John "Jack" Gerard Dodd was fighting for his life in the hospital. I would have never guessed that seven years later, Jeff would be doing the same. Jack was born September 4th, 2001. He was due on September 20th, so I was very excited at the prospect of his early arrival. It was the day after labor day and while I was sitting at work I felt the familiar pangs of labor. I have a reputation for being notoriously bad at determining when it's time to go to the hospital--I showed up at the hospital dilated to 9 cm when I was pregnant with Aubrey--so, I thought it best to go to the doctor right away to find out if this was the real thing. This time, I was only dilated to 6 cm (whew!) so the doctor sent me to the hospital and said "yep, today's the day."
Aubrey was at school so I met Jeff at home and we sent two-year old Regan over to the Cox's, the first set of Heaven-sent neighbor's we would meet on Perry Ct. Jeff and I headed to the hospital and settled in for what I expected would be a relatively quick and easy delivery.
Early in the afternoon, and shortly after we arrived, the doctor checked me and announced that Jack was attempting to be born "hand-first" in that his little hand was creeping out in front of his head. I was concerned that this would endanger my coveted personal record of zero C-sections, but the doctor reassured me that babies come out hand-first all the time, and that it did not necessarily forecast a C-section, but that he would need to closely monitor Jack to make sure he did not dislocate a shoulder on the way out. A short time later, the doctor checked me again and noted that now Jack's entire arm was trying to make its way to the finish line. The doctor recommended he try a maneuver whereby he would push up on Jack's head while I pushed down in an attempt to help him slip into the birth canal which would, in turn, cause Jack's arm to move back into place where it belonged. The doctor warned me that if the maneuver did not work, I would need to have a C-section because he did not feel there was enough room to safely deliver Jack's arm and head simultaneously.
As the doctor attempted the maneuver, suddenly half-a dozen nurses ran into the room; someone slipped an oxygen mask over my face and the doctor said very calmly, "things are going to move fast now." At this point, I was under the impression that the maneuver had failed and I was merely being prepared for the routine C-section I had been warned would happen. However, everyone was very serious and more and more people arrived in the room with each passing second. Within a minute or so, I was being rushed down the hallway on a gurney with people riding both with me and beside me and refusing to slow down for obvious road blocks such as doors and walls.
In a blur, I recall passing under the threshold of the operating room door and being mildly concerned that I had no anesthesia. I remember two doctors--one dedicated to each arm--pumping them full with syringes of something that made me feel both physically and mentally numb. I heard doctors shouting at nurses that there was no time to count the surgical equipment and to "go, go, go." Jeff was nowhere to be found, having been left in the dust of the delivery room where, I later learned, nurses were frantically trying to dress him in the requisite scrubs while rushing him down the hall to the operating room. As doctors tugged and pulled on me, I could sense the urgency in the room. I spoke out loud to God and to no one in particular to "please let the baby be OK." The doctors tugged and pulled and little Jack was free. I waited for the cry. And waited. And waited.
"They're working on him. They're doing the best they can for him" said the nurse as she petted my head and through all the fogginess of the anesthesia I felt cold fear and understood that something had gone terribly wrong.
I was suddenly very alert and started asking, "is the baby OK?" "what's wrong?" And the nurse would only tell me that they were "working on him" and that he was "in the best possible hands." I then saw a blur in the corner of my eye and a commanding and curt voice said, "kiss him quick because he's coming with me." And then I met Jack. He looked perfect--just like his sisters. He was swaddled with his little hands poking out of the blankets under his chin. His sweet baby fingers wiggled and stretched. He was pink and alert, but with tubes up his nose. He didn't cry. What had happened to him? What was wrong? Only now, did Jeff find his way to the operating room--no sooner had he arrived than he was diverted by the Jack-toting doctor.
Jeff went with the baby and I laid there filleted on the table and throwing up from the fast-acting anesthesia. It was only after I was in the recovery room that the doctor sat next to me on the bed and said, "I don't know if you were aware of what just happened, but you had a prolapsed cord." He explained that a prolapsed cord is a rare obstetrical emergency whereby the umbilical cord slips into the birth canal and is pinched-off like a garden hose between the baby's head and the pelvic bones. It cuts off the baby's blood and oxygen supply, so it takes only minutes for a baby to suffocate. It has a high mortality rate (most babies die) and the lucky ones suffer severe brain damage from the lack of oxygen. I learned that the entire scene that I just recounted above--from the time the doctor tried his "maneuver" until Jack was born--took only four minutes.
I also learned that when Jack was born he had an APGAR score of "one" (I believe the highest score is a 10) and that he scored one point because he had a heartbeat. However, he was otherwise blue and unresponsive and his heartbeat was weak. The neonatologist that responded to the emergency resuscitated him and quickly spirited him off to the neonatal intensive care unit.
They then took me to visit Jack. I was lying prone on a hospital gurney and was still numb from the chest down. He was in some sort of hood or incubator that made him look like a little astronaut. There were tubes everywhere--he had not been cleaned. I wanted to hold him, but they told me I was not allowed to even touch him because he had been very traumatized by the experience and his immature nervous system needed to recover from the shock and even touching him or holding him could agitate his tiny body and unbalance him. They told us he would need to be closely monitored for seizures and blood toxicity and several other very serious sounding "side effects" of near-strangulation.
So, to make a long story not-so-long, we waited 10 days for our beautiful boy to recover. Slowly we were allowed to touch him and then hold him and then feed him. We watched coverage of the 9/11 tragedy in the hospital lounge. We brought him home to his big sisters and watched and waited for nearly two years when he finally "graduated" from the neonatal intensive care unit's follow-up program with a clean bill of health and no known adverse effects from the accident.
Today Jack is smart and happy and healthy. He is a miracle to me and joy to others. He proudly announces "I almost died when I was born" and tells the story succinctly and accurately to whomever will listen. Jack is a very spiritual child--if you ask him how many people are in his family he will say eight: Mom, Dad, Aubrey, Regan, Jack, Finn, Jesus, and God. And he seems to understand things like faith and love inherently. I often wonder if in those first moments after his birth, when he hovered precipitously between this life and the next, if he didn't catch a glimpse of Heaven.
And now seven years later--we are again in the hospital and we are, again, in need of a miracle. Jack visited Jeff in the hospital yesterday after opening his presents (a fishing pole, fishing tackle, and some books). He had cupcakes at school (THANK YOU, Theresa!) and an airplane birthday cake (THANK YOU, Liz!). He declared it to be the "best birthday ever" and I think it was too--except for that scary horrible beautiful wonderful day seven years ago.
Happy Birthday, Jacky! We love you so much!