I knew by then not to rock my babies to sleep. The “experts” said time and again that doing so would make them dependent upon me for sleep. My babies would never learn to sleep on their own. So, dutifully, I learned to put my babies down in their cribs drowsy but awake, and let them soothe themselves to sleep.
Still, that Easter night eleven years ago, I held my ten-day-old son just a few minutes longer than usual. He fell asleep taking his evening feed, and though I typically would have laid him down in his crib by then, I felt impressed to hold him just a bit more. At the time, I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was the sacredness of the day that made me want to hold my son a little longer. Was it just an exhausted mama, dreading the thought of getting up after a long day of Easter Egg hunts, worship services, family dinners, and wrangling two little kids?
Or, was it something more?
The doctors tell me that if I had put him down to sleep like I normally did, he might have died that night.
As I held my newborn that Easter night, I gazed into his peaceful face. He was a “good” baby, generally happy and always drowsy. He loved his sleep. Then, as I drank in his newborn features, I saw his face turn pale, almost gray. It lasted just a moment, and then he was back to his usual rosy-cheeked color.
Was the lack of sleep playing tricks on my eyes? I tried to brush off what I thought I had seen. The worry didn’t leave me, though. I sat up and watched him carefully, and sure enough, it happened again.
I worriedly called my pediatrician’s emergency line. The nurse on duty told me I needed to go to the emergency room right away. My husband stayed with my sleeping daughter and I quickly drove my son down the street, praying all the way.
At the emergency room, they did some basic tests, attempted (and failed) to draw blood from his tiny newborn veins, observed his vitals, and finally told me they were going to transfer him to the Children’s Hospital for observation. At no time did he show any symptoms similar to what I had seen, but they just wanted to be safe.
I began to think I had imagined everything.
A short ambulance ride later, he was in a crib in the Pediatric Ward. I regretfully left him and began the check-in process downstairs. It was then when I got an urgent phone call asking me to return. My son had stopped breathing. He had to have oxygen physically pumped through a mask into his limp body to get him to start breathing again.
Over the next 24 hours, he stopped breathing 10 times, several times requiring intervention. The hospital transferred him to the PICU, where he stayed for five days. He received a breathing tube and a feeding tube. The doctors performed every test imaginable– EKG, Barium Swallow Test, even a spinal tap. The image of my precious baby, screaming silently, unable to use his voice, as they placed a needle in his spine, still haunts me.
After completing all the tests, the doctors found nothing wrong with him. The tests had turned up absolutely nothing. The doctor listed the official diagnosis as Apnea, or stopped breathing, but could give me no cause. Doctors removed both the feeding and breathing tubes. After a day of observation with no incidents, he returned to the Pediatric Ward. My son was finally discharged the next afternoon, a week after we were admitted.
The doctors’ best explanation was that we had interrupted a SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) episode. Had he been lying down in his crib, in a dark room for the night, I never would have known he was having trouble breathing. He would have stopped and never restarted without anyone being the wiser.
I could have lost my son.
They sent us home with an apparently healthy baby and equipped us with both infant CPR and rescue breathing training, as well as a belt alarm for him to wear. It strapped around his little chest and attached to a monitor. If his oxygen levels or rate of breath went too low, an alarm would sound.
While we would supposedly earn some peace and the ability to sleep, I don’t think I slept well for many weeks. The alarm never sounded once though, and after eight agonizing weeks, he received the all-clear. We returned the monitor.
But, how could I let him sleep on his own without checking on him ten times a night?
I decided I would have to let go and trust my mother’s intuition once more. I’m religious, so I truly believe God or one of His angels was looking out for him that night and often since.
I wrote this because this little baby just turned eleven years old, and I’m feeling nostalgic. He loves baseball, Star Wars, video games, and the saxophone. My son is in fifth grade and does well in school, though he’s a bit squirmy. This kid has a soft heart and cares so much about other people and how they feel. He still loves his sleep! He hasn’t had a single problem with his breathing since those early, terrifying days. I can’t imagine my life, or our family, without this special boy. If I had simply put him down a moment or two earlier that night, I might have never come to know his goofy smile or his quirky sense of humor. I might have never seen his mischievous smile or felt his skinny arms thrown around my neck.
This experience taught me to listen to that mother’s intuition instead of the “experts” sometimes. I cherish my children even more, as they can be taken from you in an instant, with no warning. I learned to trust something greater than myself to take care of my child when I couldn’t.
I’m grateful every day I held my baby those precious extra moments.
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