I have never had alcohol aside from cough medicine, so I had to take the nurses at their word when they said, “The effects of magnesium sulfate are like being drunk.” Everything was blurry. The room and the sheets smelled like antiseptic. The “mag” was required to prevent seizures due to the preeclampsia I had developed.
But I was going to be able to deliver my baby. Finally! It had been a horrific pregnancy. From multiple hospitalizations due to nausea induced dehydration to Bells Palsey leaving me looking like a stroke victim to PUPPP (a severely itchy and painful skin rash) and then to preeclampsia which caused so much water retention I looked more like a balloon animal than a mother-to-be. I was not a glowing pregnant woman!
It was one o’clock in the morning on May ninth 1999 – Mother’s Day. The on-call doctor had checked me and I began to push. Nothing seemed to work. I hugged my bloated knees. I pulled on a towel. I even pulled on my husband’s hands because there was more resistance; this gave him a whole new meaning to the term “active labor”. His arms were sore for three or four days.
Three hours after beginning to push, the doctor asked me if I would agree to a cesarean. Looking back now, I realize no one should ask a woman in the middle of the most painful experience of her life for permission to do anything. I had in my mind that I was going to finish the way I started. Maybe that is what it is like to be drunk.
The anesthesiologist was called to give me a second epidural because I could feel everything. Apparently the second epidural was like being drunk twice. Is that possible?
I don’t remember all the questions I asked the nurses, but I do remember that I asked if my mid-wife, Penny Brown, was going to be able to be in before I delivered. “It isn’t her night on-call, Lassie,” the gruff Irish nurse informed me. But I felt as though I needed her; I wanted her with me. Just to see her ever gentle expression, her short blonde hair which rested on the collar of her white lab coat would not only comfort me, but allow us to celebrate the end of all the dreadful days and months prior.
Seven and a half months earlier, I met Penny the day after I had found out that I was pregnant. I had begun to throw up so frequently that my husband insisted I visit the emergency room. She was on-call in the ER that evening. Her gentle manner instantly put me at ease. She was always attentive to what I was feeling, how I was progressing, and what my current condition was. Her touch was much like a mother – not a doctor.
I called Penny’s office the next day, and she agreed to be my doctor over the next agonizingly complicated months.
About a month after meeting Penny, while in the hospital again for nausea issues, I developed an unusual reaction to the anti-nausea medication, Reglin. My muscles flexed and lifted from the bed randomly for eight hours straight. It was excruciating! Penny sat at my bedside for over an hour gently caressing my arm. Would a doctor ever do that? Penny did! She placed a piece of herself into the mosaic of my life.
The great thing about a mosaic is that each piece can be haunting or delightful depending on the memory of each moment. The great mystery of life, is that often these pieces are placed side by side.
Four hours and 15 minutes after beginning to push and after having the doctor push him back in and turn him, Isaiah Paul was born. It was 5:16 am. He looked like a beautiful raisin. Love finally had a face. His cry was a squeal. It was melodious! I wanted to share him with Penny and thank her for all she had done to assist in his safe arrival.
For another forty-five minutes the doctor and nurses assisted with the plethora of complications which arose. Such as the moment I became unconscious during the seizure in spite of the “mag” due to my elevated blood pressure. I prayed God would sustain Paul, my husband, and our little baby. I was certain in my drugged state that I was dying.
It was my first Mother’s Day. The hospital gave me a pink carnation on my breakfast tray to celebrate. I don’t remember a lot about that first day because of the drugs.
I do know Penny never had the opportunity to see Isaiah.
The hospital provided a celebratory meal on Monday night (not the usual lame excuse for a meal). I had just fed Isaiah, and Paul had turned on the news while we ate. Instantly the name the newscaster mentioned caught our attention. “Penny Brown.”
“What about her?” Paul’s tone was uncharacteristically concerned.
“She probably got some award or something.” I knew she deserved it anyway.
The newscaster began, “The town of Salamanca and Olean, New York were shocked to find the body of Penny Brown just off a path this afternoon. She was reported missing yesterday afternoon when she had not returned home after a jog.”
I am certain the newscaster said more things, but my ears refused to hear it. My joints became achy – like when you have the flu. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. I had no appetite despite the elegance of the meal.
What have we just done? What kind of world have we just brought our son into?
We left the hospital as soon as possible the following morning. The staff were mourning the loss of their coworker while we were trying to rejoice in the birth of our first child. I told myself I had to be happy for my son’s sake. Looking back, I realize I never had the chance to mourn for Penny.
The newspaper later revealed that Penny had been brutally suffocated and raped by a fifteen year old.
She was so gentle and kind. Penny was eager to learn. She asked the doctors questions about my condition frequently. She cared beyond the nausea. She made me feel special at a time when I felt awful. Her pieces remain permanently and affectionately yet hauntingly within the mosaic of my life.
I wanted to write to Penny’s family many times, but I never knew quite what to say. Because I never took the time to mourn for Penny, to write that note, to say good-bye, it became an uncompleted mosaic, a space waiting for Penny’s contribution which would never be provided. She was gone.
But, can’t the lives she touched continue to be blessed and warmed by the pieces she contributed while she was alive?
There are days when I am filled with anger and regret that I did not get the opportunity to see Penny hold Isaiah. Within my mind, this would have been the final contribution from Penny to my mosaic and in turn, it may have added to hers. I realize I now have a choice. Do I hold on to the empty space left within my mosaic due to her life being taken, or is there something more that Penny taught me?
I choose to offer pieces to others’ mosaics, pieces of the same spirit of compassion Penny showed me.
(Thank you, Christin Taylor and The Blank Page Writer’s Workshop for assisting me in developing this piece.)