I Knew I Loved You Before I Met You
It is said that when a child is born, both baby and mom need to hold one another and establish a bond; that even though they have never met one another, they still somehow know one another. That even in those early seconds after delivery when the baby still cannot see, the relationship needs to begin.
I love working on the Obstetrics Ward as an Anesthesiologist. I feel joy and great satisfaction when I help ease expectant mothers’ labor pains. Families are anxiously waiting for the new additions to the clan. I also find it ironic and hilarious to see burly men with bulging muscles and bodies blanketed with tattoos totally freak out and get clammy at the sight of blood. Who figured?
And then there is the cry. Hearing a newborn cry having just arrived out of the womb is a wonderful sound. It’s crescendo booms across the halls in stereo echos and there is nothing quite like it.
For a new mom, it’s a sound of new beginnings and joy. For the medical team, it is a sign of health and reassurance that the newborn is able to take that first breath of life.
I love placing epidurals. Labor pains hurt like bloody hell (so I hear), and I like to be the guy who swoops in and calms the storm. Most are incredibly grateful for the pain relief. To see them have nearly instant reprieve and giving them the opportunity to enjoy their labor is pretty cool.
But the ward isn’t always rosy and fun. Childbirth can be dangerous and that is something I’m reminded of often. When things go badly, they can snowball fast.
This winter, one of my patients and her unborn baby became unstable. This was her first time being pregnant. She was two weeks past her due date and she had been in labor for over 24 hours. Unexpectedly, the baby’s heart rate had slowed to an unsafe pace and we needed to deliver him immediately.
After placing medication in her back to give her numbness from her chest down to her feet, we were ready to begin the surgery. The wonders of medicine have allowed us the means to perform surgery and deliver a baby on a fully awake woman. This is important primarily because it is safer to do the procedure this way, both for the baby and the mother, but also because it allows that moment of bonding just after the delivery.
Once the case started, things were moving smoothly. The surgeons carefully made their incision, made their way to the womb, and delivered the baby. Mom felt an instant relief of pressure from her belly and looked up at me.
Deafening silence in the room.
I look over at the baby and see that he hasn’t taken a breath yet. Each second feels like an eternity. I’m gauging whether I need to run over to the pediatrics team and help them secure his airway with a breathing tube. Meanwhile, I’m taking care of the new mom, making sure that she is ok.
Time was ticking.
Looking at me with her piercingly exhausted green eyes, she asked, “Is my baby ok?”
I can’t hear him crying. Doctor, please tell me, is my baby ok?”
In that moment, I had to be more than a doctor. Because the way I look back at her, the way I stand, and the tone of my voice all matter. I’ve done hundreds of C-Sections and nearly all of them go according to plan. Some are high risk and require major interventions. This was on the verge of becoming one of those.
“The pediatrician is taking care of your baby right now. You are doing great. You are doing just fine”, I replied.
“Ok, doctor. “Do you have kids?”, she asked.
Her question led back to when my wife and I were expecting our first child. We were both senior medical students at the time, and to be honest we didn’t know what the hell we were doing.
Ok, fine, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
We were excited to be having a child, but in many ways we still felt like children.
Ok, fine, I still felt like a child.
When we went for our first ultrasound, we found something totally unexpected. My wife had a tumor the size of a grapefruit on one of her ovaries. The doctors took a biopsy and said it was pre-cancerous. It would need to come out either now, or after her delivery. Sledgehammer to the face kind of news. Uncertainty comes into play, and endless questions start to take over your mind. How serious is this? Will we be able to have kids? Will we lose our child? Will my wife get cancer?
After talking about things constantly, weighing the risks versus the benefits of taking the ovary out now as opposed to later, we decided to wait until after our baby was born. That would be over 6 tedious months later. So, when the time came and my wife went into labor, our son did the exact same thing as my patient’s baby would do 10 years later. His heartbeat slowed unexpectedly. In seconds, we would be going for emergency C-Section.
I know what if feels like for time to slow to a crawl.
And just as we were about to go to the operating room, his heartbeat picked back up, as steady as a metronome. And when he was delivered naturally an hour later, I waited for him to cry.
No. I waited for him to SCREAM.
And he did. It was music to my ears for his voice to soar, his soprano amplifying in the delivery room. I wanted to that baby up like Simba and roar with him. Just sayin’.
He is very special to us. He was the reason why we caught my wife’s tumor in the first place, and had it not been discovered at the time, it would have been growing dormant in her body, ready to wreak havoc in the future. The tumor was removed safely from her ovary, and by the grace of God; we have three healthy children today. I am so grateful and blessed.
“Do you have kids?”, she asked?
“Yes, I do. I have three.”
“And interrupting our impromptu conversation was a cry. It started off like a whimper and gained strength quickly.
Her baby was fine,breathing in the chaotic life around him for the first time.
Things proceeded as usual. I continued to multitask, taking care of her until the procedure was finished, while working double as an amateur photographer, taking pictures of her, her husband, and their new baby. They were a beautiful family.
When the nurses first brought the newborn baby to her, I witnessed the bond between mother and baby. She held him tightly and looked into his eyes.
They knew each other quite well.