The Way the Story Might Have Ended

She went into the clinic for her normal prenatal check-up, and perhaps she was starting to feel more and more excited about the arrival of her first baby, but not too excited because it wasn’t quite time yet. Little did she know that her baby would be born that very day. 

A routine part of the prenatal check up is to listen to the baby’s heart rate, but when the nurse listened on May 29, 1991, she found that the heart rate was dangerously low. So she calmly called the doctor, put the woman in a wheelchair, and started running down the hall towards the labor and delivery unit. Since the pregnancy was still a little early and the woman’s body was not ready to deliver a baby, an emergency cesarean section was performed, and a baby’s life was saved that day.

That’s how I was born. 

~~~

When I received report on this particular day, I had several patients who all needed something right away. A lady in labor who was progressing normally, a post-op C-section who needed pain medicine, and a baby who needed antibiotics. I gave my pain meds and antibiotics and then lastly went in to check on my laboring patient. I squeezed some gel on her abdomen, placed the doppler that transmits the baby’s heart beat, and listened. Nothing. It can take a few tries to find exactly where the heart beat is, so I moved the doppler around and angled it in all directions. Still nothing. I searched on the other side of her abdomen. Then right over the umbilicus. Then a little lower, then a little higher. My own heartbeat started pounding in my own ears as I calmly (yet frantically on the inside) squeezed gel over her entire abdomen and searched every quadrant top to bottom, right to left. I called the doctor who came and confirmed with ultrasound what I had been so afraid of. 

“There’s the heart,” she whispered quietly as we both stared at a still, motionless screen. 

Scanning through the patients chart, I noticed that no one had taken fetal heart tones since 5am. I came on at 7, but didn’t get around to seeing her until 8. Somewhere in that window of time, her baby’s heart slowed to a stop. I couldn’t help but wonder if it had happened while I was injecting morphine or pushing ampicillin. What I had checked on my laboring patient first? What if…? 

I know you can’t live like that. You can’t play the what if game and place blame on something that maybe wasn’t even your fault, something that you may not have been able to change even if you had known, but still I was affected that day, and I vowed to always, always prioritize my laboring patients first even if everything is reported as “advancing normally.”

~~~

At 7:30 am, after receiving report on my patient who was in labor and wanted to VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), I talked with the midwife on call about how I didn’t think it was a good idea. She heartily agreed. We went in together to assess the patient, and I placed the doppler on her abdomen and immediately heard the steady gallop of a baby’s heart beat. But it was way too slow. Glancing at the clock for a quick six second estimate, and placing my fingers on the wrist of the mother to feel her radial pulse, I said with urgency to the midwife, “Listen. That’s not mom. That’s baby. The heart rate is in the 50’s.” 

Without missing a beat, she called out orders. We placed oxygen. I slapped her on a continuous monitor and followed the baby’s heart beat while I stuck in an IV, gave a fluid bolus, and put in a Foley catheter. In the seven minutes it took to do all that, the baby’s heart rate was a flat line at 56 beats per minute. In less than ten more minutes, she was back in the operating room for an emergency cesarean section. 

Her baby came out gray and needed oxygen, but after a few minutes was pink, perky, and crying strongly, ready to eat. 

I swaddled that baby and adjusted his nasal cannula that was delivering 2 liters of humidified oxygen, and I just let him cry. I had never been happier to hear a baby cry. 

~~~

I’m constantly reminded of why I love what I do. People might say I get to save lives, and maybe sometimes I do play a part in changing the way the story could have ended. But it doesn’t feel as heroic as one would think. Really, I just feel like a servant doing my job as faithfully as I can. When I hold a baby that I feared would die, I don’t think, Cool, I helped save this baby’s life. I breathe a sigh of relief and say, Thank you, Lord, for preserving this life. Because sometimes, despite all our best efforts, babies die. Other times, we are caught totally off guard and unprepared, and against all odds, the baby lives. All this makes me convinced that I have so very little to do with it, and that God determines and does it all as he knows best. 

So when they live, we praise him. Even when they die, we praise him. 

For though we don’t understand his ways, we trust in who he is and the love he has for us. 

Every birth I assist reminds me of the amazing and beautiful creator that God is. Every new baby shows me that God is good at bringing new life and making things new. It gives me hope and joy to think about fresh starts and future generations. I often wonder who these babies will become and how they will change the world. It’s surreal, hopeful, promising, and totally out of my control. They will probably never know me. They will definitely not remember me as the one who welcomed them, dried them, wrapped them, gave them medicine, and spoke to them as their eyes searched mine. But I will remember them, for they inspire me to live and love under the grace of a good God who creates, gives and sustains life, and carries us as children in his arms. 

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