“I think she is hemorrhaging and we need to get this baby out right now!!!” the doctor yelled. The room filled with a team of medical professionals, buzzing about communicating frantically with each other in words that melted together in my morphine-saturated head as I convulsed in dulled pain off the bed. It were as if I were floating away through the sound waves of their voices, into a peaceful state, as they transferred my resigned teenaged body onto another bed for transport to the operating room. As they continued to chatter while they whisked me through the hospital hallways, I looked groggily over at my mother, who burst into tears and embraced my roommate. “I will be fine,” I said reassuringly, as I flew away from them.
Whether I was going to survive or not, I did not know. But I was unafraid of death. I just wanted to save my baby. This baby was all I had. As a displaced 19-year old girl, this baby meant family. This baby was going to end deep loneliness. Already, without having met, and not even knowing the gender, this tiny life was my purpose.
As a mask was placed on my face, I could feel my belly being prepared for emergency surgery. And then I was out cold.
Very early in the morning on January 31, 1998, I peeked through heavy eyelids across my hospital room, making out the silhouette of my roommate, Joslyn. She smiled sweetly at me and gave me the news, “You have a beautiful little girl.” I fell back to sleep.
A few hours later, I woke up again. I discovered that my abdomen had a large, stapled incision. Moving slightly, I felt how tender it was. But it was necessary to get up and moving soon. So I did, gingerly.
I was eager to meet my little girl, wherever she was now. When the nurse checked on me, I asked about the baby I had delivered in the night. My baby didn’t have a name yet. At 26 weeks into my pregnancy, I had not made that decision. But I did have a list at my apartment. I had been expecting a son, and thought that I was going to name him Demetrius. So now it was back to the drawing board. The nurse told me that my tiny daughter was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). She was alive! I had to see what she looked like. I wanted to know her so very much.
Weak and reeling from the shock of unexpectedly having my pregnancy cut short and my baby taken abruptly from my womb, I climbed into a wheelchair and fixed my hospital gown. My hair was a mess, but I had no modesty left at this point. Joslyn pushed me down the hall toward the NICU, in anticipation of a grand introduction.
We were let into the NICU and approached the sign-in desk. I was told about procedures and instructed to wash my hands for three minutes up to the elbows at a big sink with faucets you operated with your knees. I washed my hands and arms really well. Everything had to be done right. I wanted to be a good mom. This baby was going to have the best mom – a champion on her side always. Instincts were kicking in. I would not let her down!
I stood at the entrance of the nurseries filled with equipment and isolettes. Machines buzzing and medical students doing their rounds, led by neonatologists, who explained the delicate, fragile babies and their statuses. Some would cling to life and some were too small and sick to make it. A nurse led me to the incubator with the label “Baby Girl Siljander.” Inside, I could see her tiny black body, connected to life support. My eyes filled with tears that wouldn’t stop flowing. It was not safe to touch her. So I stood there weeping silently and in amazement, before my daughter in a plastic box. “I am your mother, little girl,” I whispered. “I love you so much, and you are going to have a great life, I promise.”