Keely Knudsen: 'Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer'
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Choosing Motherhood: Stories of Successful Women who put Family First," published by Cedar Fort.
I am in the waiting room again.
It was nearly one year ago in this same building that I saw her for the first time. She was lying inside the transparent box that kept her warm and protected from the elements. Her legs were folded stiffly, creasing her new body in half, her sweet misshapen feet lingering permanently by her ears. She had an open spine then — one that had grown outside of her back as her body was forming itself in the womb. A team of surgeons had just enclosed the nerve endings safely inside her body, and fresh, moist wrappings protected the affected area. So she was on her side, my little girl.
All the time, those first several weeks, only on her side. The nerves pushed back inside her body were dead, with no real way to connect where they needed to go ... and that meant our little baby girl, four weeks early and six pounds total, had paralysis. As I gazed at my daughter inside the transparent box, I felt a steel in my soul, a confidence that I had never before known — she and I were going to make it.
In the waiting room, there is a snack area. It’s stocked with peanut butter in small, round individual casements and graham crackers, two to a package. These snacks were my feast, once upon a time, and filet mignon could not have rivaled the manna that snack was to me then.
It was nearly one year ago — my husband’s birthday. We were dining at a restaurant in downtown New Haven, Conn., eating food so delicious that even though I had begun to have contractions fewer than five minutes apart, I stayed for dessert. I had already scheduled a C-section at a hospital four hours and several states away. This was not the time and certainly not the place that this was supposed to happen. We concluded the birthday dinner in reverie from the remarkable cuisine, and I informed my husband we ought to just swing by the nearest hospital and see if perhaps they could make these silly contractions stop.
I was admitted to Yale-New Haven Hospital. Within minutes, I was on the phone with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, best in the world for babies with my daughter’s condition, and the hospital that had conducted our prenatal surgery trial. The consensus was stop the labor, if you can.
The lime from the ceviche still delighted my tongue, and little did I realize that the dinner at the restaurant truly was my last supper. The labor stopped (oh, true apothecary, thy drugs are quick), but only as long as the harsh medicine coursed through my veins. Each let up of the medicine led to a prompt return of the contractions. Three days later, I was still in the same local hospital, having consumed nothing but the not-delicious, not-satisfying, but certainly bladder-filling IV solution, and the decision was made to deliver her via C-section to avoid disrupting the large membrane sac of spinal nerves on her lower back.
We were wheeled into a sterile, large, echoy room. Bright lights lit the white floors, walls, and ceilings, and Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” blared from the radio. A large team of doctors and students shouted business-and-casual comments, dressed in blue-green surgical masks and with caps that reminded me of my Grandma Ruthie when she would adorn herself for a shower. My arms were to be outstretched to the side as they ripped her from my belly, and I pondered the final pose of my Savior as I lay there — my Savior, the one who had gotten me through this nightmare pregnancy, who would surely get me through all that lay ahead.
I didn’t see her face. I didn’t hear her cry. She made it to mortality and hung out for a good half day before I could set eyes on her. Others had seen her — my husband, for one, and many strangers employed by the hospital. But I hadn’t.
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