How many children do you have? What an innocent question!
Why not just ask for my checking account number? I would have given a truthful answer.
Not the children stuff! In a split second, I am debating if I should tell someone the truth, judging if she is a trusting friend, deciding how this person is going to react or how I would take the reaction.
Every time this question came up, I felt as if someone took a razor, skinned me, exposing a fresh scar that I tried so hard to conceal from the rest of the world…. I had a baby, Kevin, who passed away 15 hours after birth, when I was at 27 weeks.
It was June 2013. It already felt like summer. Sunrays were beaming through the clouds. Everything looked promising so did my ultrasound.
“Do you want to know the gender of your baby?” The technician asked. I turned my head to my husband, Joo. He smiled and said, “It would be nice to know.” The technician pointed a small dot on the screen and said, “That is his little thing. He is definitely a boy.” Yeah! A boy. Even though we wanted to have a girl, but a boy will do, as long as the baby is healthy! Judging from the ultrasound, he was! All organs, limbs had been checked carefully under the ultrasound. All toes and fingers were being counted for. Nothing more or less! It was a perfect moment. I almost jumped up and down at the parking lot with joy. I was so relieved, knowing the long journey I took two years ago to conceive him….
The next few weeks, I threw myself into shopping for my baby boy. There was so much to research. Just for a crib, I spent almost 10 hours, deciding what features I wanted, checking product reviews, and browsing countless product recalls to make sure it was absolutely safe. I was exhausted for good reasons. I needed to make everything perfect before my baby arrives and shower him with love and comfort.
By week 25, I already felt him kicking like a gentle knock in my belly. It brought me comfort knowing he was safe inside. In the middle of June, my back started to bother me and I felt he was turning around inside, almost like flipping. “You are growing strong, aren’t you?” I smiled at my belly, “Now, don’t be a naughty boy. Your check up is coming up in few days.”
On 6/25, the turning had stopped but I still felt the little kicks. On 6/26, week 27, I started to have frequent urine. I called an ER doctor and described my symptom. He advised me not to worry and it could wait until the next morning if the symptom did not get worse. By 7:00pm, I was peeing every 10 minutes. I could not hold any liquid. I quickly got online and checked for a possible cause. It could be an infection. I concluded. By 7:30pm, I had a first drop of blood in my urine. I quickly grabbed my purse and asked Joo to jump into the car. The emergency room was only 15 minutes away. On the way there, I comforted Joo, “Do not worry. It could be an infection. Worst to worst, I will be in the hospital for a night and then I will be home.” Joo focused on the road and did not say anything.
After we checked into the ER, we were sent straight to the birth center. The nurse was busy checking my vital signs and ultrasound. Minutes later, she said, “Your baby’s heartbeat is weak. We are getting the doctor.” Really? Is this serious? I did not get a straight answer but I felt bleeding got heavier and the belly felt deflated a little bit. In 25 minutes, the on-call obstetrician from the hospital came. He quickly checked my belly, read the test results and asked, “Was there any impact to your belly the last few day?” I said, “no.” He turned around said to the nurses. “Get the team ready. We need to have an emergency delivery.” What? Now? I am only 27 weeks! I am scared. This is not how I pictured the delivery would be!
On the operating table, I was uncontrollably shaking. Looking around, not a single face I knew. I wanted my mother, holding my hands! First time in many years, I wanted her so badly.
Mother, where are you?
I need you now.
Is this how you delivered me?
I heard noise mixed with voices from far away.
“Baby is out….”
“Quickly… loosing blood…”
“What’s her blood type?”….
The next thing I remember was lying in the ICU, wired to different monitors, needles in my veins on both hands with two blood bags hanging above, stomach stapled and bounded up. Two nurses were standing by. I turned my head, looking for Joo. He sat next to me, buried his head between his shoulders. I could not see his face under the dim light. I whispered, “Where is our baby? Did you go see him?” Joo answered softly, “Yes. He is good…. You will be fine.” He did not say anything more. I could barely keep my eyes open. About 3am, a neonatologist from the NICU came. I thought she was going to take me to see my baby. Instead, she said calmly, “Your baby is in stress…. We are doing everything we can. You had a placenta abruption.” I did not care about the placenta. My mind stopped working after the word ‘stress’. What does that mean? Why is she telling me this? I just need to see my baby. Joo said, “I will go.” He followed her out. An hour later, I heard the voice talking to Joo and Joo left again. By 5am, I was awake. Another neonatologist from the NICU came and asked us. “We have tried everything. Resuscitated him few times. Not much we can do…. We may have to take him off the life support.” My mind went blank. Am I loosing him? How is this possible? I did not see him yet! He cannot go and won’t. I begged her, “Please save him!”
The first time I hold him, I cannot believe he is my baby, a little one who I have waited for four years! He is just perfect: a small round face, long slanted eyes fused shut, high nose, and small lips. Hands and feet are tiny but have the shapes of his daddy’s. His head gently rests on my chest. I feel the first connection. Yes, he is mine.
He died in my arms, ten minutes later.
In a same breath, a welcome became a goodbye. I thought I could revive him once I held him; he would wake up and everything would be reversed. But, he did not. I failed as a mother! What did I do wrong? Did my baby not like us as his parents? This cannot be true! I refuse to accept this! My emotions went millions of different directions and I could not help but sobbing. At the same moment, I heard a big cry from Joo, “He is OUR baby!” My tears poured out like a mad faucet.
On June 29th, I was wheel-chaired out of the hospital, with my baby, in a keepsake box. No word can describe this moment. Thousands of knives were piercing through my heart and flesh. I wanted to scream and stop everyone. Mostly, I wanted to stop myself from breathing; rest my head forever next to the footprints of my baby, Kevin, in my arms.
Please let me go back. Go back to the cheering in Dec when I 1st found out I was pregnant. If that is too generous, go back to the day I started infertility treatment journey four years ago, or the moment I was in agony after removing 7 eggs from my uterus…. Anything, but this…
Now, ask me again.
How many children do I have?