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Her name is Hannah

Her name is Hannah

Since I've been a dad, I've been intentional about giving all our children Hebrew names. Elizabeth means "Promise of God" and Elijah, “God is my Yahweh,” is named after my favorite prophet. A few days ago, I was in a hospital room reading the Wall Street Journal with my wife, Bethany, as she labored in preparation for our third (she had had an epidural, so things were rather calm). We were talking throughout the day about various things: Lizzie's school experience, Eli's funny singing voice, Bethany's amazing ability to keep up CrossFit for as long as she did, and the growth of my business all while Bethany’s common “labor pains" intensified. I wasn't overthinking her various aches and pains; after all, this is our third go around and as a guy, what do I know? After 18 hours of slow dilation, Bethany and I were getting a little antsy, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. We were making bets whether she'd be born on that Saturday or Sunday.

The doctor arrived and said that Bethany was fully dilated. Then he appeared a little concerned when he looked at the monitor and saw that our little one was "not calming down (in a little distress) for longer than usual." He assured us that this could be common for newborns when they exited the womb and seemed hopeful that Bethany would be able to do a natural delivery. I went back to reading the paper and spoke here-and-there with Bethany. I remember that things seemed more "dream-like" and a little unusual. I can't quite explain it unless you've experienced something similar: where something seems unnatural when you're trying to make things common. You can't describe it at the moment, but looking back, the moment seemed out of place—like a piece of a puzzle that doesn't fit, but you didn't recognize its position in the first place. Looking back, that's how I'd describe the following moments. At the time, we were both relieved that Bethany would have a natural birth and things would "go smoothly."

Until the doctor returned and told us our baby was "misbehaving." Please don't read into that statement. I knew what he meant: the baby wasn't calming down, and he was concerned. He strongly advised an emergency cesarean because the baby's distress seemed out of the ordinary, and he wasn't sure if the baby was in a calm enough state for delivery. Bethany and I looked at each other, discouraged and alarmed, but resolute that we needed to take care of her, regardless of our personal preferences. We agreed to the cesarean.

From that moment, time slowed down. What began as a pleasant, peaceful morning full of calm labor and the WSJ turned into a flashback of our close friends who had delivered a stillborn baby. I began asking myself, "Are we going to lose her? We just had a miscarriage last year; was God punishing me?" I can't rationalize why these thoughts occur. They just happen. You don't have the emotional wherewithal to make sense of them or correct them, they just invade and settle with you. The nurses quickly got Bethany ready for an emergency cesarean, and they gave me a gown to eventually follow her in. We had a cesarean with Eli, but this seemed different—similar to the puzzle piece, things just didn't "fit' right. They rushed Bethany in, and I then sat down staring at the floor thinking, "Am I going to lose my daughter?" For some reason, I wasn't feeling assured or confident about that.

After about 20 minutes, the nurse arrived to retrieve me, then I followed her in. Things seemed somewhat normal—they had already started working on Bethany, and the set-up seemed similar to my experience with Eli. I sat with Bethany, purposefully avoiding her organs, and pet her head. She looked "sicker" this time, whiter, and more constrained. Looking back, it was a vivid memory of utter helplessness. It was also a significant contrast (the first of many that evening) from talking about my successful business or "what we'll do for dinner next week" to asking the question, "Is death around the corner? I hope all is ok. Dear, God."

And at that moment, I heard our baby's cry.

She coughed up the water in her mouth, and she cried for her first breath. They quickly put her bloody body on the table and cleaned her up. I looked at her and looked at Bethany, but I couldn’t go to her. Looking up, I saw the doctors looked worried, determined, but concerned. The doctor that made the decision earlier asked one of the nurses to “get the other doctor as soon as possible.” When the nurse asked him, “Is everything ok?” He said, “No. Get her in here please.” Looking back, this is the moment where time didn't seem to fit. I sat in the chair with Bethany and looked back at my baby. The doctor cleaning our baby up said, "Come over! She's beautiful!" I reluctantly did, not because I didn't want to see her, but at that moment, after seeing the faces of the doctors and nurses in the room, I began wondering to myself, "Is this the last time I'll see my wife alive?" I then walked to my daughter and quickly realized Bethany hadn't seen her. I asked the nurse if she could make sure my wife could see her newborn. I vividly remember thinking to myself, "I want my wife to see her daughter if she goes." I wasn't sad. I wasn't upset. I was in shock. I was also delighted that my little girl looked wonderful and perfectly healthy. The doctor cleaning her up said, "Why don't you go upstairs and we'll come to get you." She was sweet but very neutral in her responses. Something I've done several times to patients in the hospital myself when a possible tragedy might occur.

I walked upstairs with the nurse and my newborn. While in the elevator, my baby seemed to smile at the world. “How do I make sense of this? She's smiling, and I'm so happy to see her. I'm not sure if my wife's going to make it." "I'm so happy to see you, but is this what a widower goes through?" While I was upstairs, I had to sit outside the nursery and wait for the nurse to clean her up. She then led me downstairs to the same room we were in, only empty now. I then sat down with my numb thoughts and just pondered. I tried to pray. But, I barely could at that moment. I think the church asks others to pray because, in times of desperation, we often don't have the energy to pray and need others to pray for us. I thought of my wife: her laugh, her kindness, her ability to balance me. But, I also thought of my mistakes: the times I wasn't gentle when I was passive-aggressive when I wouldn't listen, or the times I was not as present in my marriage. I thought of my mistakes and how this "couldn't be it. Could it, Lord?"

Well, many of you know that Bethany is now ok. But you know that after the fact. The nurse wheeled Bethany back in, and the doctor described what happened. During the procedure (they didn't know when) Bethany's uterus ruptured and the baby slipped out, which likely caused the distress. The doctor then said that even though this occurred, the baby was perfectly healthy (something they rarely have seen). Most of the time when this happens (in less than %1 of cases), they have to rush the baby to Boston for trauma treatment. Another miracle is that Bethany didn't bleed out. During a rupture, hemorrhaging is very common, and in Bethany's case, they were so concerned because they were unsure whether they'd sew her up in time. It was by the grace of God my little girl is born, and Bethany is doing well and coming home tomorrow.

Hannah means grace.

Her name will be Hannah.


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