February 11, 2009

Two Weeks

The alarm went off at 7:30am and the first thought to go through my head was “I’m pregnant.” That thought had been going through my head every morning for four months now. It seems time stands still when you’re pregnant, anticipating the birth of your child, wondering who he/she is going to look like, what his/her voice is going to sound like, is it a boy or a girl? I was asked the question many times over “Do you want a boy or a girl?” My answer every time was “a girl.” Those people who answered with an “I don’t care, as long as they are healthy” always got on my nerves. A person has to have a preference, don’t they? I managed to roll out of bed and get ready for my day. It was June 5, 1998. I was 23 years old and today was the big day. My husband and I were going to find out the sex of our unborn child.

This was our first child. We had only been married for a year and half and this was completely unexpected. The biggest commitment we had made in our marriage thus far was the purchase of our home. Were we really ready to take on the task of bringing a human being in to this world? We had never really discussed having children and we never got the chance. It was meant to be.

We met our eager parents at the hospital. This was the first grandchild for them both and they were over the moon! After a half hour of waiting in the waiting room, the nurse finally called our name. I put on the hospital gown and lay on the bed. The parents and husband were standing over me, their eyes gleaming. Their energy was electrifying. It was overwhelming; all eyes were on me, waiting anxiously. They were finally able to get their first look at their unborn grandchild in black and white.

The ultrasound technician entered. She could feel the energy in the room as well and smiled at us. She apologized first hand for the ultrasound jelly being cold; it seems their heater was broken. She squirted the cold ultrasound jelly on to my bulging belly. She moved the wand gracefully back and forth exploring the contents of my belly. She was pointing out our baby’s ear and tiny fingers and a little foot. She was delaying, knowing that we were there for only one reason; she was having her fun. She finally asked us if we really wanted to know the sex of our baby, and it was all I could do to keep from shouting at her “Yes, tell us!” She looked at us and pointed out his boy parts. I can honestly tell you that I was disappointed. I saw my mom’s smile slowly fade. She had been positive it was a girl, so positive, in fact, that every now and then she would bring home a pink onesie. A boy, snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of. Tears filled my eyes.

The technician’s smile suddenly faded and she got quiet. She was studying the screen intensely. She seemed to have been distracted by something she saw on the screen. She suddenly got up and left the room. The energy in the room had changed. The eagerness in our eyes was replaced with confusion. When she returned with the doctor, she asked our parents to leave the room. They bid us farewell and went back to work. The doctor then continued to silently explore the images of this unborn child in my belly. The technician waited patiently beside him watching his eyes. All of this was done in dead silence. The room suddenly felt cold and lifeless. The buzz of the machine was deafening. The doctor finished and left the room. The technician smiled weakly at us and wiped my belly clean; she handed me my clothes and asked us to please wait in the waiting room.

The doctor finally called us in to his personal office. That’s never a good sign; I had never seen a doctor’s personal office and I never wanted to. The doctor was from India and he had a very strong accent. He sat us down in the chairs in front of his desk and began to tell us what he had discovered. We realized from the start that this doctor had apparently forgotten to take Bedside Manner 101. He was very cold, and his accent was so thick, it was difficult to understand exactly what he was saying. We listened very carefully to each and every word. “Your child has fluid around his heart and in his lungs; I would like to see you again in two weeks. I have to warn you, when we see this in an unborn child, in two weeks, there will be no heartbeat.” Not sure that I had translated that correctly, I looked to my husband and saw in his eyes that, yes, he had, indeed, just said that. The tears welled up in my eyes and everything was blurry. I could feel the golf ball size lump in my throat. We didn’t know how to respond; we just stared at him.

The doctor asked for me to have an amniocentesis. I was vaguely familiar with this test. I had read about it in the book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” A long, thin needle is inserted into the abdomen and into the uterus. When I was a little girl, I was allergic to bees. It seemed I was a bee magnet and my bare feet would find those little bees every time I went outside. My little body would react violently to the bee stings. It would often begin with a dry cough. Then, my eyes would begin to itch and swell. I would begin to sneeze and wheeze and itchy hives would slowly cover my body. My mom would lay my weak little body on the bed while she called the doctor. I could feel my chest tightening and I would struggle to keep breathing. She would scoop me up and take me to the hospital. The doctor informed my parents that if they didn’t get this treated, the next bee sting would kill me. For the following two years, I had to go every week and get a shot in my arm. I didn’t mind the shots; in fact, I would watch them stick the needle in my arm and smile. I was so brave. But today was different. I wasn’t that brave little girl anymore. I was a woman and my life wasn’t the only one in danger here. I can still feel it today, the cold alcohol swab to sanitize the area, the numbing medication they scrubbed my belly with. I held my husband’s hand and squeezed hard when I felt the sharp, stinging sensation of the needle inserting into my belly. I could feel the pressure in my lower abdomen when they pulled the amniotic fluid out of the sac that surrounded my unborn baby boy.

My husband and I are agnostic - a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable. That doesn’t mean that we are not spiritual people. We made the decision not to tell anyone outside the immediate family of the fluid the doctor had discovered slowly drowning our baby boy. We wanted to avoid any negative thoughts that the human race is so very capable of dwelling on. The next day, my husband asked me if I wanted to go to work. I put on a brave face and replied with a resounding yes. My husband and I worked together, and everyone in the office knew that we had gone the day before to find out the sex of our unborn child. We were on the catwalk heading for the doors and my boss stepped out and greeted us. The first question that came out of his mouth was “So, what did you find out?” The façade ended right then and there. My brave mask slowly melted away; I couldn’t do it. I realized that for the rest of the day I was going to be asked this question and I wouldn’t be able to handle this. I smiled at him with the tears welling up in my eyes and turned around and walked back to the car without answering him. My husband realized that we were not going to be able to keep this a secret. He picked up the pieces and came back to the car and quietly drove me home.

In those two weeks, flowers were delivered from my husband. Prayers were sent our way from everyone who knew. My father-in-law is a Christian Scientist and he studied day and night trying to heal our unborn child in the ways he knew how, through God. We did not dwell on the negative, we kept our thoughts positive. My dad went online and bought a heart monitor so my mom could listen to the baby’s heart beat. Those two weeks seemed like a lifetime. It was like time had stood still, yet our hearts continued to beat, our blood pumped through our veins, and our lungs still swelled with our breath. Time was up.

We were back on the bed and the cold ultrasound jelly was being squirted on my belly. We waited patiently for the doctor. He came in and maneuvered the wand over my belly. He searched for what he knew he would find, what the statistics had told him he would find. He studied the screen intensely over and over. He suddenly smiled at us for the first time. In words I will never forget, he said, “The fluid is gone; I can’t believe this, this is very rare. Your child is going to be OK.” We breathed a long sigh of relief and gave each other a knowing smile. We went from one of the worst days of our lives to the best day of our lives, in a matter of two weeks.

November 5, 1998. Luke Harrison Hurter arrived; he was eight pounds nine ounces and twenty one and a half inches long. He was completely bald with big blue wondering eyes. He had ten fingers and ten toes; he was perfect. I still to this day will lay my head on his chest and listen to his heart beat, so full of life. Why did we name him Luke, you ask? Well, my husband is a huge Star Wars fan! My father-in-law, however, was quick to point out the religious meaning of the name Luke - Luke was a first-century Christian, called "the beloved physician" and is patron saint of doctors and artists, and he wrote one of the four Gospel accounts of the life of Christ.

A year after Luke was born, I wrote him a letter:

“Dear Luke, You finally made it. I thought it was going to take forever for you to get here. Nine months is a long time when you’re waiting for someone so special. There were some scary moments during those nine months but I knew in my heart that you would be OK. Your dad had no question about it. I can’t get over how quickly you have grown up. One day you are falling asleep so soundly in my arms and the next you’re saying “down” and you fall asleep on your own without any help from Mom or Dad. You still need us when you get hurt or need to be fed. One day, though, the time will come when you won’t need our help. We will still be there for you, though, no matter what. You can always count on Mom and Dad. There will be times when you fall and we aren’t there to catch you, but you will learn to catch yourself in time. I love you very much. I hope we stay the best of friends forever. Love, Mom.”

Two years after Luke was born, my husband and I started thinking about bringing another baby in to the world. I asked my mom how in the world I would have enough love to give to another child. She told me that my heart was big and I would have no problem sharing it. My mom was right. I still to this day, find it unbelievable that a human heart can be capable of so much love. Those pink onsies were put to use for Natalie Isobel Hurter. During the first months of my pregnancy with her, people would ask me “Do you want a boy or a girl?” I would reply “I don’t care, as long as he or she is healthy.”

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