A while back, I realized that neither Amy nor I really had recorded the huge crazy process we went through with our first boys, from infertility to hospital visits to NICUs and loss. I tried to write it down, but ended up stalling only a little ways in.

I’m on my second attempt now, and have made it farther. I’ve just finished writing about Oliver’s birth, and decided to post the story on the five year anniversary. It’s still rough and mostly unedited, with some parts making little sense by themselves (since they reference earlier chapters), and really quite long for a website post, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

Side note: We’ll be doing the March for Babies with March of Dimes again this year. Please come walk with us or support the cause by clicking here.

* * * * *

As the sun slowly rose up over the Colorado Plains, we were able to wave goodbye to Dr. Grey. She’d been with us nearly all night, checking on us constantly like she was trying to catch a puppy before he peed on the carpet. Thankfully, we hadn’t needed her push us out to the Operating Room. Another day down, another day closer to viability.

The flat, eastern side of Denver, taken from Cherry Creek State Park.
Picture by Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis

February 10, 2010. Now that’s a day I will remember.

Our morning continued much as night had, just with a new cast of characters. We were in a bit of a doctor’s no-man’s-land for a while, but there were plenty of nurses trundling in an out in case of emergency. Still, we knew the doctor mattered. If things started moving, the wrong doctor meant losing both our babies. Only Dr. Grey and Dr. Porreco indicated any desire to attempt the risky Delayed Interval Delivery.

At 7:30 Amy was assigned her new primary care nurse. Her name was Karla, and she looked like she hadn’t been out of nursing school for more than a few weeks. She was, however, kind and attentive, which more than could be said about some of the other medical professionals who had come through our door. Based on the amount of time she spent in the room, she’d been warned to watch for an impending disaster.

Finally, we got our doctor. Dr. Porreco. Obviously we didn’t want things coming down to any delivery, much less a DID, but by now we knew that things working out was about as likely as a spontaneous burst of world peace. It would take a miracle.

Dr. Porreco did the cervix check, giving us the bad news that the bomb was still ticking, and the countdown was almost at an end. Then he did another ultrasound, looking pleased with the results.

“Baby B has moved around Baby A!” he said, satisfaction clear in his voice. “That means we might actually make this Delayed Interval thing work! I told you this was likely to happen. ”

Of course it wasn’t what he had told us before. Every other visit, and there had been plenty, he noted again and again that there was an outside chance that Oliver would move around Finley, allowing the sickly Baby B to be born while keeping Baby A in the womb. It was, however, extremely unlikely. If not his exact words, certainly the sentiment his expressed.

Whatever. I wasn’t going to fight with him over past claimed when we’d gotten the closest thing to good news in quite some time.

“If you’re still game for the Delayed Interval,” he continued, “I am too.”

Amy and I both agreed wholeheartedly.

“Let me go deal with my Kindergarten class, then I’ll be back in an hour. You should be ready by then.” He ran out the door, leaving us a bit bewildered by that last comment, but too nervous to care.

If we ever create significant changes to the human genetic code, may I suggest adding a digital timer to count down cervix dilation? Dr. Porreco gave it an hour until it was ready, but Amy’s cervix had other plans. When Karla and another nurse did another quick check a half an hour later, they rushed to the PA to call Dr. Porreco back. Things were going, and they were going fast.

“Will he make it in time?” my mother-in-law, who had been with us almost constantly throughout the night, asked. “He said he was off at his Kindergarten class.”

The second nurse chuckled. “That’s just what he calls it when he has reprimand other doctors. He’ll look for any excuse to get out of that, so he’ll come running.”

He was with us only minutes later.

We had a whirlwind preparation from there. The Operating Room had to be prepped, Amy had to be drugged, disconnected and run down the hallway, while I ran after like I was trying to chase down a departing train. My in-laws were left to wait in our tiny room, now bereft of patient and bed, while the Amy and the medical team fought desperately to save a life.

At some point along the ride, I remember one of the nurses telling Karla that “she wouldn’t want to miss this,” since it’d probably be the only time she’d see a Delayed Interval Delivery in her career. While I knew logically that the procedure was rare and risky, hearing even these nurses talk about it in hushed tones brought down the reality of it. This was some common feat, like the routine setting of a broken bone from a minor ski accident. It was more like an endangered species, common enough to be seen, but still spoken of with reverence and whispers by those who comprehend the uniqueness of the sight.

Being pushed into a rare treatment with minimal likelihood of success didn’t exactly incite confidence. But by this point I was almost numb, putting my future in the hands of this renown doctor.

I wasn’t allowed in the Operating Room at first. We’d gone through a locked set of double doors into a prep area, where I was instructed to stay and suit up while they shoved Amy into the Operating Room proper. The prep room was odd, like a supply closet that had been stretched out into a cross shaped hallway. The arms of the cross held the two operating rooms, with doors and windows looking into them from the head. Any space that wasn’t a window or a door was lined with metal wire shelves, stocked with pink buckets overflowing with every kind of surgical instrument imaginable, and likely enough medicines that a drug lord would have a heart attach just seeing it.

Like any good supply closet, the floor was a bit dingy, with water stains etched into the tile around a pair of sinks and scuff marks permanently ground into the well worn hospital bed pathways. The room wasn’t dark, exactly, but there was no natural light, and tubed florescent bulbs mixed with the odd layout created almost more shadows than anything else. It reminded me of the common horror movie trope where the protagonist runs through an abandoned hospital filled with flickering lights that somehow emanate emptiness. It didn’t help that I was alone, and the walls were so sound proof that I couldn’t even hear what was happening behind the window blinds into the OR.

At some point I was given instructions to clean myself of every possible germ in existence with abrasive soap and plastic scrubber that could take off skin with the right amount of pressure. After that, I was given sterile clothing. Only after doing that, waiting more minutes than I can count in the eerily silent prep room, was I allowed to join Amy.

Stepping from that dark supply room into the Operating Room was like entering another world. Every inch of the OR was basked in a white light, like someone had figured out how to peel back darkness. It was surreal, a scene from a movie where they fall through a tunnel of pure light before ending up on a faraway planet.

Not quite like this, but close

Amy lay in the middle of the large room. Crosses were apparently the theme for the day, starting with the prep room, and now finding Amy’s arms strapped to protruding boards that looked eerily like that old torture device. Her legs were waiting to be hoisted up in what the medical professionals kept calling Candy Cane Stirrups, though, again, they would have as likely been found in a medieval dungeon as a hospital. A whole horde of doctors and nurses swarmed around her bed, clad in green from head to toe.

One of the nurses pulled over a chair next to Amy’s tied up left hand. I held it almost the whole time, forbidden to get any closer, afraid to get in the way.

While Dr. Porreco and his team were working on the lower half of Amy’s body, an anesthesiologist worked at her head. Amy had already been pumped with drugs through an epidural, but she kept having “windows” of sensation, meaning places where she wasn’t numb. The anesthesiologist was having a heck of a time getting things right. Meanwhile, the drugs were doing well enough drawing out Amy’s loopiest comments, most of them about the anesthesiologist.”

“This guy is doing a good job!”

“You must be busy a lot, huh? Working long hours?”

“We need to make sure we send his girlfriend flowers. She probably has to deal with him being gone a lot.”

Keep in mind, that doctor hadn’t said more than a handful of words to us. I remember thinking, “He could be married. Probably would be bad form to send his girlfriend flowers, then,” followed by, “what if he has a boyfriend instead? He might not like us assuming he has a girlfriend.”

Weird thoughts. Thankfully, they stayed in my head. Unlike Amy’s.

Finally, Doctor Porreco nearly shouted that whatever the drugs were doing had to be good enough. Baby B was coming.

The first part took mere minutes. One of Dr. Porrecco’s assistants pulled something tiny out, and handed it over to Karla. She took the object, and set it gently in a waiting infant bed, and turned on an attached warming light. She then came over, touched me gently on the shoulder, and asked if I wanted to see my son.

The bed looked like this, but without the wires or extra phototherapy lights.
Picture by Jim Champion

My legs barely worked. Even standing from my hard plastic seat was a fight. Trembling, I made my way over to the small bed, crossing the few feet that had turned into a mile. My mind was numb, shutting down, wanting to drag my body back to the chair and become engulfed in nothingness. It tried to shield me from the pain, from the reality that would have to set in once I looked.

I fought back, pushing on like I was shoving a car down the road. I forced myself to look in. To see.


He lay in the middle of the bed, completely naked. His skin was dark, as was his hair, though I didn’t know how much of that was his and how much was due to the copious amounts of blood (which Dr. Porrecco and his team were still desperately trying to suck up in the background). While I watched, Oliver squirmed, testing out the weight of this new gravity, figuring out the functions his limbs. Just like a real baby would.

Then I realized, he is a real baby. He’s alive, lying there, inches away from me, confused and probably hurting and squeaking out for comfort.

I should comfort him. I’m his father.

His father.

At the beginning of the summer blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy,”  little Peter Quill’s mom is dying from cancer, breathing her last breathes and reaching out for her son. Yet little Peter can’t make himself take her hand. His family is yelling at him, while the audience is screaming, if not out loud then in their heads, “Just take her hand! This is your last chance! She’s just right there? How hard can it be?”

I empathize with that fictional Peter. If he was real, I bet he’d regret that choice for the rest of his life.
I know I do.

Looking back now, I have no idea why my arms wouldn’t move, why I couldn’t get closer. I’ve been told that these things happen, that it’s how we’re wired, that it’s common to have illogical responses to death. Yet I can’t help the tears from welling in my eyes when I think about how weak I was, how I couldn’t even reach over and pick up my son as he lay dying.

Inside my head, there was a constant refrain, telling me that if I don’t touch him, if I don’t pick him up, if I don’t acknowledge what’s happening, maybe he’ll be okay. Maybe the doctors will remember that there’s one more thing they can try, one more last ditch procedure that will save his life.
It was fantasy, and I logically knew it even then. Logic lost out to hope and denial. I turned back around, plummeted back into my seat, and took Amy’s hand while I numbly stared at the little plastic box in the corner.

No doctors came, as I knew they wouldn’t. He was 22 weeks, born breach, with no chance of survival. It was just him, slowly squirming, with Karla watching over him.

That nurse did what I couldn’t. No, she never picked Oliver up, but she watch over him, doing everything she could to make him comfortable in his brief tenure in this world.

We never saw her again after that, so I never got a chance to thank her properly once my brain started functioning again. Still, of the list of people to whom I am eternally grateful, people who made a huge difference in my life, she’ll be there.

Amy, even in her drugged state, had more sense than I. “What does he look like?” she asked. I couldn’t manage to get any words out, so I stood up and took another look. His movements had slowed down significantly, but he still lived.

That’s how it went on, for how long I’m not sure. I kept standing up and sitting back down, never asking if I could hold my son, never daring to even touch him, afraid that any contact with me might stop whatever miracle these medical professionals held in store.

Then, finally, when I checked on him again, he wasn’t moving anymore. And he never moved again.

* * * * *

Even though a piece of my heart was cut out of me when Oliver’s stopped, it still beat on. And the surgery kept going. And going.

Doctor Porreco and his assistance were having a heck of a time keeping Baby A in the womb. I already mentioned their vacuum sucking up enough blood to keep an entire coven of vampires happy for a lifetime. Mix that with that was a copious amount of sweat all around, and it pretty much covered the state of emotions everyone was in.

There was yelling, too, and none of it coming from Amy. Dr. Porreco had created a tool to hold Baby A without rupturing his amniotic sac, which consisted of forceps, a sponge, and a whole lot of medical tape. He’d held Baby A back during the delivery of Oliver, and now he’d have to hold Baby A in while they moved onto their next task: tying Amy’s cervix closed.

Since I was by Amy’s head, I don’t know exactly what they did, but they explained it to us later. With a spool of some sort of medical wire, they closed up her cervix like a Boy Scout working on his lashing merit badge. Then they tied the wire tight and cut the end off.

I’d always thought that medicine was somehow calculated and precise, but seeing their work and their tools, hearing their shouts at their many false starts, made me realize how wrong I was.
When they were done, the medical team looked more like they had come out of a hockey match than surgery. They were sweaty, tired, and bloody. But they’d done it. They saved Baby A. For now, at least.

We took what joy we could in that. It seemed half hearted as they wheeled out the little baby bed, light off, covered with a blanket to not upset the other mothers in the maternity ward.

I was sent out while they finished up with Amy. I stumbled out into the dark prep room, tearing off my sterile outer shell and tossing it in a trash before heading back towards Amy’s bedroom.

Her parents were there at the doorway, waiting anxiously. When they looked up, eyes hopeful, all I could do was shake my head.

Exhausted, depressed, barely able to comprehend what had just happened, I stumbled into the patient room. It was almost spacious without Amy’s bed, but it only felt empty. I slumped onto the corner of my blue pull out bed, my face crashing into my hands.

Again and again I had prayed for our two babies to be safe, that they would be healthy and that we could all be together. Each time I had been answered with silence. I hadn’t lost faith, but I wanted it MY way, not whatever way the Lord had in mind for me. While I was sitting there, though, an empty husk after so much pain from the day, I turned again to God.

“Heavenly Father,” I prayed, “you’ve taken one son away from us. Please let us keep the other. Please let the procedure work. Please keep Finley alive well until well after Amy and I have passed away.”

For the first time in a long time, peace overwhelmed me. A thought came to my head, like someone had whispered it to me.

“That, I will do.”

I can’t count how many times I offered that same prayer, begging God to let us keep our remaining son. Just like how every prayer I asked for both children to make it left me with doubt and pain, every prayer that Finley would be okay filled me with a sense of peace that couldn’t have come from what little hope was left inside me.

Back in the hallway across from our open door, I noticed someone make a change to the patient name board. Now, next to “Gordon,” we had our own purple ribbon.

I finally realized what the ribbons meant. I stared at ours, and cried.

* * * * *
That’s the end of the excerpt. I’m still working on the actual story, and may or may not end up publishing the whole thing.

Again, quick plug for March for Babies. The organization is designed to help babies like Finley and Oliver. If you’d like to walk on our March of Dimes team, or simply contribute to it, we’d love your support.

More information can be found here.

UPDATE: The original version of this mentioned that we met with Dr. Wolfe. While there was a Dr. Wolfe at some point in the process, the doctor in question was actually Dr. Grey. Clearly the canis lupus is to be blamed for the mix up.