For about two weeks, every morning on the way to drop Brandon off at my mother’s before work, I had this recurring thought: “What if this baby were born early? What would I do?” I know now that God was trying to prepare me.
February 6, 1984 was an ordinary Monday. I took Brandon to my mother’s house (he was 2 yrs old) and then went to work. After work, I picked him up, took him for his allergy shot, and went shopping at Target for a new baby carrier. Our second baby was due April 28. Eleven weeks to go.
When I got home about 7:00 p.m., I was having a few small contractions, but I was use to those. I had Braxton Hicks contractions most days, and I had them when I was pregnant with Brandon, too. But I didn’t feel well, and the contractions were coming every 15 minutes. I was really tired. So Steve fixed hamburgers for us and I ate a little. I didn’t feel any better after resting, and by 9:00 p.m., the contractions had increased to every 5 minutes. But still they were not really bad.
We called the doctor and he said get to the hospital. So we did. They monitored me for a while and told the doctor on the phone that I was not having contractions. I don’t know what the nurse thought that rise and fall was on the monitor chart. So they gave me Vistaril and sent me home. At about 1:30 a.m., Feb. 7, I woke up having really hard contractions, but having had a sedative, I was having trouble staying alert enough to breath with the contractions. I was in a lot of pain. So about 2:00, we headed back to the hospital. We went into the ER, and the police officer immediately took me to labor and delivery. The baby, who the nurses had been able to touch hours earlier, had now moved up too far to reach, and the monitor indicated she was in distress.
Emergency C-section. My spinal anesthesia was not working fast enough, and they needed to get her out, so I was given gas long enough to do an incision. When I woke up, they were carrying her over to the table to get her breathing. I had to turn my head in an awkward position to see her, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The anesthesiologist told me she was pinking up well. They put a breathing tube in her throat. She was so tiny – only 2 pounds, 14 ounces. Just 15 inches long. She was born at 3:43 a.m. Her cord was only 4 inches long, so she could not have been born normally.
I just laid there praying, and thinking about the scriptures that talk about Mary “pondering things in her heart” when Jesus was born. I needed my husband, but they had not let him in there because it was an emergency, and it was still only 1984. They took her to the nursery, and gave me something to knock me out, before taking me to recovery. That still makes me mad to think about that – they didn’t want me to fully know what was going on. There was absolutely no other reason to knock me out.
Doctors from Texas Children’s Hospital came and got Rachel stabilized for the trip to their hospital; then they brought her in for me to see. I could only reach into the incubator and touch her little legs and feet. I could not raise up to look at her, since I had had spinal anesthesia. You have to stay flat if you don’t want the worst headache you could ever imagine. They told me I could call them anytime I wanted to see how she was doing.
Steve and my mother went to Texas Children’s to see her. After Steve got home, they called him to come back. Rachel died at 10:25 p.m. Her brain had hemorrhaged and her lungs collapsed. He held her and the nurse took pictures. He came back up to the hospital to tell me, but I was asleep and the nurses just took him to the lounge to let him sleep a while. At 4:00 a.m., I woke up and wanted to call Texas Children’s. They tried to talk me out of it. I knew something was up. The nurse said, “I’ll go get your husband,” and I knew that if she was OK, he would not be up there then. He really didn’t have to tell me she had died. She lived 18 hours and 42 minutes.
I will have to let Steve tell you about the trips to Texas Children’s Hospital.
It was determined that she had group B strep. That helped the doctor to treat me, because I had it, also, and the antibiotics he was using were not working.
The next several days were a blur. Or more like a nightmare. I was still very sick, and we had to plan a funeral. And Brandon was missing me. I got out of the hospital Sunday afternoon, eventhough I was still running fever. But the visitation at the funeral home was that night. And the funeral was Monday. The day before Valentine’s Day. Before the visitation on Sunday night, I sat and held her for the very first time.
I had some family members that acted horsey and said ugly things, because they were not the center of this crisis. I have family like that. We were told by my aunt that we shouldn’t have been that attached to her because we didn’t have her long enough. She was mad because she did not get that much attention when her son had cancer. She actually said that. My grandmother was mad because I didn’t come to see her as soon as I got out of the hospital. Nevermind that I had had a c-section, my daughter died, and I was still sick. I loved those family members, but I never again had the same relationships with them that I had before.
Life can be so unexpectedly short. Love your children. Hold them and kiss them a lot. You don’t have any earthly idea when you might not have them anymore.
Please go to Steve’s blog to read his story about his experience with her birth.
This is Rachel Elizabeth Hartman, on February 7, 1984:
Steve’s father died on the same day, Feb. 7, in 1998.