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A Dad Reflects on a Difficult Childbirth

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Roman Grey

Roman Grey

Anne Thompson and I met on a blind date in an Irish bar. I was 33, two years divorced, and resigned to being on my own when a dark-haired beauty in a red dress asked if I was Steve. "Even if I wasn't, I'd say I was," I said. At least, when we tell the story now, six years after, that's what we say I said; I really just extended a suddenly sweaty hand and mumbled something about being glad to meet her. Five weeks later, I told her I was going to marry her. Seven months later, as we stood on the flanks of Mt. Rainier, I asked for her hand. She said yes. I'd never been so much in love.

Marriage and all that comes with it is a huge vote of confidence in the future. So we flowed forward. A year after we married, we bought a house. Then we had Luke. There wasn't much time to do the things we did when we were falling in love--the long runs together, the Sunday afternoon reading sessions on the couch with our legs entwined  but there was new stuff. Raising our son together gave me a sense of partnership that I'd never felt in my life. Things seemed limitless, and Anne so lovely.

We decided to have another child, who, in that spirit of limitlessness, turned into identical twins. Christine and Catherine were born via emergency C-section early last May at 31 weeks. The atmosphere in the delivery room was light until a jet of blood shot out of the incision and hit the ob-gyn square in the face. A nurse wiped off the blood while the surgeon started working furiously. The ob-gyn ordered eight units of blood and a dose of an anticoagulant drug. I'd had just enough first-aid training to know that the average adult body contains eight units of blood.

I asked if there was a problem. The ob-gyn said, "Yeah, a big one. Anne's placenta won't separate by itself and there's a lot of bleeding. We're trying to control it. If we can't, we'll have to perform a hysterectomy."

"That's okay, we're done having kids," Anne croaked.

The ob-gyn asked me to step outside. "We're going to watch her for an hour," he told me. "If she needs a hysterectomy now, you should be prepared for the worst. It's dangerous to perform at this point. It's very possible that she could bleed to death."

While a flock of doctors and nurses wheeled Anne to the recovery room, she asked me to visit Catherine and Christine in the NICU. So small, both just a little over three pounds. But there they were, the very embodiment of their parents' optimism and love. I struggled to not be pulled under by my fear -- fear of losing my wife and best friend, of raising three kids alone, of being alone again. But I couldn't keep sadness at bay. The girls might never know their mom, the pure joy of being touched by someone as wonderful as Anne.

I went back to her. The morphine was kicking in. "I feel so content," she cooed. "We have such a nice family now." I felt tears welling. She didn't know what was going on. We had been so confident in the future, a future that was bright because we had found each other. "We sure do," I told her. "The girls look just like you. They're beautiful."

Two hours later, the ob-gyn came by. "You're out of the woods," he said. "The bleeding has stopped." Then he looked straight at Anne. "This never happens. You're very, very lucky."

Sometimes in the middle of the night, when we're both feeding a hungry little girl who we know will be hungry again soon, it's hard to think of ourselves as lucky. But then I look up and see Anne, and, wonder of it all, she's usually smiling at whichever girl she's feeding. And just like that I'm back in the Irish bar. And I am so glad -- so very, very glad -- that I met her.

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Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the February 2003 issue of Child magazine.