This is part five of my mini-series “Welcome to Motherhood.” Miss the beginning? Start here.

NICU team and baby“We’d like to talk with you about Elli. Let’s go somewhere we can sit down and speak privately.” He turned and beckoned us to follow. I willed my legs to move.

Just past the front desk, he opened a door and motioned us into a little library. Scott and I sank onto a hard hospital couch. The doctor pulled up a chair directly in front of us. The chaplain sat to the side, looking as wide-eyed and terrified as I felt. She isn’t going to be a bit of help.

“Elli had a good night last night after you left. Her morning labs came back looking good, as well. But about an hour after those tests came back, she crashed. Her heart stopped beating, and it took 25-30 minutes for us to figure out what has gone wrong and get her heart to restart. Her calcium level dropped faster than I’ve ever seen in my entire career.”

I envisioned shock paddles on my baby. “Did you shock her?”

“No, that wouldn’t help this situation,” he replied. “Her heart is beating now, but we had to put a tube in to help her breathe. She has many more medications keeping her going right now. You need to understand. Her heart valve is so leaky that even though we did chest compressions on her, we have no idea if we effectively circulated blood to her brain.”

A soft tap sounded at the door.

The doctor called, “Come in.”

It was our pastor, and as relief flooded I wondered if angels had sent him. Never was there a more welcome face than his.

“This is our pastor, Russ,” Scott said. The chaplain scurried out and Russ took her seat.

Dr. Schwartz continued. “The lack of oxygen was a big insult to her body. All of her organs have been shocked and aren’t functioning well. She may have permanent brain damage. This in addition to her very complicated heart defects. Correcting them will require a long and risky surgery that she cannot handle right now.”

He paused. I needed the moment to let the situation sink in a bit.

“I wish I could say, ‘but the good news is ___’, but I can’t.”

This was no silent shattering of the night before. Guttural sobs broke me open, and I bled tears. Scott held me and I buried my face in his shirt while he sobbed into my hair. I clawed through the words we had heard, desperate for a thread, a shard, a grain of hope. He had given us none.

I moaned, whether out loud or in my spirit I do not know. “My baby. My baby. I want my baby.”

After the flood slowed and we quieted, our pastor prayed with us. Scott prayed too. I had no words but “Oh God, help. My baby.”

Dr. Schwartz waited. After a time, he asked if we had any questions.

“What has to happen for her to be able to have surgery?”

He spoke carefully, made no promises. “Her organs need to be healthy again. Kidney and liver function, digestive system, everything needs to be strong. The kind of surgery she will need will hit them hard, like today did. We’ll need to see her stable for a while before she’ll be a surgery candidate.”

We sat with those words, afraid to hope.

I choked out, “I want to see her. Can we see her?”

Scott recoiled. “I can’t, Joy. I don’t want my last memory of her to be like this, all hooked up to tubes and wires.”

I understood, I did. But all I could think of was her dying surrounded by strangers. I didn’t care what she looked like, I wanted to be with her. I should be with her. I was her mother. That much I knew. Could I go without Scott? Should I? I looked at my hands, gripped and twisted the half-size facial tissue someone handed me at some point I couldn’t remember. It was rough and chafed my skin like the third day of a bad cold. I didn’t think I could leave him behind, but I didn’t want to leave her alone either.

Read Part Six here.

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Life: unmasked buttonI wasn’t sure if I would include the linky this week, in the middle of this series, but then I realized that writing our story has been one big unmasking. Did you write anything unmasked and real this week (read more about the link-up here)? Link your post here (the direct link to the post, not the general link to your blog), and then please take time to visit a few other writers. Let them know you appreciate their willingness to take down the mask and reveal the messy beauty of real life.