Mom to Hudson Ruth
July 11-July 14, 2012
Walla Walla, Washington
It is hard to believe that the best days of your life can be the worst days of your life.
The best days of my life were the three days that I got to be a mommy to Hudson Ruth Walter.
Baby Dub was born at 3:50 am on July 11, at the 41 week mark. She weighed 7 lbs. 14 oz. and measured 20 1/2 inches, and she had a full head of hair. Long, red hair.
Baby Dub was born without a heartbeat and had to be resuscitated. After getting a heartbeat going, Hudson was flown to Sacred Heart in Spokane, Washington. Not even 2 hours old, and already Baby Dub was having adventures on a helicopter.
I got to see her for about 60 seconds before they flew her off to Spokane. Daddy Dub followed quickly, but I had to stay in the hospital because I had just had a Cesarean section, and evidently you don’t just hop on the helicopter after one of those.
Hudson didn’t need much time to make you fall in love with her. A perfect little nose (we’re sure from her mommy), huge hands and feet, her daddy’s mouth, and that full head of luscious red hair did everybody in. One NICU nurse commented upon meeting her, “You could put a barrette in there!”
While Daddy Dub traveled to Spokane, I was stuck in Walla Walla with strict instructions to sleep and recover so I could travel the next day to be with our baby girl. I slept from about 6-10 o’clock, when Daddy Dub called from the road to tell me that the doctor at Sacred Heart had called already.
He and another doctor were working hard on Hudson, but she was very sick. Details were best discussed in person, but he wanted to let our daughter’s Daddy know that she’d made it and they were on the case.
Around 11, I got a call from one of the doctors at Sacred Heart, who gave me more of an update on Hudson. Our daughter was without oxygen for a significant period, and the main concern (among many concerns) was brain activity. Damage to the brain from such a significant event could be substantial. She may not have enough brain function to live on her own.
The plan was to undergo a cooling process for 72 hours. They’d keep Hudson’s body temperature around 33 degrees Celsius for three days. The doctor explained to me that there are three types of brain cells – the ones that would recover on their own, the ones that don’t ever recover, and the ones that can benefit from the cooling process and might recover. We were targeting those with the cooling process. He didn’t paint a very positive picture. It wasn’t his job to.
At around 12:30, my father-in-law called my mom and said they were starting a process over at Sacred Heart to get me there that day instead of waiting for the next day. I am so grateful for that phone call. It was agonizing being stuck in Walla Walla, and the moments I got to spend with our daughter were so precious. I would give anything for just a few more minutes. I got an extra couple of hours on that day.
So after much hubbub, I got in the ambulance and embarked on the 3+ hour drive to Spokane. How it took so long I don’t know…don’t ambulances get to go faster than other cars on the road? I tried to sleep but couldn’t. As I told the Hubs via text, the ambulance was the medical equivalent of a Vegas Hot Trolley – a rattling tin can that couldn’t get under 80 degrees even with the air conditioning on full blast. But it was taking me to my daughter and my husband, and I couldn’t wait.
We arrived at Sacred Heart around 7:45 and spent a little time trying to figure out how to get me to my room, but once I got there and got checked in, I was able to go see our baby girl, for real this time, not through the haze of general anesthesia and a night of difficult labor.
She is perfect. I don’t want to take my eyes off of her. I can’t believe we made her, and then again I can. A full, cone-shaped head of hair is the first thing you notice, and you can’t help but wonder where all of it came from. So much, so thick, curly, and RED! It never escaped comment, our daughter’s head of hair, the mystery behind it all a part of the legend that is Hudson. Her nose is tiny and perfect and we all agree is mine. Chubby cheeks, the same cheeks we fell in love with at our 36 week ultrasound. She has soft, arching eyebrows, a light blond, and let’s face it, if you look close enough her hairline extends down to her eyebrows but you have to look really close. A little point of wispy white-blonde hair sticks up off the tip of each of her ears. How can ears be so perfect? They’re not Shrek-like at all, but perfectly round with soft lobes, the ultimate kissable ear (I just wanted to nibble on each one!). Her arms have fuzzy hair all over them, especially the fleshy part of her shoulders, like those Italian construction workers you see getting questioned in episodes of “Law and Order”. Her eyes are closed, and gel seals them so they don’t get dry, but even with a coating of clear gel I can see that she has long, curly blond eyelashes, oh those lashes would get us into trouble, I bet. When the doctor examines her eyes later, I can see that they’re a deep, soft blue. She has a broad chest, with a tiny bruise in the center from doctors performing CPR. I can’t see her mouth very well – ventilator tubes keep most of her mouth covered up, but her little tongue sticks out a bit and her bottom lip is oh so soft. Her legs are chubby (Great Grandma R commented that she had her mommy’s thighs…what’s that supposed to mean?), bent at the knees with her heels tucked in towards her crotch and I imagine how she probably had these same contortionists tendencies when she was in my belly. I have to take off one of the Red Sox socks the Hubs has put on her feet, so I can count her toes. She’s got it all, and then some. She’s perfection, every little piece of her is a part of me and a part of her daddy, so you know she has to be strong.
Hudson didn’t need much time to make you fall in love with her. I wanted to pick her up, tubes and wires and all, and squeeze her close. Holding my daughter is an ache in my chest that won’t go away, a yearning I never got to satisfy fully, a feels-so-right that I got to experience so briefly it is an injustice. No mommy should go three days before she gets to hold her baby. And no mommy should have to hold her baby as her heartbeat slows to a stop.
That first night with Hudson was a series of questions, doubts, frustrations, what-ifs and what-is-thats. As the obstacles facing Baby Dub began to create a clearer picture, I tried to pick out the hopeful bits to cling to. I dig deep into my faithstores, I pray fervently, I repaint the picture in my head when it gets too bleak. We are looking at a perfectly formed treasure, her brain needs some time on ice but maybe, just maybe-definitely, a miracle is taking place in there. I need to believe in miracles. Even more so today than on the brief days that made up Hudson’s precious life.
Hudson died just a few hours before the cooling process was supposed to end. I am so very glad that the Hubs and I were with her when her heart rate shot up and then drastically dropped. The nurse on duty quickly sprung into action as I scrambled to get out of the way. I remember the nurse pleading with Hudson, “Oh no you don’t”…turning to the Hubs and I, “If we can’t stabilize her you two will have to decide if you want us to resuscitate,” I remember clinging to the Hubs, unbelieving, “This isn’t real, right? This is one of those horrible dreams and I’ll start awake at any moment.” Somehow in all that we let Hudson make the call, and she was removed from all the tubes and wires and handed to her mommy and daddy to die in our loving arms while Grandpa Dub went to call the family.
I don’t know how long we stayed in the room and held our baby. Seeing her face for the first time unencumbered by the breathing tube, holding all 9+ pounds of her (she’d gained two pounds in fluids over the past three days), swaddling her and singing to her and weeping with her daddy, both of us telling her how proud we were of her and how thankful we were that she gave us the time we got. It felt so good to hold her to my shoulder – like a missing piece of me had been found, only to be lost again.
After minutes, hours, years, we looked at each other and realized we had to face our family, who had all been rousted from their middle of the night slumber to come be with us in our grief. The nurse escorted us to a chaplin’s room, through the hallway where our entire family was waiting and I made this somber deathwalk, leaning on my husband and clutching our baby to my shoulder and trying not to make eye contact with anybody as we walked past. Once we were situated in the room, our immediate family was brought in first. Grandmas, Grandpas, Aunties and Uncles, then close friends who are like family all wordlessly wept with us.
This is the injustice of our world – that parents sometimes outlive their children, that grandparents live to see their children lose their children, that a joy like new life should ever be turned this horrific 180.
Finally, the night’s grief led to a heavy exhaustion, I’d cried through every bit of moisture in my body and it was time to let go of Hudson. I didn’t want anybody to see her face, pale and splotchy and lifeless, nothing like the precious yet ever-changing face I had fallen in love with over the past 3 days, 9 months, lifetime.
The nurse urged me to let the family hold her, “They need this.” I didn’t care, nothing mattered except what I wanted, what we needed, and we needed our baby to be alive. Since we didn’t get that, I was adamant about this: I didn’t want my family to see our baby looking so not like our baby.
The nurse laid off me a little bit, then offered to take some pictures of Hudson. This seemed macabre to me, and I refused again. But this time, the nurse was the one who was adamant. “Trust me, later you’ll want any picture you can get of her. Let me do this for you.”
She was right. When all you have left are pictures of your baby, you are grateful for every single one… even if it doesn’t look like who you made.
“Do you have some clothes that you brought for her?”
Through my weak and broken voice: “We brought some stuff for her, a lot of outfits, some of them were for if she was born on the 4th of July,” I blubbered. “Whatever you brought for her, those are Hudson’s clothes. You’ll be happy you have these…”
We left the nurse with our baby and our overnight bag full of baby clothes and we went to bed and stared wordlessly at each other. It seems impossible to go to sleep when your life is this nightmare…but sleep came more quickly than I had anticipated and then all of a sudden it was morning and yes, this was real, yes, our baby died. There is a printed rose on our room’s door so people know to be gentle with you when they walk in to take your temperature, talk to you about your options.
The amazing social worker from the Forget-Me-Not Foundation came to see us and offered to get us a few lockets of Hudson’s incredible hair. She offered to dress her and bring her to the “Angel Room” for our family to see her and hold her. What had seemed like a horrible idea the night before seemed like an amazing gift in the morning, and of course we said yes, please let us all see her again. The photographer that had been with us the day before had volunteered to come take more pictures of Hudson and we wanted that, too.
I showered, put on some of the clothes my wonderful sisters-in-law had gone to get me since our stay in the hospital had proved to be so much longer than we had anticipated. I brushed my hair, even put my contacts in (despite them being foggy from the previous night’s tears). We walked out to brave our family and friends yet again. I remember a friend of my sister’s was there, someone I’d known a bit in college, who was pregnant with her second baby, dressed in black, tears in her eyes, and I remembered thinking how lucky she was to be pregnant as I made brief eye contact with her.
We got to be the first in the Angel Room with Hudson and there she was, our beautiful, stunning baby dressed in her “going home” outfit, the adorable grey and white zebra print onesie with the lime green flower, wrapped in the soft purple blanket with the silky polka dot trim that her aunties had bought for her, sporting the white flowered headband that her other aunties had made in anticipation of the professional photographer’s arrival the previous day.
There has never been a more beautiful person, and we made her. A series of miracles all culminated in this amazing little body, this bundle of nerves and cells and this amazing mesh of my husband and me in new-human form. Even though I knew she was no longer there, the physical evidence of her struck me, “This is still something that we made.” Touching her skin, holding her and feeling her weight once again, it didn’t feel off or wrong at all. Holding your baby is the absolute best feeling.
The social worker encouraged us to take our time. We could stay as long as we liked, stay with Hudson in our room even. She said people had kept their babies in the room with them for days after their death.
But for us, it was time to go home and pick up the pieces.
We were given the opportunity to donate Hudson’s heart valves, and jumped at the chance. I stayed on at the hospital to answer a series of questions a kind-voiced man calling from the organ donation center asked: “Have you and/or Hudson been to Zimbabwe since 1979?” An overly talkative nurse with a wonky eye came to remove the staples from my C-section incision. She told me of her 5 miscarriages, her two successful deliveries, how she’d donated her breastmilk, on and on and on she went, I’m sure trying to find just the right story to tell me that would make me feel better.
And then we left. The sunlight after three days spent in the hospital seared my cried-out eyeballs. I felt nauseous, like the worst hangover ever.
On the drive home, we talked, and were silent, we cried, and stared blankly. We rallied against the universe. We questioned the existence of God. Somehow in all the possibilities, we hadn’t even considered the possibility that we would go home without our baby. We talked about how beautiful our daughter was. I mean, seriously the most gorgeous baby ever made, and we were the ones who made her.
At one point, my husband blurted out, “How do we not have a baby right now?” I didn’t have an answer.
After one particularly prolonged silence, my husband smiled silently to himself. When I asked him what he was thinking, he said:
“I was just thinking how glad I am that people who don’t even know us can tell how much we love each other.”
I fell a little more in love with my husband right then. I am thankful for him every single day. I’ll never forget how proud I was of our love in that moment in the car. We are fortunate to have each other.
We are also fortunate to have such an incredible family. Our parents were with us, our siblings and friends, a cadre of Hudson Fans surrounded her with love from the very first moments of her life through to the very last moments which came all too soon.
Today, this same support system has formed “Team Hudson’s Heroes“.
So many people fell in love with Hudson – from the nurses who cared for her to people who never met her and even people who don’t know me. We created one charismatic little human. And although losing her was the most devastating experience I’ve ever had to face, having her was the proudest accomplishment of my life. Having Hudson taught me a new level of love. It made me realize how full life is and also how terribly empty. She made me realize that life is too short to take a single second for granted.
Hudson is forever a part of our family, her pictures proudly displayed on Momma Sue’s wall in the biggest size Costco’s Photo Center can print.
Hudson made me a Mommy, the job I covet now more than any other occupation I’ve ever dreamed of (movie star! Broadway actress! Missionary Veterinarian!). And so, yes. The worst days of your life can also be the best. Life can become more full despite a devastating loss. The loss of a child creates a strange dichotomy of your “Real Life”, where dwelling in the positive half is the key to survival (and truly, this is all about the reality you choose). And despite some really bad bad days, we’re slowly finding it easier to live in the “Positive Place”, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a brother or sister for Hudson, eagerly looking forward to a really gross diaper change, ready to tackle that journey all over again because even though we lost Hudson, I’ll never, ever regret having her.
Erica blogs at http://meetbabydub.wordpress.com.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.