Mom to John Robert (Rip) Harris
November 11th, 2010 – November 18th, 2010
Charleston, South Carolina
I found out that I was pregnant two days after Easter in 2010.  The two weeks leading up to taking the pregnancy test I had a sneaking suspicion something was up because I kept getting really really hot and I am NEVER hot.  I woke my husband Parke up and told him the news by saying, “Do you really want to go to Costa Rica?” (we had a deal that if I got pregnant, he could go to Costa Rica on a surfing trip…probably not the most mature way to negotiate a baby but there you have it)…after looking understandably confused for a few seconds he was pretty excited.  Ever the cautious one, he warned me not to tell too many people right away.  Ever the wreckless one, I think I called my mom before I pulled out of the driveway that morning. 

Two weeks later I had some bleeding and called the doctor.  They assured me everything was okay but I was on high alert and stayed there for the rest of my pregnancy.

I felt Rip kick when he was about 17 weeks along.  I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  I knew that he was a boy from the beginning, it was just a feeling I had.  By the time Parke got back from his solo babymoon to Costa Rica he could feel the little kicks too, his face the first time he felt Rip move was priceless, he looked so shocked…I remember saying, “well, what did you think was going on in there?”

When I was about four and a half months along I heard the words vasa previa for the first time.  Our doctors explained the condition to us but really kind of acted like it was no big deal.  During the ultrasound Parke asked, “so Anne is okay, and the baby is okay” and the doctor said absolutely.  I was not convinced.  When I got back to my office, I started looking up vasa previa on the internet.  I was hysterical.  I called Parke, I called the doctor back, I called my mom…I kept telling everyone that this meant Rip could die. 

I am hesitant to say this after everything that happened, but from that point on I think some part of me knew.  From that point on, no matter what anybody said to convince me otherwise, something just did not feel right, I could not be convinced that my baby was going to make it.  I’ve read a lot of books recently from other mothers who lost babies and many say that they had similar feelings…I don’t know if it is mother’s intuition or what.  That is not to say that I do not think that Parke and I did not fight as hard as we possibly could for Rip.  I can say without a doubt that we did everything we knew to do as his parents to bring him into this world safely.

I started calling the doctor’s office almost daily and occasionally just showing up in tears and demanding that they let me see his heart beat.  My mom came down and asked the doctor all of the right questions, protecting her child and her grandchild the only way she knew how.  I would wake up in the middle of the night and repeat the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm over and over until morning.

Through all of this, Rip just kept growing and living it up in his little home.  Despite my stress (or maybe because of it) I gave in to all of his demands for salt and vinegar potato chips and blueberry pancakes with peanut butter.  I was now on “modified bed rest” so poor Parke ran himself ragged- killing roaches, painting the nursery, cooking pregnancy friendly dinners-while I sat around with my feet propped up, watching Rip’s tiny behind wiggle back and forth under my ribs (he had more rhythm than Parke and I on our best days).

Finally, when I went to the doctor for my 29 week appointment, the decision was made to put me into the hospital for the rest of my pregnancy.  As scary as that was, my biggest emotion was relief.  I felt, for the first time in months, that maybe everything was going to be okay.  Those five weeks in the hospital are now a blur.  I tried to keep a schedule, Parke came morning, noon and night…literally he would be there at 8:30 am, 12:00pm, and 6:00pm every day. My mornings were ruled by the Today show, especially Hoda and Kathy Lee (judge me if you want to, but if you are ever in a fix you will find the beauty of the Hoda and KLG show…pure joy, those two).  I got up and showered and dressed every day.  I had wonderful, fabulous friends who brought food, books, pumpkins to carve. Parke’s mama did my laundry and provided chocolate. My family decorated my room so that it was the envy of the Labor and Delivery ward, Mama called every morning, noon, and night after Parke left.  Kevin, the hospital food services guy, did his best to fatten me up, and by the end of the five weeks did not even have to ask what I wanted he knew me so well. 

The highlight of the day was the non-stress test.  Twice a day a heart monitor was hooked up to my ever-expanding belly and I got to listen to Rip’s heartbeat for an hour.  Looking back, I am so thankful for that time.  I got to concentrate fully on my baby.  I learned that he got the hiccups at the same time every day.  I learned that he was smart enough to “run away” from that nasty gel and monitor when they tried to track him down.  I learned that my baby had his very own little personality.

The night before Rip was born, 11/11, I hardly got any sleep.  I insisted on getting up early and taking a shower, Parke took pictures of us before going in to the delivery room…we both look pretty good, all things considered.  The actual delivery seems like it happened in another lifetime.  I do remember looking at the clock right before they got Rip out, 7:53am, and then all of the sudden he was in front of us.  Parke and I both broke down.  I did not hear him cry at first but eventually they got him breathing and put him on oxygen.  They showed him to me when they wheeled him away and I just kind of thought “oh, there you are!”

The whole day of Rip’s birth is such a blur.  I was on so many drugs.  I remember crying and asking everybody if Rip knew I was his mother… he had to stay in the nursery and I had to stay in my room so I could not get to him.  I remember my mom wiping my face with a cool washcloth and telling me that of course he did.  I remember Parke describing Rip as “a perfect little present”…that used to make me cry when I thought about it, but now I am so glad he thought that about his son, it shows what a good Daddy he is.
The next day I got to really meet my baby.  I cried when I saw him hooked up to all of those machines.  Babies just look so small and vulnerable with all of those wires attached to them.  Parke took so many pictures, and I am grateful that he did.  We have all of those first moments on film, and I see myself and remember all of those thoughts that were going through my head when I really saw him for the first time. 

Over the next few days Rip went through phases where he would breathe on his own, and I spent hours in the Level II nursery, just holding him.  I wish I could write more about those moments but I guess I will just say that they were heaven.  I was in heaven.  I never knew that I could love someone that much.  I know that everyone says that…but it’s true.

Rip got sick the Sunday after he was born.  It happened fairly quickly, he went from having a fever to having episodes of not breathing to needing intubation.  Parke and I were there for several of the episodes where he stopped breathing and I have never been through anything so horrifying or felt so helpless in my life.

Eventually the decision was made to transport Rip to MUSC.  I would like to say that those men, the men who came and took Rip in that ambulance, are some of the kindest I have ever met.  I ran into one of them when I was later sitting by Rip’s bedside in the NICU and he held my hand and then gave me the biggest hug with tears in his eyes.  It takes a special person to do something like that.

The days at MUSC are not something I feel like I need to go into too much detail about.  They were heart wrenching.  There is nothing worse than watching your child in pain.  I lost it (and I mean LOST it) the first day Rip was there…it was like something out of a movie, I fell on the ground, could not breathe, felt like I was no longer of this earth…and I think after that, no matter what anybody else said, I accepted that Rip was not going to make it.  I think that day I started the process of really letting him go, although the doctors would not tell us that we needed to for several more days.

It would be wrong of me not to also mention Rip’s doctors and nurses at MUSC.  There are not words to describe the compassion they showed us during those days.  To look up during the moment you hear the worst news of your life, and see that every other person in the room is also crying because of your pain…I just don’t think that happens in every hospital.

We had Rip baptized in the NICU, and I am so glad that we did because even though I have no doubt God would take Rip no matter what, it has given me peace of mind.  What is funny about the baptism is, even though we were in the NICU, knowing that we were losing Rip, surrounded my beeps and wires, all that I could think through the whole thing was that our pastor was leaning on Rip too hard…I guess once a mother, always a mother.

I also have a lot of peace about the way Rip died.  He died in my arms with Parke’s arms around both of us.  We were surrounded by people who love us. He was not in any pain.  I talked to him from the moment I knew he was alive and I talked to him until the moment he died.  It gives me a lot of comfort that I was there for him his entire life.  I know without a doubt he knew that his family was there, and that he was loved.  He was loved his ENTIRE life.

So Rip’s life on earth ended there, but his story does not. He lives in heaven. He lives every day through me and Parke and our families.  He lives through the people’s lives he touched.  I hope he will live through his brothers and sisters.  He changed me in ways for which I can only be thankful.

I am thankful to be able to tell his story.

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