My daughter cried out in pain. I turned and watched as she gripped the seat belt that crossed over her shoulder. Her eyes squeezed shut as she bit into her lower lip.
“You okay?” I asked, because I didn’t know what else to say. She continued to moan. “Shy, you’ve got to breathe. Okay? Nice deep breaths.”
She slowly eased her grip on the seatbelt and opened her eyes. “This hurts so bad,” she said.
“I know,” I told her.
“I think they’re getting closer, Mom.”
I looked at the traffic surrounding us as we continued to move slowly toward the next traffic light.
“I know,” I said.
My youngest daughter, Tiesha, whom everyone has always referred to as Shy, had her first child the year before when she was 18. She lived in Las Vegas at the time. I lived in Colorado and was finishing up my last year of college. I desperately wanted to be there for the birth, but also knew I couldn’t risk missing classes. My best option was to time my trip to see her during my Spring Break. I got there the day after Shy’s daughter was born. One day too late to hold her hand and comfort her during labor.
Shy was still in the hospital when I arrived in Las Vegas, and she shared with me how painful it had been and how alone she had felt. Her daughter, Heiress, had come so fast there hadn’t been time for an epidural. But she had been full-term, and Shy delivered a healthy and beautiful little princess.
A year later, my daughter became pregnant again. She came back to Colorado while still in her first trimester. Shy, along with Heiress who turned one in March, went to stay with her godmother who lived less than a mile from me.
It was Shy’s godmother who called to tell me Shy was having labor pains. Always calm under pressure, she kept her voice steady,
“Shy’s in labor,” she told me. “I have too much going on over here. I can watch Heiress, but can you take Shy to the hospital?”
I looked at my phone. It was 6 a.m. and I was not an early riser. I tried to clear my head and sound more awake than I was. “What? But she’s barely five months.”
An unsteady edge clung to her words this time. “I know,” she answered, “But this baby’s coming today. And soon. She’ll be ready when you get here.”
The drive to the hospital dragged on forever. Every red light dared me to run it. When we finally arrived, Shy was quickly admitted into the hospital and given a room. Her contractions, still painful and steady, remained about five minutes apart. She changed into the enormous blue hospital gown the nurse handed her. My petite 5’3” daughter seemed to drown within the garment. At 22 weeks pregnant she had not yet begun to show.
Between contractions I helped Shy into the bed. When they came, I stood next to her, feeling useless as I watched her try to breathe through them. Randomly, a nurse would come to check her, but as ready as Shy seemed to be giving birth she had only dilated to three centimeters. I wasn’t even sure what to hope for. Shy wasn’t far enough along to have this baby, but her water broke two days previously, leaving no amniotic fluid for the baby.
When Shy’s water broke with Heiress, she was already in a hospital bed. Her attention focused on the pain and the task of pushing her kid out. This time it was a slow leak and a small amount at first. Shy assumed it was pee from laughing or sneezing.
By day two the leaking had continued. Shy’s godmother decided to take Shy to the ER. She was monitored for a bit but ended up being sent home after a few hours. Shy came to my house afterward to pick up Heiress. My granddaughter crawled all over her mother as Shy told me what the doctor had said. Although Shy had been leaking fluid for two days they hadn’t seemed alarmed yet. They planned to check her amniotic fluid again in a week. If it didn’t look good, she would be put on bed rest for the rest of her pregnancy. More than anything Shy was unsure how she would be able to continue to pay her bills and buy stuff for the baby if she couldn’t work. In 12 hours, that would be the least of her concerns.
Now, as Shy lay in the hospital bed prepped for labor, I watched her as another contraction came on. My daughter gripped the metal on the side of the bed and yelled out obscenities. I stood there, wishing I could take her pain and make it my own. Around noon it became apparent this baby was going to be awhile. The medical staff offered Shy an epidural, with the knowledge that it wouldn’t do any damage to the baby or make the process any slower. But it would make labor more bearable. The decision was a no-brainer.
The epidural catheter made Shy’s physical discomfort bearable, but the news the doctors brought us tore at her emotions. Shy had an infection. The doctor described it as “something that just happens with no explanation as to why.” To protect itself, her body was trying to rid itself of anything it felt might be a threat, including her 22-week-old fetus. The result was early labor. Nothing they did could stop the labor at this point, and there was no longer enough amniotic fluid left for the baby to be safe. Her little boy was on his way.
They wouldn’t know if he had grown enough to survive outside the womb until they could examine him. The first pediatrician told us not to give up hope. She would do everything in her power to keep him alive. His chance of survival relied on how developed his lungs were. I looked at my daughter. She leaned back against her pillow. Her shoulders relaxed slightly as she let out a long breath.
The hospital produced a new set of people as the day wore on. The new pediatrician went over the situation with us again. He told us that the baby’s chance of survival was almost nonexistent. We should prepare for the worst. My heart beat against my chest so hard it was painful. My face heated up, the way it does when I lean into the oven too fast to check on the food. Shy opened her mouth, but remained silent. I watched as my daughter’s eyes welled with tears. She blinked, and they rolled down her cheeks, slowly, disappearing at the bottom of her lovely face. I looked at the doctor, confused by this new development.
“Wait. You’re still going to try, right?” I asked for both of us. “The other doctor said there was a chance. That he could live.”
“We will try our best to keep him alive,” the doctor answered. “But he’s most likely underdeveloped.”
He told us Shy’s baby would most likely never take a breath outside the womb. Shy’s confused look mirrored my own.
After that doctor left, the energy in the room shifted. Hope had been replaced by trepidation. Shy wiped at her tears and picked up her phone.
“I’m going to ask godmom to bring Heiress to spend the night. I want my baby.”
She asked me if I would stay the night to help care for Heiress. Nothing could keep me away.
Family came and went throughout the evening. When Shy’s godmother brought Heiress, Shy pulled her daughter onto the bed and held her fiercely.
When the time came for Shy to push, my older daughter took Heiress, her own son, and my son into the waiting room. I asked the nurse if I should get out of the way.
“No mom,” the nurse answered. “You’re going to want to hold your daughter’s hand.”
I did want to. I moved close to Shy and took her hand. She was crying. Endless tears ran down her face. I took her and held her close to me. She was told to push.
I watched my daughter look away, her face distorted in agony. I knew the epidural was still working. Shy’s pain went deeper than that.
I looked down and watched my grandson enter the world in a rush of blood. The doctors picked him up and took him to the side to work on him. Both Shy and I stared at their backs.
Maybe five minutes later, maybe ten minutes later, they said he was dead. His last heartbeat was inside the womb. My daughter cried out and I pulled her to my chest. She stayed that way for a while.
We stayed in the hospital for two more days until her infection was cleared. Heiress stayed with us, trying her best to cheer up her mother. The hospital staff dressed my tiny grandson in the smallest baby clothes I’d ever seen and allowed us to hold him. I held him first. He looked a lot like Heiress when she was born. I gently handed him to Shy. Her expression of sadness still haunts me. Her eyes looked empty.
I turned and said I had to use the bathroom. I shut the door, and let the tears fall. They fell for my grandson, Cari, who would never kiss his mother or play with his big sister. They fell for me, and all the family who would never get to meet Cari. They fell for Shy, whose heart was broken, and who now knew a pain greater than I would ever know.