The question of when life actually begins is everywhere in the political news these days. Since I have been present at the bedside for four of my grandchildren’s births, I do know that the drama of each one of their lives began before their first breath.
Rene’ called me early one Sunday morning to tell me it was time. Over the next few hours, I encouraged, coached, and supported her as she worked her way through the process. I saw the head appear…and just that quickly I knew we were in trouble. I’ve never seen anyone move as swiftly as the doctor did in that moment. As he said, “We have a problem”, his thumbs moved to each side of Alex’s neck and under the cord that was wrapped there.
Alex had not taken his first breath and was already failing in the “Game of Life”.
I watched as they gave him his Apgar test. Two out of a possible ten. Anything below five is life threatening. They rushed him from the room to continue working on him.
After such a critical beginning, he is now alive, well and 15 years old.
Having been present at one birth, I was an old hand at it. When Anne began labor, once again I stood by the bedside. But I knew too much. I watched the monitors. I saw the baby’s heart beat drop precariously low. Taking my husband, John, to the hallway, I told him I thought there was a problem.
Within minutes the doctor made the pronouncement that the baby was in danger and they were going to do an emergency C-section. Richard was not outside the womb yet, but life was already dealing him a losing hand.
And again, the crisis passed. Richard will soon be a teenager…having no memories of those scary moments.
Four years later, all went smoothly as Anne labored to produce a daughter, Katherine. On that Monday, the cord was cut by the very proud daddy. Perhaps this time, she had been dealt a winning hand.
Taking 24 hours to make sure everything was ok; John and I got in our car and drove the five hours home. Checking in with the little family on Wednesday, I was told Anne was not feeling well. Instant red flag. When I asked to talk with her on the phone, my adrenaline kicked in. Holding the cordless phone to my ear, I pulled out a suitcase and began packing as I talked.
“You must call an ambulance. You need to get to the hospital NOW”, I told her.
This time, it was the new mother that had been dealt the bad hand. She could not get her breath.
John and I drove over the speed limit through the night. Arriving at the hospital, we were told Anne was in Intensive Care. And the new baby? Since Katherine had been dismissed, she could not be re-admitted. She would now live in the waiting room with the family.
Anne was placed on a respirator. The family tag-teamed in the waiting room, taking turns with the newborn. After three days of holding Katherine, I finally made special arrangements to get one of the carts they put the babies in when they are in the nursery. At least now we could lay her down.
Just as quickly as Anne’s lungs had filled, they reversed direction and began to clear up. After five days, the tube was removed and she was going to live.
You just never know with the “Game of Life”.
Today Katherine is a very alive and well nine year old.
Five years later, we received the phone call that labor had commenced. Again, we drove the five hours and got to the house just as Anne was headed to the hospital. The process seemed uneventful. But in those critical moments when the head appeared, I could tell something was wrong.
Jon was a fully formed little boy, still partially inside and connected to Anne with the cord. But the doctor was telling Anne not to push. (Did he even understand what he was asking?)
Jon was covered with meconium. Before he breathed in for the first time, he needed to be suctioned to make sure his lungs could function. As the medical staff worked on Jon, they held back his actual moment of becoming a living, breathing soul!
The “Game of Life” is a roller coaster ride from before the first breath until that very final one.
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