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Book Excerpt: There Was A Before

By Teri Stevens

(excerpted from Mamas Write, with permission from the Write On Mamas)

I am reminded of it every time my three children and I go to the library to "buy" books. The Treadway and Wigger Funeral Chapel is across the street and a few doors down. The kids don't even know it's there. But I do. I was there once before—before we were blessed with a beautiful, healthy, happy son whom we adopted from Guatemala and brought home when he was just six months old, and before we were doubly blessed with twins who were carried to term by my sister because my breast cancer meant that I could not.

In other words, before our lives came to appear idyllic to those on the outside looking in, there was great sorrow.

I remember being in pain. This was nine years ago. It was a Thursday. I had been in pain for four days. I had gone to the doctor that Monday, but he couldn't find anything wrong and said that the pain I was experiencing was most likely due to fibroids. Since I was in my 24th week of pregnancy, six months along, he advised me to take Tylenol. I didn't. I remember thinking that the pain could be caused by Braxton Hicks contractions, about which I had recently read.

At the time, I was the marketing director for the Napa Valley Opera House. Continually on the computer writing press releases, answering emails or putting together one of the many marketing collateral pieces the job required, I would grasp the arm of my chair whenever I felt pain coming on.

My husband, Bill, was out of town on business for the week. Since I was feeling so awful, I decided to go to bed early that Thursday night, thinking the pain would subside if I just lay down. It didn't. I called my doctor at about 9:30pm.

"It's Teri Stevens," I said into the phone. "I'm in a lot of pain." I let him know what had been happening since Monday's office visit—the grasping of the chair, the bending over in pain every now and then when I walked.

"Well, if you think it can wait, I can see you in the morning." He sounded tired. "Or you can go to the emergency room at the Queen, it's your decision."

I said I'd see him in the morning and hung up. I lay in bed grimacing and thought, I'm going to get premature wrinkles if this continues. I got up to use the restroom, but once there my body felt like pushing, not like urinating. Not a good sign.

"Don't worry little one," I said to him or her, "it will be OK." We had chosen not to find out the sex until the birth, but then for some reason the thought "I'm going to name you Jeffrey" crossed my mind. "Don't worry, Jeffrey, it's going to be fine. You stay in there," I coaxed. Maybe by talking, I was trying to calm myself, tell myself it was going to be OK.

I knew I had to go to the emergency room, but didn't think I should drive myself, even though it was only two miles away. I called 911 and asked them not to use sirens; I didn't want to wake the neighbors. I was struggling to put on my shoes when the doorbell rang. The fire department arrived first, in a quiet truck, red light flashing a bright circle of alarm in the dark. At the door, a fireman helped me put on my second shoe and then the two men picked me up and carried me down the few small steps to the driveway and put me on a waiting gurney. The ambulance had arrived. I remember tossing my keys at one of the firemen, asking him to lock the front door. There was a light spring rain. It was Feb. 18, 2005.

I don't recall the ambulance ride, but I do remember the bright light of the stark white hospital room they wheeled me into. Someone removed my glasses. I wasn't there for more than a few minutes when I gave birth to our son. I remember pushing myself up on my elbows in an attempt to see what was happening.

"Is he OK, is he breathing?" I asked the doctor and nurse who were moving quickly, talking together in hushed tones, their medical jargon going over my head. Without my glasses, the room was a blur, and all I saw clearly was the look on the face of the ambulance paramedic who turned away from what was happening at the end of the gurney.

"Yes, he's breathing," someone said, but then he was whisked away to the intensive care unit. I didn't get to see him. A nurse was cleaning me up from the birth, which had happened so fast that I was simply numb. At the time, the thought didn't cross my mind, though it has many times since: what if I didn't call 911? I would have had Jeffrey at home, by myself, the outcome of his life in my hands. It would have been the same, but it would have been my fault.

My doctor arrived. Someone had called him. "I am sorry, Teri," he said quietly. "Your son did not make it; his small lungs were not developed enough. Just one more week, and it could have turned out differently." I didn't say anything, just cried. I felt deflated, all the hope I had that it would be OK, gone. I remember thinking that just days before I had read in What to Expect When You're Expecting that babies born after 24 weeks can and do survive. So how could this be? For whatever reason, the pediatrician on call made the decision not to step in and try to save his young life.

I didn't want to call my husband, sleeping in a San Diego hotel room, with this life-altering news; I wanted him to sleep. I told the hospital staff that I would wait until morning. Ultimately, the doctor came in with a phone and gently prompted me to call.

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