This post is a tribute to my daughter Norah, and my wife Julie, who’s water broke at 20 Weeks. I typically blog about Photography, Blogging as a Photographer, and finding Motivation to just show up. I don’t typically journal here but I felt like I might never show up again if I didn’t confront this.
If you are here looking for hope, because your water broke at 20 weeks, or some other week that’s just too soon, I feel for you. I pray everything goes well for you and your baby. I’ll also say something one of the nurses said to us.Don't ever let anyone steal your hope! – Nurse Pam Click To Tweet
That includes the Doctors!
My Wife’s Water Broke at 20 Weeks
I don’t know what to say and so I will just start to type. I know I guarded myself from you at the start. High risk they say. We’ve had false hope before, would this be the same?
Lily though, she’s a miracle and she is doing great! Joey was early too. Both of them give me hope! But you Norah, It would be amiss it I didn’t say I was worried.
I knew that if we could not hold you, carry you and see you grow, you could break us! I knew that if you could not be here with us, we would be lost, always waiting for your arrival.
I was scared Norah but when I saw you moving all over like crazy on the ultrasound, I let that fear go. You were real Norah.
With each new ultrasound, you looked more and more like a baby. The last one was perfect. Your head, your heart, your hands and your little feet, everything was perfect.
You were a perfect baby Norah and although you had not quite arrived yet, I started to imagine when you would.
What would you be like Norah?
What would your addition to the family be like? Lily might be jealous at first but mostly, I know she would just love you to pieces. I imagined the bond you would have with your big sister, your big brother, and your new family.
In some far off distant place, I imagined the support you would lend and offer each other. After all, we won’t be here forever but I’m wading too deep. Let’s talk about the lighter side of things.
You know, playing “little people” was almost over, or so I thought. Of course, It’s a bitter sweet end but you’re going to want to play. “Lily better still like playing little people,” I would say. “I need a break.”
How I long for these frivolous thoughts. Your Moms water broke in the middle of the night. Your only 20 weeks Norah! The ambulance came and whisked you and her away into the dark winter night.
Texas arrived just minutes after the ambulance to watch Lily. I reached the hospital just a few minutes behind you. I called your mom from the hospital-parking garage.
I waited hours, texting and talking with your Mom from the garage. COVID seems to kill on so many different levels.
The Search for Hope – Hey Google- Water broke at 20 weeks – Show me Hope!
I searched the internet for articles, “water broke at 20 weeks.” “After water breaks how long baby can survive.” I searched for hope.
This one was particularly encouraging, Woman’s Water Breaks At 17 Weeks And Still Gives Birth To A Healthy Baby.
I prayed for you and the night slowly became the morning. Eventually one of the nurses said she would bend the rules and I could go see your mom.
Finally, a sigh of relief, your heartbeat was good Norah. We were offered two choices. The first option, induce labor essentially meaning all is lost. The second option, just wait and see.
If you mom could make it three more weeks without going into labor or developing a fever, they would admit her. They would put her on antibiotics and you would be considered a viable baby that could survive outside the womb. They would administer life saving measures.
There is no way we would just give up on you Norah and so we decided to fight. We would fight with you, for you, and give you every opportunity to make it into this world. Three weeks, we can do this!
Nurse Pam said, “Don’t ever let anyone steal your hope.” I knew she was referring to the doctors and their doom and gloom scenarios. Sure, they had to be honest but Pam was offering hope.
Of course, there were risks. You and your mom could get a dangerous and even deadly infection.
Still, there is hope and desperately, we clung to this hope. We clung to the hope that you would go another three, four, five weeks. Hell, maybe you could even make it to 29 weeks like your big sister.
Lily was perfect even at 29 weeks. Plus, there are stories, stories of pregnant moms and their babies making it weeks, even to full term after their water breaking.
At 20 weeks, I read baby makes most of their own amniotic fluid. Further, research suggest at around 23 weeks, baby don’t really need amniotic fluid for survival. By this time, the placenta is providing most of the nutrients and oxygen. The amniotic sac serves as protection.
I prayed that our love and desire to see you into this world would be all the protection you needed my sweet baby girl. That somehow, that would be enough.
Super Bowl weekend and the Search for Miracles
We left the hospital and for the next 48 hours, we lived the days out on a sliver of hope. It was Super Bowl weekend and I watched the game at home. We still had some chicken wings and cheese sticks.
I don’t remember much of the first half, Lily was still awake and prying for most of my attention. I love your big sister so much and most times, she wins my attention.
By half time Lily had gone to bed and I managed to enjoy a beer or two and watch the half time show. It was really blah, maybe I was just blah.
Even the remainder of the game was lost on me, uneventful and not in the least bit exciting. The next day, I read the reviews just to make sure it wasn’t just me. It wasn’t, Super Bowl LV was kind of a dud.
I expected more from a Brady, Mahomes showdown. I mean, I didn’t really care who won but I still found myself pulling for Mahomes. I wanted him to show up and make it a game.
I felt that he could do it, he’s Patrick Mahomes afterall, but by the fourth quarter, it felt like he would need a miracle.
Maybe we did too. It’s strange how you can rely on miracles to get you through the day. Somehow Norah, you were going to defy the odds, you were going to be our little Miracle.
But sometimes, gods not offering you the miracle version of the story. The very next evening I found myself dropping your mom off at the entrance to the ER. COVID rules, no company allowed.
She had a fever.
Your Mom prayed it was COVID, anything besides the reality festering in our hearts. Neither of us wanted to accept the truth, especially if that meant letting go of hope.
I drove the car to the hospital-parking garage and just waited. I felt like bad news was coming and I cried, I screamed, and I made sounds that were foreign to me.
At some point, I thought about taking a photo as I sat in the parking garage. I like photography baby Norah. I wonder the things that you might like.
Level 2 the sign read, my subject, my muse, and for now, my current place in the world. I wondered how many levels there were. Not levels to this parking garage, but to the grief that lay before me.
I didn’t take that picture. Instead, I stayed cocooned in the car while your Mom faced our greatest fear, alone.
A couple hours passed, we text back and forth until finally your mom called me and told me to go home. I couldn’t come to see her unless she went into labor and delivery. That would not be good, that would be the worst-case scenario as you are only 20 weeks Norah.
It’s just too soon
I left at around 3am. “Go home and get some sleep but also, pack a bag,” your mom told me. “Pack a bag so that you are ready to stay a couple days when I call you back.” The implications were not good.
I remember the roads were slippery, the snow still lightly falling. I entered the house at around 3:30am. Texas was still awake or I woke her. She asked me if everything was OK and I said “No, not really.”
Then I noticed down the hall, the carbon monoxide detector was beeping. It does that when the battery runs low. God, please don’t wake Lily I thought as I scrounged around for some new batteries.
I tried to find the irony in it, maybe it was a sign, and maybe all of this was a big false alarm. Somehow, I doubted it.
I changed the batteries, gathered some clothes and laid down. I’m not sure if I actually slept but your mom text me at 4:14am. I rose with a panic, wiping the tired from my eyes.
I grabbed the phone and stared at it in the dark trying to make sense of the message before me. Before I could even begin to comprehend, the phone started to ring.
In this short time, your mom had grown considerably worse. Her fever was spiking, her heart rate was elevated and they were moving her into labor and delivery. It was time for me to go back to the hospital.
Too soon for Labor and Delivery
I remember the drive. I remember doing this drive so many times when you’re big sister was in the NICU. We visited her every day Norah. I hoped to be making this same drive for you, over and over again.
This was the best I could hope for but instead, the next couple of days played out like a bad dream with no tangible time line. The news was always bad and the faces were always just, well, “sorry”.
Your Mom was terribly sick and continuing the pregnancy would only make her worse. At this stage, antibiotics wouldn’t be enough to fix the two of you.
They said it’s like an abscess. You can’t get rid of the infection without getting rid of the source.
You are no abscess Norah. You are my baby girl! It’s just the house in which you are currently living is bad, so bad that it could take both of you.
I remember the doctor standing at your mom’s bedside waiting for your mom to say it, go ahead and induce labor, go ahead and give up.
I also remember that same doctor, days earlier, before the fever, saying if things turn this direction there wouldn’t be a choice, no conversations, no options.
No Choice, No Conversations, No Options!
“We can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do,” the doctor continued. But that’s the thing, please do, take the choice from our hands.
You see Norah, your mom can’t say it, she can’t make that choice. Honestly, I think she would rather die than give up on you.
“But there is not really a choice,” I intervened. I don’t remember my exact words but I knew one thing for sure. My wife does not want to speak those words. I mentioned the conversation we had earlier, no options, and no conversations. It just was.
“This is the right choice,” the doctor spoke and nurses around her agreed. “If you don’t make this choice now, you will get worse.”
My wife’s WBC count was already almost 20, a critical value indicative of sepsis, a deadly blood infection.
“Eventually your husband will see how sick you will become and he will make it out of concern for your life.”
There was no choice.
We were terrified to meet you Norah, especially under the circumstances, too soon. It was my biggest fear. What would you look like, would you suffer, would I watch you suffer? I was scared.
Part of me wanted to maintain hope, that somehow you were some miracle child that even at 20 weeks would arrive and beat all the odds. You would just breathe.
The doctor and staff however did not seem to share this belief. They had certainly been here before and knew the reality. There were no odds.
We lost you Norah.
The moments felt heavy and I will not lie, at times, it was hard to look at you. Not because I feared what you would look like, how bad it would be, but because you were beautiful.
You looked just like your big sister. You would have been her little clone, running around the house and we would have been running around after you.
You stayed in the room with us all night. I signed your permission slip to allow the nurse to come in and take some photos of you. For relation, I wrote Dad next to my name, next to your name, and I cried. I cried because I wanted to write that again, and again, for years to come.
I also took photos of you Norah, I like photography, and I think I told you that. I took photos because I knew eventually they would come in and take you away, down the hall, never to be seen again.
I took photos because a box of mementos is all god is offering us.
I feel cheated, and angry!
At some point, your bed pulled up next to your mom’s hospital bed, I fell asleep on the couch. I had a crazy dream.
I was in a house. I’m not sure exactly where but there was a girl, a teenager. At some point, it may have been Paige or Emily when they were younger. I’m not sure.
I talked to them briefly before going into another room. When I came out, I went to the restroom and realized it was in disarray.
The toilet had moved, the sink was in the middle of the floor and really, nothing made sense. I exited quickly and said something like, “what happened? What did you do?”
When no one answered, I went into the living room. I realized it was so much worse than I first believed.
The house was turned upside down. Nothing was the same and everything had moved. Just then, you leapt from the shadows and stabbed me in the heart.
I woke from that hell and into the real one still unfolding around us. A nurse was in the room and she said something about the hospital chaplain coming into our room. It felt like 4 am, maybe 5, I don’t know.
We gathered around you, your mom, the chaplain and me as the chaplain spoke words. She spoke words that I cannot remember to this day. It almost feels like a part of the dream. When she left, I remember feeling empty.
It felt like someone had gutted every passion for life one could manage to muster over the years. Hobbies, goals, dreams, desires, interests, and everything I worked for, gone. Fascination was dead.
Confronting my Feelings
At some point that night, the nurse who took your photos told us about her own similar experience. She too, had lost a child at birth.
She also said the first thing she looked at when she started her shift was to see if we had other kids. She was relieved to see we did. I’m starting to understand why.
Norah, I’ll always be your Dad and Julie will always be your Mom. We made choices for you in the midst of it all. We tried to be the best parents we could be in that short amount of time you graced us with your presence.
You just needed three more weeks to endure a life out here, three more weeks within the safety of a mother’s womb. It can be rough out here Norah, the days are long and the moments, although sometimes great are often arduous.
As for us, we just needed three more weeks for the hope to be real.
What is real?
Well, your five-year-old sister is just starting her journey away from home, going to school, and making friends. She loves playing make believe, and makes pictures for mom and dad almost every day.
Your know-it-all big brother is a teenager, self-absorbed and testing our patience every day just like teenagers do. One day at a time, I tell myself, one day at a time. He will grow up to be kind and generous. I know it.
Finally, you Norah, you are real! You will live on in our hearts, our choices and our remaining journey here on earth.
In the past, I’ve looked to the memories of deceased loved ones to guide me on this journey. At some point, you stop wallowing in their absence and turn to the good times before visiting the end times.
You remember the moments that made you smile and laugh, the moments that made a sole unique. I’ll always long for your smile, your laugh, and the little things that would have made you, well, simply you Norah.
The landscape of possible moments feels empty, empty but equally full of possibilities. I know that you would have been strong Norah, and oh my god, you would have been so brilliant and creative.
I continuously look for you in my own actions, ambitions, goals, and in those of the family around me. I look for your strength, I look for you creativity and I search for you in everything we do, all we are, and all we become.
Norah’s light, forever and always leading the way.
Amazing words, Michael. I pray that writing this offers some small bit of healing for you and Julie. So important to hear this from the perspective of Norah’s dad. Well done. She is proud of you.
My heart is broken for you and all of us who were looking forward to meeting you Norah. Now you are with Jesus and one day you will meet your family again and you will all be together again. Until that time you will never leave the hearts of those of us who love you. You will never be forgotten little angel.