I began one of the most challenging, yet rewarding jobs that anyone can have. Eleven years ago, today...I became a mother.
We knew that The One I Miss So Terribly would have to fight to live. We found out in my 18th week of pregnancy that he had a birth defect called Gastroschisis. His abdominal wall had not completely closed during development and his intestines developed on the outside of his body. We were told that when he was born...they would take him immediately to surgery and they would simply slip his intestines back in through the existing hole, then close him up. It was supposed to be simple...pretty cut and dry, and he would be left with only a small scar. It would turn out not to be anywhere near that easy!
I was being closely monitored by a Perinatologist and my C-Section was scheduled for the 4th of February, roughly 3 weeks before his due date. In early November of 1997, I had a dream. I dreamed that he would be born before Christmas. I don't recall the dream, or the details of it...I just remember telling The One the next day, that we had to get ready because the baby was coming early. I even told my family and insisted on my shower being held in November before Thanksgiving.
On December 15, I started having contractions. The doctors said I wasn't in labor, that it was just Braxton Hicks contractions...but, I knew. As I stated before, a mother knows! I kept contracting and they would try to send me to the regular floor of the hospital, but my contractions would pick up, so they would move me back down to Labor and Delivery. They had me on ridiculous doses of Magnesium to stop the contractions...the baby wasn't coming, but my uterus was pissed off! Three days later they finally decided to do an amnio to see what was going on. When the fluid was drawn...the room fell silent. The fluid was black...it was bile...the baby had been vomiting in-utero.
Things began moving quickly...everything was a blur. About an hour later...I was in the operating room. I was groggy from all the drugs and remember the room spinning and desperately looking for The One...I was 20 years old and I was terrified! When Joey was born, the doctors knew it was bad immediately. His exposed small intestine was black and necrotic. His intestines had twisted, cutting of the blood supply, and had died. I didn't even get to see him when he was born...they immediately whisked him away to the NICU. They would be rushing him straight to surgery, to see just how much of his small intestine was gone. It didn't look good...it looked like a significant portion had died. Your small intestine works to absorb nutrients from the food you eat. Without it, you cannot maintain adequate nutrition and you cannot survive.
They rushed me into the NICU to see my baby before he went into surgery...they wanted me to see him at least once in case something happened behind those double doors. When I saw him, I didn't see the tubes, or wires, or leads...I didn't see the bandaged mass on his belly. I saw my boy...my perfect baby boy. A part of me and a part of The One. He was beautiful...all 4 pounds, 10.5 ounces and 18 inches of him! He arrived EXACTLY seven days before Christmas on December 18th...a mother always knows!
They took him away and we waited. I was being moved from recovery to my room on the postpartum floor, so the time flew by. The hours seemed like minutes and the surgeon returned to my room. I could see it on his face. The news wasn't good. Joey had lost 90% of his small intestine. He could possibly survive with 40%...but, definitely not with only 10% of his small bowel. I remember the surgeon saying that the GI docs didn't want him to finish the surgery. The GI docs told the surgeon, "When you saw how much was gone, you should have just sewn him up and said there was nothing we could do. This baby doesn't stand a chance." I didn't understand that kind of talk. He was MY baby...my perfect baby boy...and he would fight. And put up a good fight, he did!
You all know how this story ends. Although it's not the happy ending we all desperately desired...I wouldn't change a bit of it. I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't experienced this great loss. I treasure these memories. I was fortunate enough to learn at 20 years old lessons that some people never learn in a lifetime. You heard me right...I'm lucky...I gained perspective, depth, meaning, understanding and compassion.
This time of year is extremely special to me. It represents and reminds me of so much about my firstborn and about life. While we were cleaning last weekend I came across Joey's keepsake box...chock full of letters of congratulations and sympathy...diapers no bigger than a maxi pad and tiny outfits that would be too small for a doll that my sweet boy wore in his first few days of life. It contains outfits and socks that he wore in his last days of life, sealed in a ziploc bag in hopes that they might still smell like him. They don't...time has robbed me of that. But, I have this box...this box full of memories and things...all that I have left in this world of my first born son!
I pulled a few of my favorite things out of the box and hung them on my tree this year. I don't know why I hadn't thought of this before...but, they are there now and they warm my heart.
When Joey died...we stayed in a hotel room and my family packed up his things so that Jake and I wouldn't have to. We came back to the apartment and all of his things were gone...but, we found his paci under the bed. It's a moment Jake and I shared that I'll never forget.
His sippy cup lid...it has his little teeth marks on it...physical proof that he did exist and it wasn't all a dream.
Happy Birthday, Jo-Bo!