Twenty-five point five.
A friend of mine long ago told me that some of the most truly unexpected life changing experiences show up on a random Tuesday or Thursday morning. This was no exception. At 3 a.m. on some random Thursday morning in March, our lives would never be the same.
I fell asleep on the sofa in the study after a day of prepping for paint of my anticipated baby daughter's bedroom. As my head hit the tiny square pillow it was like some immediate nightmare fell upon me as I heard her say, “I’m losing blood, I’ve got to get to the emergency room.” This was no dream, as it was the beginning of rollercoaster ride like no other.
Upon reaching the Women's Center of Northside Hospital and trying to keep calm and collected as I answered questions while half-awake, I waited in the lobby alerting various friends and family even though I was not sure what was really going on. As we stayed the next few days contemplating some complications of perhaps a placental abruption, it seemed the situation stabilized. I felt safe enough to grab some coffee and a croissant from down the street.
It was the first day of spring and I felt relieved, but just then I received a call to immediately come back to the Women's Center. A nurse approached me and started rambling various emergency procedures followed by a doctor now shaking my hand as we walked to the room. I saw another nurse getting me scrubs and handing them to me. The whole thing was like out of a movie, but in slow motion. The only phrase I remember hearing clearly was “If we don't act now, we’re going to lose both of them.”
I was then told to wait outside the delivery room while I tried frantically to keep my balance. There was so much blood. Time appeared to stand still waiting those 15 minutes before being escorted in. I saw the team from Children's Hospital of Atlanta in the corner.
In an instant I saw the doctor said, “Here’s your daughter Mr. Cole.”
They reached in and pulled her out and gave me a few seconds to look at her. A thousand questions about her went through my mind, but only one thing stood out. I instantly loved her no matter her condition. It was the 25th week and 5th day or as I like to remember, 1 pound and 9 ounces.
I remember her gripping my pinky as if to say, “Hold on… This is going to be one heck of a ride.” I followed the ambulance down to the NICU on the perimeter in Atlanta. I was assured over and over she was in the best care and looking back, no truer words have been spoken. The nurses and doctors that do this work are real heroes. Upon entering the NICU, I realized that nothing in my life could ever have prepared me for the unbearable burden that all of my senses were about to bare.
The countless machines, dials ,wires, tubes and sounds and digital number displays is dizzying, but soon you become aware which ones mean the most. It’s an extraordinary challenge to watch infants fight for their lives. The very thing we sometimes take for granted. In this place we are all one. We pray and think of each other as we pass the rows of incubators where race and religion, although evident, give way to the human story.
In the days that passed, 127 of them to be exact, we built relationships with some of the other parents. It is so vitally important, if possible, to find a support group within. You are the only ones who will really know how to relate now and years to come.
You will pass each other often in the corridors and elevators. Consider starting a pizza night in the lobby and share your stories. I know I personally will forever be grateful to those who saw my confused anguished expression and had the courage to say hello and reach out and show me the ropes.
Do not read too much into the feeling of abandonment and loneliness by friends and family as it is too much to expect of them to know what to say or do. The awareness and emotion is always on full edge, so try to be extremely patient with yourself and your partner because I can assure you — life will never be the same again.