The tiny, delicate chest moved up and down to the rhythm of the oxygen being pumped into its premature lungs. No, not just the chest; even the abdomen rose and fell as we helped this new life struggle to stay alive. She was a fighter, not willing to give up to death lurking very close to her feeble body.
Baby Girl was born prematurely at 22 weeks in June 2004. I was an intern at the Department of Pediatrics in a public hospital, where there were 38 premature infants, who needed intensive care, and only 20 incubators to help them survive. She was rushed in from the emergency room at 6 pm, accompanied by her anxious grandmother.
The resident doctor on duty rushed to examine the newly arrived baby, and looked at me. She need not utter the words to me, for I had been with her long enough to understand what had she wanted to say: this baby is not going to make it.
There wasn’t a spare incubator for this baby and the family couldn’t afford one at a private hospital. So we gently laid this fragile life in a cot and turned on a lamp close to her body to give her heat. We took her vitals. Blood tests and a chest x-ray were taken, as she endured it all silently.
She remained quiet as we placed a tube down her delicate throat. It was through this tube that oxygen was being delivered into her lungs. The doctor gave her an artificial surfactant, a crucial substance that keeps the tiny air sacs in the lungs open. Her own lungs had barely started to produce surfactant, when she had been forced to leave the comforts of her mother’s womb. A device on her finger showed us the oxygen concentration in her blood – it was very low. Her grandmother looked in with tears in her eyes, though she fought hard to conceal them from Baby Girl.
“We’re at the hospital,” Baby Girl’s grandmother said, answering a phone call, “Come here as soon as you can.”
“That was my husband. He still doesn’t know about this baby.” Then, she told me the entire story.
Ana (not her real name) was a 16-year-old, honor student. She was the youngest and the only girl among four siblings. Life was going smoothly for her, until she got pregnant by her 17-year-old boyfriend. When she broke the news to him, he left her. Being pregnant, ashamed and not knowing what to do, Ana decided to abort the baby. She took some pills during the fifth month of gestation to rid of the life growing inside her. None of her family members knew she was pregnant, not even her mother, who would later feel the most guilt in this entire ordeal.
One afternoon while doing laundry, Ana felt the painful uterine contraction for the first time. She had been anticipating this pain; she had been waiting for the pills to finally free her from this mess she had gotten into. So she worked extra hard with the laundry, making sure her body exhausted itself to the point of bleeding. And when she did bleed, it frightened her. Ana thought that the pills will make her bleed a little, there will be painful cramping, a blood clot will pass out of her, and that’s it – her problem’s over. But she panicked when the bleeding wouldn’t stop and the contractions got unbearably painful.
Ana cried out to her mother and that’s when she had to finally confess the truth. Everyone else was out at work, so Ana’s mother hailed a cab and rushed to the hospital. Baby Girl was born in the cab. Ana was admitted in the OB-Gyn department, while Baby Girl was brought to us.
“She hasn’t looked at the baby yet,” Baby Girl’s grandmother told me. “How could I have not noticed that my daughter was pregnant? I am such a failure.” I remained quiet, not knowing how to express myself appropriately. I felt her pain too.
A while later, the resident doctor came in with Baby Girl’s x-ray report: hyaline membrane disease. Her lungs were too premature to function normally. The doctor suggested to wheel in Ana so she could hold the baby. But when her wheelchair was finally parked near Baby Girl’s cot, Ana turned her face away.
“She’s your own flesh and blood, for God’s sake!” cried Ana’s mother, “Hold her in your arms while she’s still alive. Don’t you want to apologize to her. Just look at what you’ve done.”
Tears started to trickle down Ana’s face, yet she stubbornly refused to look at her baby. “Please take me away,” she told the nurse.
“Ana,” her mother was almost pleading, “don’t you even want to see how pretty your daughter looks? Her eyes search for you.”
“Please take me back to my room.” Ana was wheeled back to her room.
Not long after, Baby Girl started to turn blue. She was slipping away, fast. And by the time her grandfather arrived, shocked, the doctors decided that it was time to end the resuscitation efforts.
Baby Girl’s grandfather rushed out and returned with some clothes for her. He kissed her forehead gently, held her tiny finger and whispered in her ears, “We love you so much. I’m sorry for what your mother has done. If only we knew, your grandmother and I would never have let this happen to you. You’ll always be our special baby, no matter what. We know you’re a brave girl. Go to heaven, my love, for you’re too pure for this world. I love you.”
Baby Girl’s grandparents held hands and looked on with tears in their eyes, as the doctors finally removed the tube and wrapped her up. After completing the necessary paperwork, they took Baby Girl’s body home.
“The death of a baby is like a stone cast into the stillness of a quiet pool; the concentric ripples of despair sweep out in all directions, affecting many, many people.” De Frain, 1991
(Photos taken from Google images)