Starting insanely early in the morning on this day, shoppers all over the United States were rushing with maniacal intensity to store-shelves stocked with merchandise on sale. In a no-holds-barred (unless you get caught) battle royal strangely reminiscent of UFC and WWF, housewives, soccer moms, and dads in search of discount electronics were shouldering and elbowing their way through all these other dopes (probably thinking how stupid these people are for getting up so early), making a path to the prize whatever. At times, this stampede has even proven dangerous for some poor employee. Consumers depend on it for their Christmas budget. Retailers depend on it for their annual sales. Somewhat melodramatically, we call this day Black Friday.
About the same time, a drama of a different sort was going on in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Lara was nearing the end of the effective time of her last dose of diamorphine, and the pain was reaching a climax again as the contractions accelerated and intensified. It was way too early for our baby to be born, and Lara was heroically trying to hold on for another couple of days to give him as much of a chance at survival as she possibly could. The doctors needed to consult as to whether it was safe to give Lara more, but they eventually did, and the pain gradually became manageable again.
As an extremely interruptive side note, diamorphine, I've just learned, is also called heroin. Heh heh.
In the early afternoon, Dr. Stenson, who had consulted with us the night before, arrived and spoke with us again to answer any questions we might have since our last conversation had been necessarily brief. We learned a little more about the baby's chances for survival. The best estimate we had for his gestation was 23 weeks, close to the end of the second trimester. According to Dr. Stenson, the survival rate for babies born at 22 weeks was 0%. The survival rate for babies born at 24 weeks was near 50%. The 23rd week was critical. Everything that could be done to increase the baby's chances was being done. They had given the baby steroids (by injecting Lara) to help with his lungs, and another dose would be given at midnight if Lara held on. Dr. Stenson, however, was very pleased that the birth had held off as long as it had, since he had been expecting a delivery the night before.
At this point, our hopes went even higher. We had gone from hopeless to having some hope in a one-in-ten chance to now feeling like our baby had perhaps a 50/50 chance. Based on a 23 week gestation, Dr. Stenson expected the baby to be about 8 to 10 inches long and weigh about one pound (500 grams). The baby's lungs would not be very well developed at all and would need significant help to provide enough oxygen for the baby. Nevertheless, the baby's chances were steadily improving the longer Lara did not deliver.
Lara, meanwhile, was providing me with some comic relief, largely on account of the nitrous oxide she was sucking on rather regularly, and probably partially on account of the heroin, I mean diamorphine. It started with a stray reference to her flowers on farm town. In the context of talking about the pain, she said, “The roses are planted next to the lilies.” I, slightly confused and very amused, asked her to clarify. She frowned and said, “That didn't make much sense.” Then she mumbled something about how the pain looked like lilies to her. Ah. That explains things ... I think. These comments became increasingly frequent as, apparently, the nitrous oxide had a cumulative effect. She said something at one point about putting on a cape, and I thought, if she tries to fly I'm tackling her.
In the later evening, Lara was talking with her dad when she suddenly said, “Oh! My water just broke!” Then I heard the trickle which, honestly, sounded like a distant small waterfall one might encounter in the forest. At that point, we knew it was a matter of hours, not days, and the hope was to make it to midnight so that one more shot of steroids could be administered.
But delivery was not going to wait. As Lara became less and less coherent, the situation became more and more serious. What at first looked like what might have been a totally normal amount fresh red blood increased to a concerning point. We later learned that Lara lost a liter of blood during that time. About 9:00 pm, the new midwife Vivienne, who had just taken over for Emma, Lara's midwife for the last twelve hours, began to listen for the baby's heartbeat. It was difficult to find, and when she found something, it was dramatically slower than it had been just a few hours before. Vivienne's face looked grave, and I was thankful that Lara was not really mentally with us. Vivienne made the decision that we needed to go ahead and deliver the baby, and Lara needed to start intentionally pushing when the contractions came. At this point, communication with Lara was next to impossible because the contractions had been getting more intense, reaching a new level of pain, and only one in ten breaths she breathed was not from the nitrous-oxide-darth-vader-hair-dryer-gun thing. She kept telling us that the baby was coming down and she couldn't stop it. We would assure her this was okay and exactly what should be happening, but she didn't seem to hear us.
Around 9:15 the pain reached a new level and Lara began to weep. I tried to comfort her, but I felt monumentally irrelevant as all I could do was kiss her forehead and speak encouraging words. Suddenly, Vivienne said, “There's his head.” I looked and there was the top of a tiny head. Lara pushed as a contraction racked her abdomen, and out came his entire head. Just seconds later another contraction came and Lara pushed. Then emerged before my eyes a bluish skinned, impossibly tiny, perfectly formed baby boy, and the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
But he wasn't breathing, and I only saw a tiny bit of movement in his right arm. During the delivery a doctor and another midwife had entered the room, and the three medical pros rushed our baby, named Peter Kerry Lee whether he survived or not, into a nearby room to resuscitate him and stabilize his condition. Following Peter out of Lara's womb was a very large blood clot, lots of blood, and the placenta, apparently already detached. Vivienne was very serious: “I'm not sure what we can expect, dears.” What appeared to be his slow heartbeat, now that we knew the placenta had detached early, could have indicated that he was not getting oxygen for an unknown period of time, and his chances hadn't been that great to begin with.
For the next while of unknown duration we waited, intermittently praying and talking, nearly crying and feeling numb, jumping at every movement of our room door, seeking some indication on the face of the entrant as to whether Peter was okay or not. Finally, someone came in and told us that Peter was stabilized and they were wanting to bring him into our room so we could see him before they took him to neonatal to place him in the incubator that would be his womb-away-from-womb for next several weeks. The excitement of hearing this was only surpassed by the moment he was wheeled in on a table, wrapped up so completely that you could only see his beautiful face, being assisted in breathing by a hand pump operated by Dr. Stenson. I have no idea what the conversation was at that moment. My son was alive, stable, and doing well. Eventually he was taken away, and we were left alone for a moment. I sat in my chair next to Lara, who had long ago become completely coherent, grabbed her hand and, laying my head on her chest, wept uncontrollably.
The story afterward is probably known to most of you readers by now, and it primarily consists of normal post-birthing things. It turns out that he was bigger and more mature than we had expected. He weighed 700 grams (1 pound 9 ounces) and is about 13 inches long – more the size of a baby at 25 week gestation. Regardless of how old he actually is, God is responsible for his survival to this point. Who knows what is ahead, but we have this moment right now when I can see him alive and touch him and try to express somehow to him that he has a dad who loves him very much. For this moment at least I have a baby son.
So at 9:23 pm on the day after Thanksgiving, while it was mid-afternoon in retail stores across America when most of the crazy sales were over and the more relaxed shoppers were filtering in to see what they could scavenge, Peter Kerry Lee, the firstborn son of Kerry and Lara Lee, was born at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Scotland. For me, the meaning of Black Friday has been forever altered.
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