42: Fifty-One Hours

42: Fifty-One Hours

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Fifty-One Hours

Mother love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.

~Marion C. Garretty

The brevity of the text message from my mother-in-law conveyed the urgency of the situation more than the words themselves did: “Come out now. Need you.” I ran outside and found my wife collapsing in the driveway, speaking incoherently.

Time seemed to stand still, yet the minutes flew by in a blur. I remember calling 911. I remember running out front to meet the paramedics. I remember the baby crying. As my wife became less and less responsive, I remember watching the rise and fall of her chest, to make sure she was still breathing. I remember the ambulance, and the team that greeted us at the hospital.

A diagnosis came quickly — a hemorrhagic stroke in the basal ganglia, caused by post-partum preeclampsia. In plain terms, my wife developed a condition in the days following the birth of our son Oliver that caused her blood pressure to spike, ultimately resulting in a ruptured blood vessel deep in her brain.

As my wife lay in the ICU, paralyzed on one side and unable to speak, I sat next to her in a chair and researched her prognosis on the Internet. Though knowledge is supposed to make you feel empowered, everything I read deflated me. Her particular type and location of stroke was among the most serious — fatal more than half the time. Survivors tended to have debilitating long-term deficits.

We had waited a long time for this life and I couldn’t believe we were losing it so soon. More than twenty years after our first date, following years apart and a miraculous reunion, Amy and I had finally married. And then our little boy Oliver had arrived after what seemed like a relatively uneventful pregnancy. Our new little family had only been in place for fifty-one hours.

It was surreal. How could our dream slip away so quickly? How would I ever care for our baby alone? Could we ever return to the life we envisioned?

Amy slept most of those first few days — an effect of the trauma to her brain, as well as the medication being used to lower her blood pressure. With our newborn in the care of family, I sat at her bedside day and night — never really asleep, never really awake. Despite the dozens of wires and monitors hooked up to her, I still found myself continually watching to make sure she was breathing. With every breath, there was hope. She was still with us. She was still fighting.

The nurses brought a breast pump in from the adjacent maternity ward, and we began to pump milk and send it home to Oliver. Even when she was in the ICU, my amazing wife was still taking care of her baby.

As the days and nights passed, a miraculous thing happened. The bleeding in Amy’s brain stopped. The swelling began to subside — and as it did, little by little, my wife returned to me. Sensation and movement came back on her weak side. Speech started to return. A relentless drive emerged from her weakened body — a drive to get stronger, to improve, to be Oliver’s mom again.

Several days later, mother and baby were finally reunited in our home. It’s an image I’ll never forget. Amy, still wearing her ID bracelet from the ICU, holding her baby and crying tears of relief and joy. For his part, Oliver remained asleep, blissfully oblivious to all the drama.

The doctors said she was lucky. It would require months of rehabilitation but the life we had planned was still possible.

I sometimes wonder what I’ll tell our son about those weeks. Thankfully, he won’t remember any of it. He’ll have no memory of his mom being rushed to the ER when he was just days old. He won’t remember how worried everyone was, or how many different people held him while his mom recovered in the ICU.

By the time he’s old enough to understand any of this, time will have already begun to dull our memories of it all. Time does that. But I’ll make sure he always knows that his mom moved heaven and earth to get back to him. I’ll tell him how she surpassed the doctors’ expectations at every step. He’ll know that she stood when they said she couldn’t, and spoke when nobody expected. He’ll know that her first sentence was, “I miss my baby.”

To him, she’ll just be “Mom.” But he’ll quickly figure out how amazing she is, and how lucky we are to have her in our lives. I’ll make sure he always knows that she waited a long time to be his mother, and nothing was going to keep her away from him. Nothing. Not even a stroke.

So many moments will forever be burned into my memory. The image of Amy taking her first step or saying my name. The sight of her walking the last two steps from the wheelchair to the car on the day we brought her home, adamant that she was going to walk on her own.

Mostly though, I’ll remember my incredible wife sending milk home for her baby. And I’ll be reminded that — at her worst, fighting for her life in the ICU, before she could even talk or walk — even at that moment, she was still the best mother I’ve ever known.

~Rob L. Berry

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