This post goes into some graphic detail of Cora’s last night. It’s a difficult one to read, but one day it might save lives.
This is hard.
I worry I won’t be able to do this.
I look for the same strength I found to deliver your eulogy. I look to you. I think of you to get me through this letter.
As you remember, we started writing a letter last week to share you with the world, to tell the world of your incomprehensible beauty and of the heart bursting out of my chest joy you brought to me.
We left off at your first day. You were protected and surrounded by the love of your family.
I share this letter with the world. I debated about that. What follows isn’t going to be easy for anyone to read, especially mommies and daddies. But, I knew we had to share this. This is part of your story. I want your story to sweep across the world. That’s how we’ll save lives, spread compassion, and give people a new perspective on the world.
I might have to take a break or two. This isn’t going to be easy.
From the day you were born, Mommy and Daddy had looked after you in shifts. Daddy stayed up with you at night, waking me when you were hungry. Most Dads don’t do this. I told you how lucky you are to have Daddy. This night I dozed on the couch. I can’t lie, the entire process of being pregnant for nine months, working to provide for you, giving birth, and then coming home with you had left me exhausted and drained.
A happy exhausted and drained.
Daddy woke me to feed you around 3:30 a.m. and he hopped in the shower. The feeding went normally. You screamed and turned bright red, fighting as I tried to lead you to my chest. I can still hear those screams in my dreams. But, eventually you calmed and went for it, and a look of total bliss crossed your little face. I’ll never forget that look. The way your eyes would roll a little and you’d make a little purring noise as you learned to nurse and fill your tiny stomach.
I’ve got to put this down now. I’ve got to walk away for a minute. This is hard.
Daddy got out of the shower and walked over to stroke your perfect, pinchable, little cheek. A touching family moment with Mommy nursing baby Cora and Daddy supporting baby and Mommy that would soon turn to a scene straight from a horror movie. Dad turned around to get comfortable in the recliner while we nursed on the couch. Here details start to blur for me.
He says he had just sat down when within minutes…
I looked down to check to make sure you were still suckling and getting nutrition. As someone new to this breastfeeding thing, I was constantly keeping an eye on how you were doing.
Blood. I noticed blood. From my nipple? Did she draw blood out of my nipple some how I thought? No. Blood all over your face. It was coming from your mouth and nose.
“She’s not breathing!!!!” I screamed to Daddy at the top of my lungs simultaneously jumping off the couch. I remember him answering, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” in disbelief.
“Call 911,” I ordered as he had already started looking for his phone.
He called, smartly giving our address first and then explaining the baby had stopped breathing.
Meanwhile, I held you like a limp doll. I knew you weren’t in there. I knew this shell wasn’t my baby. So lifeless. I did hear small gurgling noises. At the time, I thought they were you trying to breathe. Now, I think this was the infamous death rattle dyeing humans and animals make. This is the stuff horror movie writers come up with in their creepy, dark home offices on a stormy night. This is something I’ll be working through for the rest of my life. I stared down at my lifeless baby covered in blood and couldn’t fix her.
The 911 operator mentioned CPR and Daddy says I tried to give CPR even though I don’t know how. I don’t remember this, I only know because two days later when your blood still covered my mouth and hand, Ben told me why it was there. I spent those first few days in absolute shock. Rattled to the soul.
Daddy screamed at the operator that we could get to the hospital quicker than an ambulance and we ran for the car. I remember shouting about how you needed a car seat, Daddy said of course to forget it. The car windows were frosted over. Daddy stuck his out the window to drive, going over 60 miles per hour down the main street of our rural town. A police officer met us half way and escorted us to the hospital.
We arrived within minutes of your last breathe. It was too late.
I jumped out of the car before Daddy had even came to a complete stop. I was running with you frantically trying to get someone who could make you start breathing. Then I stumbled. Instant guilt and frantic worry.
I cradled you perfectly. Not a bone in your body would have been hurt. Three weeks later and my elbow is still bruised from that fall. I protected you until the last. However, you were already gone so it didn’t matter. The police officer who escorted us took you and ran you all the back to a nurse. CPR was started right away. The doctors, nurses, and EMTs looked grim, shooting looks of pity our way. But, they worked hard to bring you back.
I stood watching. Then a seat was there. I sat watching. The police officer didn’t leave our side, crying with us at one point.
I didn’t know what was happening. It seemed so surreal. One minute, you were nursing normally, the next you were dead. I felt guilt. After all you died on my breast. Did it suffocate you? Did you fall victim to SIDS? I read that can happen sometimes if a baby falls asleep nursing. Did I grab you out of the crib too rough even though I was also so patient and gentle with you? I started wailing, “what did I do wrong?” The doctors and nurses acted cautiously suspicious until they could see I had done nothing.
They continued to work but there wasn’t much hope. A super faint heartbeat. You looked dead. Lifeless. Pale. Not like you at all. The doctor came out to talk to us. He got to the point. “Your baby is dead,” he said.
We were taken to a room to wait on your Grandma, my mom. She grabbed us tight when we shook our heads when she came in the room. She knew.
How could this have happened I still shouted at the world? What did I do I wondered. My mind was consumed from guilt. After all, you died on my chest.
We walked out to see you one last time. Hope. A last minute of hope. They got a super faint heart beat again for just a few minutes. They were making calls. A transport to a bigger hospital? Soon the doctor came back again with a line we had heard before, “Your baby is dead,” he said. Hope was gone. It will return though.
We all sobbed over your body that night. Me. Dad. Grandma. Nurses. Doctors.
At one point I gave up. I decided this was too much to handle. I started slipping to the floor. Nurses, EMTs, and others unknown got me to a gurney, I guess. I was curled in a little ball. I wasn’t going to ever come back. This was too much for me. I didn’t want to go on without you. But, then I saw Daddy’s face. I saw his concern, and I came back. For him, I came back.
Then we had to wait for the coroner. Still I felt the guilt. We went over everything with the coroner. She could make no guesses. She asked if she could come over to our house to recreate the scene. Somehow, Daddy drove home. Soon the coroner was here. I recreated the horror movie for her. I couldn’t act it out well. I started crying and shaking.
She said it looked like I’d done everything right, positioning, everything. I told her of my feelings of guilt. She said they would take time to fade.
Grandma tucked us in. We bawled ourselves to sleep. We both screamed and twisted our faces in horror in our sleep for weeks to come. Grandma kept checking on us. A few hours later I awakened to a house full of relatives. All of your things had been carefully taken away and stashed in your nursery. That’s how I knew you were really gone.
The next day, the coroner called with the autopsy results. She reassured me over and over I’d done nothing wrong. You’re heart wasn’t formed right. Something was wrong. She called it congenital heart disease. Daddy and I had to look “congenital” up in the dictionary. We still were clueless about what had taken our little daughter.
Now, I make my mission to keep working for you. To share the love I talked about in my day one post and to learn more about congenital heart disease and work to save lives.