Thursday, June 4, 2009

We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

I recently wrote a post, Not Like This where I explored my feelings about how hard it would be to have your baby die in a very busy, very public situation, like a NICU. What I didn’t tell you is that my husband and I had to go through the mental exercise of making decisions about a Do Not Resuscitate order and removing our child from life support. We had been counseled that it was better to know what you would want to do prior to a situation arising, than to be forced to make huge decisions in a highly-charged emotional state of mind (uh, yeah, like I wasn’t already in that state of mind...)

Take a minute to try to imagine your child being kept alive by a ventilator... his brain’s neurons no longer firing or his heart beyond repair.

It wasn’t hard for me to conjure up. Not even two weeks earlier the mother of a five month old baby girl who had aspirated on spit up during a nap, brought me in to “meet” her child... a baby who was alive now only because of a machine that pushed air in and out of her lungs. There was no need for the t-bone clip to keep the vent in place because this baby wouldn’t fight the tube... this baby would never fight anything again. She looked like she was sound asleep. If only.

Standing there, I remembered with guilty intimacy the guttural cries that had come from this young woman just days earlier when the neurologist broke the news to her that her baby was brain-dead. “No,” she had wailed, “noooo, noooo, noooo” Over and over and over again the protest rose from deep within her, and it had sunk and curdled inside of me. It happened on a Friday night around 9 p.m. My own sick baby was asleep in her PICU crib. I heard that sound, that mother’s anguish, and I had to leave. I went home. I could go home, but I could never abdicate my involuntary and unfortunate role of witness.

My husband and I pretended to make up our minds about various scenarios. I won’t drag you to tears with all the details. I’ll share just one. I would be the one to do it, to take the vent out. Because I couldn't live with the memory of someone else doing it.

So what’s the difference between Dr. Tiller, the respiratory therapist that extubated that five month old and ended her life, and me? If the situation is one where the baby will, without a doubt, not be viable after birth (off the mommy-vent), then is it so wrong for the parents to want a private death?


L.L. Barkat said...

"I would be the one to do it, to take the vent out. Because I couldn't live with the memory of someone else doing it."

Oh God.

Silenced once again, in the face of your suffering.

Jennifer @ said...

I have no words.

Just taking this in ...

Indy said...

So personal. I have no words either and cannot imagine the pain.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

I would be the one to do it, to take the vent out. Because I couldn't live with the memory of someone else doing it.

"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all ..." (Romans 8:32)

This is what the Father did. He Himself planned the death of His Son. When we meditate on the suffering of Jesus, we cannot forget the pain of the Father.

Marcia said...

Oh, dear..

This mother should have been taken out of the unit for a private consultation when she was given that prognosis, first of all. Second, many units are now converting to private rooms for the babes and their families. It's been a long time coming.

As I said in another comment, I'm new here, so I don't know if you've read this article


It was an eye-opener to me as a NICU nurse. said...

The difference between Tiller and the situation you describe is that a baby with a fatal condition in the womb is no different than any other baby in the womb. Being in the womb, and being nourished is the natural state of any human person at 28 weeks gestation (or whatever). To birth that child early for the sake of a "private death" is just playing with words. It's not providing a private death, it's intentionally causing the death. And it regards the value of the life of that baby in the remaining weeks of pregnancy as worthless.

The baby who will be taken off the ventilator because she is brain dead is being kept alive in an unnatural state. Removing the ventilator for this baby is permitting her to die, it is not causing her to die. They are so very different.

I want to take issue with the concept of a mother as being merely a "mommmy vent". Having read quite a few entries on your blog, I have to think you were not actually comfortable with that analogy, were you? An expectant mother is so much more to her baby than a mommy-vent. Just as the baby inside is so much more to the mother than a parasite. These are words and concepts, I think, that the culture of death throws out at is and we need to reject them.

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