I was so excited to find out we were expecting our first child in October of 2011. We had been married about 18 months, and were looking forward to starting a family; we couldn’t wait to fill our house with the echoes of pitter-pattering footsteps. We announced to my family at Thanksgiving dinner, as I was lumping it through the unpleasantness of the first-trimester. Baby Z was to be my parents first grandbaby, and Nana and Granddad were more than enthusiastic.
Christmas time brought presents for the unknown little person, and the purchase of a gently used crib for the soon-to-be nursery. I was thoroughly convinced I was having a boy. A baby boy we had affectionately nicknamed “Fruitbat,” because I was craving so much fruit. Around my 20th week Daniel was able to feel Fruitbat kick for the first time.
At my 23 week check-up I had an ultrasound, and we chose not to know the gender. The little mystery person looked healthy and strong, growing well. That evening, after a brisk walk in the sunshine, my water broke. As a first time mommy, I didn’t realize what was happening. I hadn’t had a birth class yet, and since during my ultrasound, Fruitbat had been cozying up to bladder, I assumed I’d had an accident. The midwife recommended rest, and I was given instructions to call if I spiked a fever.
The following day my temperature spiked. When I was lucid enough to realize what was going on, I called my midwife again. Assuming bladder infection, I was scheduled for a check-up first thing in the morning. My tests revealed that I did not have a bladder infection, but a uterine infection, and an ultrasound showed that I had lost almost all of my amniotic fluid. As I was in the doctor’s office waiting to see an OB, I began having mild contractions. I was sent to the hospital, and then transferred by ambulance to a larger hospital with a specialized OB and a NICU. I was sent in for an emergency c-section shortly after arriving at the second hospital.
March 9, 2012, at 4:09 PM, William Jorge Zambrano was born at 23 weeks, 4 days gestation. He was named for William the Conqueror – because I wanted him to conquer all of the obstacles before him – and for his late grandfather, Jorge.
He weight 1lb 7oz, and had a collapsed lung. I was very ill myself. I remember meeting little William in the NICU once I left recovery. In my dazed state of post-op, painkillers, and extremely potent antibiotics, I remember being horrified. His skin was dark and bruised almost black, his little eyes still sealed shut. He was so tiny that the smallest preemie diapers were too big on him. And then there were the tubes, and cords, and wires, and the patches and the beeping noises and the sterile hospital environment. The shock was so great, I couldn’t look at him for more than a few minutes before I had to leave. I was sick to my stomach. I wish I would have stayed.
The next seven days were a flurry of activity. My hospital is considered a “pro-baby” hospital, meaning they encourage both breastfeeding and Kangaroo care. Since William was too small to nurse but needed the milk, I was pumping strictly ever 2 hours day and night (no different from a nursing mom, but I couldn’t be with my baby while doing it). I would cuddle up to my very Little Man every afternoon for an hour or so. I would eat. I would sleep. I would sit by the incubator and talk to William’s nurse. I remember one day going outside to get some sunshine. I couldn’t read stories or sing songs – I would start to cry – but I would hum or talk a little to my precious little William. We prayed over him every night, the only way we could tuck him in.
At first, William did well. In a couple of days the tube in his lung was removed, and he was clearly taking little breaths on his own, although on a respirator. The nurses kept telling me how feisty he was. He didn’t like be swaddled up, he wanted his arms and legs free to move around. A typical little boy, he peed on more than one nurse during diaper changes. He even started getting some breastmilk through a tube. They called it the honeymoon period, and kept telling us we were in for a long journey. But they were optimistic. His heart looked good, his brain looked good, his body was well developed. He needed time to mature and develop, but he was a promising little guy.
There were things that were especially hard. I hated seeing his blood drawn, he seemed so tiny and has so little to begin with. No one could touch him but us and the medical staff, and that incubator looked so lonely. My husband had to return to work because he had no paid emergency leave, so he commuted over an hour from our hometown to the out-of-town hospital multiple times. Still we were well supported. My mom stayed with me, and my dad and sister visited frequently. My mother-in-law flew in from Philly to be with my husband. Pastors came to visit. Colleagues came to visit. Friends and family came to visit. We started making plans to be in the NICU long-term.
Then everything went wrong. William’s blood gases started looking bad. He stopped filling his tiny little diaper. He stopped peeing. That’s when they told me to call my husband. Then the seizures started, only registered as aberrant brain activity on a monitor I’m thankful I couldn’t read. My husband held him for the first time that day, a full week after William was born. Then they told us there was nothing else they could do; the seizures had become too severe and he had lost most brain function. The doctors and nurses had tears in their eyes; they’d loved my son, too.
We held him for a while, surrounded by our family. We wept. Our loved ones kissed our little man goodbye and left us with him for a bit. We didn’t keep him long; we knew he had fought the good fight and needed to rest. Once the respirator was removed, we sang our little William home to Jesus. This Is My Father’s World, which was William’s favorite, and Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Because at such a time, what else do you say?
Then it was over – close to midnight. We slept at the hospital that night. And then we left. Nothing more to do, no little person to see.
Through the following days as we planned his memorial and burial, we held fast to Psalm 9:19-16
“Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place — the Most High, who is my refuge— no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
As I think of my Little Man, I’m reminded that he was, in fact, a true conqueror. Through Christ, William has conquered death.
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” ~Romans 8:37