby’s heartbeat pulsed from the monitor speaker. After five weeks, we both had gotten pretty good at analyzing that thing. I kept seeing it dip. First into the 130s, then 120s, then lower.
After a few minutes, an ultrasound technician arrived to perform a biophysical profile test. We immediately saw her heart beating — in the 120s at this point — but there was no movement. No kicks. No turning. Not even an opening of a hand.
The tech tried — for 40 minutes — to get movement. After a while, I couldn’t watch. I held onto my wife’s arm and tried to bury my face in the plastic railing of her hospital bed.
One of the residents came in to speak with us. We believe it is safer to deliver now, she said. That’s what we recommend.
I stood up and — like a living cliché — began to pace. I could have sworn that, just a minute ago, it was daytime. But outside, it was completely black — like the sun just fell out of the sky.
YOU’RE JUST LIKE A DREAM
There is one lonely chair that sits at the entrance to the operating rooms on the second floor at Winnie Palmer. It’s where they make all the dads sit while the anesthesiologists prep the moms for C-sections. I collapsed into it; my body covered in a yellow gown.
When the nurse finally came to retrieve me, she politely told me I had my mask on upside-down and then proceeded to fix it for me. As we entered the operating room, I saw my wife lying there, tears carving rivers into her face.
It’s going to be OK, I repeated. Over and over.
And then we heard that cry. They called me over, and I — wobbly knees and all — somehow made it over to meet our new daughter. They stamped her footprints on my gown and grabbed my phone to take some photos for me.
I ran back to my wife.
She’s beautiful! She’s beautiful! She’s tiny, but she’s here! She’s here, Jess! It’s going to be OK!
In that moment, I heard the first chords of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” begin to play in the operating room.
Spinning on that dizzy edge
I kissed her face and kissed her head
And dreamed of all the different ways I had
To make her glow
TINY, MIGHTY, MUNCHKIN MIRACLE
Six days later, Calliope is nuzzling her face into my chest. It’s our first kangaroo session — a time for preemies to get used to their parents’ skin, smell and touch. We’re alone, except for the plethora of wires tethering her to machines.
We have a nice chat. I won’t share the details — that will stay between her and me.
But in these precious moments, I am fully aware I am holding on to a miracle. She may have been an unexpected surprise, but these experiences have strengthened our entire family in ways I still have yet to realize.
And as for Calliope, all the NICU nurses say she is progressing just fine. There are plenty of benchmarks she will have to meet before we can bring her home, but we know she is receiving incredible care at Winnie Palmer. We’ll visit every day and take our hourlong kangaroo sessions when we can.
We know our three kids will be the most important contributions we will make to this world. We are blessed with their presence, with the opportunity to raise them.
And as always, we’ll keep praying. Praying for our tiny, mighty, munchkin miracle.