After-work commitments had kept me busy later than expected. We were catching each other up over dinner when my wife, Kristine, mentioned she hadn't felt much movement during the day. Only 29 weeks into our pregnancy, we were not aware of any complications; in fact, we had just had an ultrasound performed a few days earlier. Discussing our options together helped settle our minds. We decided we shouldn't sleep on it, and drove to our closest hospital.
When I arrived on the fourth floor from parking the car, I found an attentive group of doctors in a small screening room with a sheer privacy curtain. They were running tests and taking an inventory of our situation. With each question Kristine answered, I had a pleasing sense that this was quite routine. I began to think we would be sent home in a few hours with a prescription and some instructions to take it easy for a few days when two more doctors were added to the already crowded space behind the curtain.
One asked her colleague to call diagnostic imaging and tell them that we needed to be seen right away. I wondered, "How routine is that?" and began considering there may be more to it than I wanted to admit. I hung onto their calmness and that provided some comfort.
Next, we were taken down to a room where fetal ultrasound images were analyzed. The way the doctors' voices changed told us that something was wrong with our baby. We were told that a lack of blood flow to the fetus was the cause for the lack of fetal movement. Our daughter was struggling for her life and needed to come into the world now. We were left with no choice.
I was told I had 10 minutes to make a phone call and get into scrubs, while Kristine was taken straight into the operating room, which, amazingly, had already been prepped with staff on standby. I got a hold of her parents and managed to squeak out the basic information – that we were heading to an emergency delivery, not at all what we were expecting when we left the house one hour earlier.
A paralyzing drug allowed Kristine to function normally from the waist up during her cesarean section. Sitting beside her, I became de facto interpreter of the goings-on around us. Within minutes, they had hands on our baby girl and were now pulling on mommy to bring her into the world.
After delivery, I followed the transition team to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). We hustled down a labyrinth of hallways until we reached a washing station. Bright instructions for hand-washing were written on the wall. I read and followed them to a T. This ritual would be completed many times over in the next few months. Walking through security doors into the NICU, I was overcome by the number of newborns. Affixed to breathing machines and machines monitoring vital signs.
The team parked her containment unit called an isolette in Bay 14 and instantly began attaching and inserting tubes into her tiny body. I peered over the foggy plastic cover to see her chest moving up and down with the help of an oxygen pump. The sounds it made rattled my soul.
It was getting hard to see her through the amount of condensation building up inside. In order to create a soothing atmosphere for premature babies, the environmental controls are set to "tropical." A nurse said something to me. They'd like me to leave for a while so they can get to work. I glanced downward at my fragile daughter and did not want to leave her alone.
The sight of her tiny body made me realize: I am her father, this is my child. That's when I began to cry. I felt this great powerlessness, followed by a stream of courage that allowed me to me slip out, "I love you, baby girl. Mommy and daddy are here with you. We love you very, very much." I knew it was barely audible, but I believed those words would carry enough force to push past the plastic barrier between us and land on her, light as a feather.
Four months have passed between that sleepless night and today. Our first Mother's Day and Father's Day were both spent inside the NICU. We've had surgeries, ambulance rides and countless consults with specialists before we could make it to this point – it's graduation day.
Today we get to take our daughter home. I cannot wait to take her outside so that the breeze can wash upon her soft cheeks. Her hair, already a cause for commotion among admiring nurses, will love the feeling of wind blowing through it.
As I look back I can see that nothing could wait – our little girl was going to be born that night. Although slow on the uptake, we made it through this together. Where I lacked the ability to realize the seriousness of what was happening, Kristine did not. Luckily she knew something was not right, her motherly instinct well honed within her.
Tyler Melnyk lives in Calgary