I’m too stunned. Events are happening too fast for me to react. It’s July 15, 2008. I have no idea what time it is. I’ve brought my wife into the hospital because labor has started; the day is finally here – our daughter is being born.
I’m sitting here, waiting for a nurse to come get me. They already took my love back there, wherever “there” is, to operate. To start the c-section, in an attempt to save our daughter’s life. She’s too early; she’s breach; she’ll die soon if they don’t do something, and fast. I’m dressed in street clothes, with a paper gown over them. I’m warm, too warm. My mind keeps going to dark places – what if what if what if – and I try to distract myself. I focus on the paper booties they gave me to wear over my shoes, my hot, panicked breath blown back in my face by the mask over my face. The baptismal cup in my hands. Will I be able to baptize her? Will she die before I get the chance? I’m scared. I’m scared for my wife. I’m scared for our unborn daughter. I remember too well the promises made: never be able to walk. Maybe not able to breathe. Need heart surgery immediately. Death almost guaranteed. Don’t get your hopes up. Dead within a month. Dead within a week. Options for denying support. Screw that, I think. As long as she can be kept alive, she’ll be given every chance I can give. The nurse bursts in, interrupting my thoughts. She doesn’t need to speak; I know she’s here to take me back.
I follow the nurse. The quick walk to the operating room is a blur. They take me to my wife, her lower half obscured by a curtain. Her face is a haze of drugs and pain, both emotional and physical. I offer my hand, which she takes and grips, thankful for its offering. I would offer more. We do not attempt small talk; we know what’s at stake. We simply take comfort in each others’ touch.
Soon, the doctors announce that they are pulling our daughter out. Namine. Her name is Namine. We chose the name originally because we liked the sound of it. A unique and beautiful name. It is the name of a character from the video game Kingdom Hearts II, a character who, in the story, was not supposed to even exist. But she did exist; she was powerful and strong-willed despite all the odds set against her. Under the onslaught of discovering all that was wrong with our daughter, the name didn’t just seem right, anymore. It was perfect.
The sight of our newborn daughter is, well, shocking. She is so tiny, so bloody. Is she even alive? is my first horror-sticken thought. She wasn’t moving, wasn’t crying, wasn’t breathing. They bundle her up and take her away. A nurse asks me if I want to come. I glance at the baptismal cup, then I look into the depths of my wife’s eyes. There are tears there, for what is and what might be. They are full of hope, of fear. They say to me, Go. With hope, with fear, I go.
The doctors take Namine a short distance, to where they can intubate her; they tell me that she can’t breathe on her own. Some doctors work on the intubation; some are listening to her heart, some are measuring her, recording her, taking prints of her hands and feet. I’m afraid to get in their way. A nurse turns to me and tells me that I can baptize her now, if I want. So I go to a faucet and put some water in my little baptismal cup.
Namine is turned onto her side as the doctors and nurses work to save her life. She is four weeks early; she is so tiny. As I look at her, I feel love and pain. I just met her, but she is lovely. My heart aches for the pain she must be in. Her tiny legs are shaped oddly; her feet curled in impossible positions. She is beautiful. Her eyes are shut. She is not crying. Her skin is dark, a blueish tone that belies her lack of breath. Her hair is black as the night itself, proving that she is mine. I pray that she will make it through to the next one. I dip my fingers in the cup, my hand shaking badly.
I cannot breathe. I cannot speak, but I open my mouth. Impossibly, words come out. “Namine Olivia Eiche.” I feel as though I can’t go on. It hurts too much. Saying her name alone was struggling against the weight of the very earth itself. I have to force the words out. “I baptize you in the name of the Father.” My voice is barely there. God is listening, I know. He doesn’t need sound to hear my daughter’s baptism. My hands are shaking so much. As gentle as I possibly can, I drip water on her head, once. “In the name of the Son.” Twice. I can barely see. My daughter is a blur through a curtain of tears. “And in the name of the Holy Spirit.” Three times. God has taken us this far. Just a little farther. “Receive the sign of the cross on the head and on the heart to mark you as a redeemed child of God.” Fingers dipped in the water once more, I draw a cross once over her forehead, and once more over her chest. In that moment, I know God sees her and claims her as His own dear child. I’m stuttering and sobbing, an emotional wreck. I wipe the excess water dripping from her head, gently, so very gently. I don’t know why He has allowed this to happen to my daughter, who I am already referring to in my head as my little love. She’s so precious, and I don’t understand where He’s taking us. But He cares for us, I know, and He has a plan. I trust in that.
They bundle her up, freshly intubated and breathing now, and take her for Jessica to see. They allow us each to give her a quick kiss on the head before rushing her away, down to the neonatal ICU. She’s alive. Whatever they promised would happen, they were wrong about two things: she didn’t die, and she didn’t need heart surgery immediately. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know God is already taking care of her.