The Story of Benjamin, Part 2

This week, I’m telling the story of our first son in honor of his birthday. For the first part of the story, read The Story of Benjamin, Part 1.

And now, we continue….

The doctor did a visual exam, and then tried to figure out what was going on. At one point she made a comment that she should have saved the blood that came out during the examination so that she could have tested it. What? I was suddenly very nervous about our choice of doctor. They put my wife in a bed and tried to figure out a way to slow or stop the labor. From the quiet muttering of the staff, I picked up that they really had no idea what to do. At the time, the “women’s hospital” had no Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and – as far as I could tell – had no way at all of dealing with anything other than a picture-perfect delivery. There was no talk of moving her to another hospital (two other hospitals in the area have renowned NICU facilities, and were a short ambulance ride away). Instead, she lay there through the night and the next day, until in the middle of the following night she was in unstoppable labor and approaching delivery. But they were the doctors and they knew what they were doing, right? Right?

At this point, they moved her to the Labor and Delivery Room (LDR), and she, the doctor and I (I can’t recall if there was a nurse in the background, but I feel fairly certain that there were just three of us in the room) went through hell as we realized that there was no way that our baby was going to survive, and that we had to make sure that at least my wife would make it through OK.

My wife was in labor, and I had no idea what to do. We had been talking about setting up LaMaze classes for a couple of months down the road, but we had no idea what to do whatsoever. I tried to call upon my memories of LaMaze classes and deliveries in movies and TV shows to figure out some way to help her. Each time a contraction came, I tried to get her to breathe through it, trying to paint a verbal picture for her to focus on. Making up a story of a vacation that we would take after this was all over. I described a fictitious bed-and-breakfast in Vermont, making up details of a walk that we would take in the woods, adding a new detail with each contraction. (As it turned out, we never did take that trip to Vermont. I think we were afraid that it would bring back memories of that night.)

Finally, our son was born, early on the morning of Monday, October 5. Eighteen years ago today. We got a chance to hold him briefly, then had to focus on finishing the birthing process. We reluctantly handed the baby back to the doctor. It was the last time we’d see our baby alive. We knew that at the time, but it didn’t really hit us until afterward. At 22 weeks, the baby just was not sufficiently developed to survive, especially without major NICU support. He was dead in five minutes. After we finished the birthing process, we just were quiet together for a while. We decided that, since it was a boy and we had only agreed on a boy’s name, that it was rightly his and he would be named Benjamin.

I went to the phone to notify our parents, whom I had kept in the loop during the process and had last updated before heading to LDR. My in-laws lived about 150 miles away, in the Catskills, while my mother and stepfather and my father and stepmother lived about 200 miles away on Long Island. My in-laws were saddened and said that they’d get on the road first thing in the morning to be with us. My mother expressed condolences and said that they would be up to visit soon. The first words out of my father’s mouth were “You shouldn’t have named him.” I felt like I had been punched in the face and in the gut. (By the way, to this day my father denies saying those words, but I know that he did. He denies saying things that he later realizes were hurtful, like “tell your mother that she’d better marry him or I’m going to cut off the alimony anyway” and “I never knew that you wanted your grandmother’s piano.” He may block them out of his memory and truly believe that he didn’t say them, but that doesn’t mean that he’s correct.)

At that point, my wife and I just passed out and slept, as we were exhausted from the night’s events. We awoke and were having breakfast brought to us when my in-laws arrived. Hospital staff later brought us the tiny beanie hat and other paraphernalia that were standard gifts for newborns. Those later went either into his tiny styrofoam coffin or his memory box. We had a very brief opportunity to see our son again before he was sent to the mortuary, but I somehow couldn’t bring myself to touch him. I still regret that to this day.

Among others, we were visited by our Rabbi, who let us know that, despite the fact that the next day was Yom Kippur, we would not be required to observe the holiday, as it was the day after the death. We decided that we would spend it preparing for the funeral. I know that I called both of our offices to let them know what was going on and that we wouldn’t be in for a while. As we were leaving the LDR room, the nurses at the station outside the door said “Congratulations!” and looked stunned when I sadly said “no”.

I know you don’t like it, but this post is getting pretty long, so here it is again:

To be continued on Thursday….

In the meantime, have you had an experience where you suddenly lost confidence in your medical team? Have you suffered a loss and had someone close to you say some thing stupid? Please share in the comments.

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