Roughly three hours after delivering Leah by emergency cesarean section, the doctors gave her medication to suppress her seizures and brought her to my hospital room for palliative care. My husband and I waited with bated breath, since nobody knew how long she would live once her life supports were removed. Since the drugs from my surgery were now wearing off, I was finally able to really see her when they placed her in my arms. She was bigger than we had anticipated, weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces and measuring 20 inches long, and she was more beautiful than I could have imagined. She had my lips and, as my family and I had long speculated, she had the same full head of dark chestnut hair that I had been born with 29 years ago.
I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to hold her skin-to-skin for the first time. “There you are, my darling girl,” I whispered into her hair. “I’ve been waiting for you for so long.” I traced each fold of her deliciously chubby body with my fingers and stroked her head for hours. If given the choice, I would have continued to do so for an eternity. Exhausted and sedated from the drugs she had been given, my baby girl nestled into my chest and slept. I would like to think that she instinctively knew she was finally in her mother’s arms, safe and warm where she belonged.
While I relished my time with Leah, my husband assumed the difficult duty of calling our family and friends to share our tragic news. My parents and sisters were already en route to the hospital from my hometown three hours away. Soon our room would be filled to the brim with love from our family, but it is those first quiet hours that I shared alone with my daughter that remain most vivid in my mind’s eye.
As the hours hurried on and evening approached, Leah finally opened her eyes. They were a beautiful deep green, just like her dad’s. At the same time, the seriousness of her condition was becoming more tangible as her initial dosage of medication wore off. It was evident that her body was being continuously ravaged by seizures, resulting in sudden, robotic movements that made my heart break. After my family left for the evening, my midwife helped me express colostrum to feed her, which proved difficult since she had not developed a sucking reflex. Even so, it was important that I give her the nourishing liquid that my body had produced for her, and I desperately wanted to care for her in every way that I could during our short time together.
Refusing to miss a moment with her, I stayed up and held Leah all night. Despite the pain from my c-section, I managed to gingerly walk around my room and bounce her gently when she cried. Early in the morning, my husband curled up next to me in bed where we stayed side-by-side, holding her together.
It soon became apparent that our time together was growing short. Leah’s breathing became increasingly laboured and her seizures were becoming more frequent and pronounced. She held on for the morning and my family was able to spend more time with her. The nurses kept coming in to check on us and they attempted to give her more medicine to suppress the seizures. Her lack of sucking reflex made this difficult, however, and the sound of her choking coughs brought tears to my eyes.
Shortly before 1pm, Leah’s lips suddenly turned blue and the colour drained from her face. Her eyes rolled back before snapping shut, and her body began convulsing in my arms. My husband asked everyone to leave before sitting next to me in bed once again; we knew that it was time. I sobbed and silently begged her not to open her eyes. I simply could not stand to look into them during those final moments. A nurse placed her stethoscope on Leah’s chest and confirmed what we already knew.
And just as suddenly as she had crashed into my world nine months ago, Leah left us after exhaling one final breath in my arms.