One by one, the nursing colony slowly trails to the other side of the room. My torso, and subsequent outpourings, calm as the clear drip releases into my wrist. Eagerly straining my head, trying to see what is contained in the nurses’ huddle, my eyes identify only wildly-patterned scrubs. Before conceding to my poor angle, nurse Joleen emerges from the gathering.
“Do you want to hold her?” A tiny polka-dotted bundle, matching the length of nurse Joleen’s hands, fits tenderly within her petite palms. Slowly placing Sophia on my chest, we move as if we are trying to not break the finest of china. Sophia’s head, as small as a tennis ball, is tightly wrapped within the soft cotton blanket, brimming her peaceful face: closed eyes, button nose, partially opened mouth. Through her barely gaping lips, her breaths silently enter and retreat. Avoiding any damage to her delicate red skin, she and I meld into one. Lacking any muscle tone, gravity induces her head to fall side-to-side, which terrifies me.
I don’t want to tear her skin. I don’t want to suffocate her in my massive blanket. I don’t want to cause her any more anguish.
“I think she wants her Daddy to hold her” I propose to Jason, hoping the readjustment of her body will alleviate any discomfort I have caused her. All worry dissipating from his face, his calm expression exudes a pride and blessedness that had previously been locked away. As the unpredictability of her life-sustaining breath threatens, he carefully slides his fingers under her, lifting her deliberately off my chest. She fits in one of his elongated hands. Mindfully, he holds her unstable head with his other hand. The polka-dot fabric falls to the side, exposing her red-tinged chest rising and falling in miniature movements. Her legs, bent inappropriately, wrap neatly at the bottom of her body. Reaching out, I lightly touch one of her dainty rocker-bottom feet, careful not to rub her fragile skin. Miniscule fingers, donning microscopic fingernails, poke out. Jason’s large index finger slithers under her petite hand. Each tiny finger lie atop his, too small to wrap around the adult-sized digit.
How is she still alive?
Nurse Joleen echoes my incredulous, admiring thoughts, “I can’t believe she’s still hanging in there.” Snapping on her hundredth pair of latex gloves, she leans over, hovering just inches from Sophia. “We just have to check for a heartbeat every five minutes.”
Gently lying two fingers on Sophia’s chest, her gaze concentrates on a nearby wall as she mouths a silent count of heartbeats.
Sophia knows we need time with her. She knows we crave to hold our living baby. She is living for us. Jason and I deftly hand her to one another. Both wanting to have enough time with her before she passes, we are keenly aware the other needs time too. As Jason cradles her, my envy of his time with her is quickly overcome by the bliss of watching him love our daughter. Whispers between us marvel at her beauty, integrity, strength, bravery.
“She is so strong.”
“She is an amazing baby for surviving this long.”
“She is so cute.”
“I think she has your nose, Jason.”
Approaching the hour mark, nurse Joleen comes by for another check. The twinkle in her eyes dance in astonishment. “We never see babies this premature survive this long.” Nodding to us, we know nothing has changed. She smiles proudly, peeling off her hundred-and-first pair of rubber gloves.
How long can she hold on? As intense as my desire is to have Sophia perpetually with us, so is the realization that her body cannot sustain life. My time to love her–our time to be a family of three–has been fulfilled.
Maybe she is waiting to know Jason and I will be all right. Maybe she is waiting for permission to stop fighting.
During a moment in which nurse Joleen leaves the room, and Jason rests a mere four feet away on the couch, Sophia lies gently on my arm. Looking over her sleeping face, I confide to her, “Sophia, you’ve been so strong for us, and you gave us the gift of this time together. It is okay to let go, Baby. You are safe with us, you can let go.” The stinging words hurt my heart and allow a sense of peace to descend unitedly.