by Amanda Chew
On a Thursday in May, about 2 a.m., I was a new nurse working the night shift in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) of a local hospital. I was struggling to stay awake when word came that we would receive an admission. Perhaps to prove myself, I offered to take it.
An admission to a NICU is an ordeal. The baby generally comes straight from delivery, and its prognosis often changes from minute to minute. When I learned that my new baby’s mom was a drug user and suffering from complications brought on by an addict’s lifestyle, the child’s prognosis became grim. I prepared myself for a night of life support and interventions. I assumed that, come morning, I would leave while the baby remained.
The transport team arrived with the baby already ventilated. He was small and bloated. His head seemed abnormally shaped. Everything switched into over-drive. Doctors yelled orders. We began “working him up”—drugs, IVs, blood, you name it.
We tried and tried. Finally, however, the doctors called it: This kid is not going to make it—too much pressure in-utero, too small, too sick. Life support over. We can do nothing more. And everything stopped.
It was my responsibility to return the baby to Labor and Delivery so that Mom could hold him while he died. We arrived in Mom’s room to find her in serious pain, still medicated, and probably not all that coherent. The doctor explained the situation. She was upset but naturally lethargic. Mom held the baby for a minute but was in too much pain to hold him any longer.
In an effort to console Mom, the doctor offered to have the chaplain baptize the baby. From all appearances, Mom didn’t know much about Baptism. Her response: basically, “Whatever.”
Because she was too tired to hold him, I held him as the water was poured over his head and he was baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This sacramental act put my mind at ease. I knew the baby—Landon—even though he was going to die, was now a child of God.
Now, generally, a dying infant is surrounded by tearful family members, held until the end, loved until his last breath. But there seemed no family for Landon, no father, no aunts or uncles, no grandparents. Mom was tired and didn’t want to hold him, so she sent him back with me to the NICU.
When we returned, I asked my charge nurse, “What now?”
“You hold him for as long as he remains living,” she said.
And so I held Landon—wrapped in a little blanket—breathing regular, though labored. He couldn’t have been more than four pounds.
It was about 3 a.m. now. I sat in a dark room in a rocking chair and held him. It was the greatest privilege I have ever had, to be the one who loved him for the last hour of his life.
And he kept breathing, for an hour and a half. Sometimes it looked as if he had stopped. We’d check his sounds, listen for a heartbeat. It would be there. So I held him and kept rocking. Finally, though, about 4:30 a.m. on Ascension Day, Landon died in my arms.
I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel relieved. I felt at peace. Everyone asked me, “Are you okay?” I said, “Yeah.” And really, I meant it.
Later I wrote this:
“A baby died in my arms. I don’t even know how I feel about that. Death—dying in Christ, hoping in Christ, peace in Christ. At the end of the day, if Christ has not been raised, there is no point to life. But Christ has been raised. That is my reason for living. That is my glory. There I can rest. That is why Landon’s life has meaning. That is why there is meaning.”