This story was written and performed by Byron Sanders for the live, storytelling show Oral Fixation (An Obsession With True Life Tales) at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, TX on October 28, 2013. The theme of the show was "Bun in the Oven."
Oral Fixation creator Nicole Stewart shares, "If you enjoy this piece, don't miss Byron's passionate and powerful reading of his story in the video below the text."
It was Friday, November 13th, 6:05 a.m., my house.
"Why are you being so loud?" I asked my wife, rubbing the crusties from my eyes.
"I can't pee. I drank a bunch of water and sugary stuff. But I can't go," Celeste replied.
"I'm sorry, sweetie. Well, be patient, it'll come. Like last time."
"Probably. But what's weird is Bryce isn't moving. I figured with all that sugar, he'd be kickin' it old school in there," she said.
"Hmmm. You should probably call in."
Celeste shrugged. "Yeah, maybe."
She wasn't going to call in. She never does. Celeste is like an old Black man when it comes to doctors. But to my surprise, this time she did call. They told her to come in so they could have a look at our little guy in there. And so began the unlikeliest story of how my son got his name.
It had seemed like the fastest pregnancy ever because, well, it was. Bryce was born 63 days early. He came so quickly we hadn't had time to think of his full name, and names mean a lot to us. Later that day, I got a call from Cessie: "Hey, the doctor said they need to send me up to Labor and Delivery for more extensive monitoring. It's not a big deal because he's getting oxygen and his blood flow looks good, but Bryce isn't around like he typically is," she said.
"OK, I'm on my way," I said. I wasn't too concerned at that point. This was our second child -- we'd been through the false alarm routine before. On the drive to the hospital, my phone rang again. It was Celeste. "They didn't like what they were seeing with Bryce. We're going to deliver tonight. Don't worry about picking up Bailey, Carla's got her." I leaned heavily on the accelerator. I arrived at the hospital faster than was legal. Little did I know we were in for the ride of a lifetime.
Now we like to fancy ourselves the cool, hip couple, but that night we were both nervous. We knew awhile ago that this was a high-risk pregnancy. Allow me to give you the Daddy understanding of what was going on with Mommy's lady parts.
If you've ever seen the placenta, then you'll understand my name for it (just Google it, you'll see). The Mutant Lunchbox is the thingy that provides nutrients and food stuff to Baby B while he's chillin' at the Crib, also known as the uterus. Our first potential problem, placenta previa, meant the Mutant Lunchbox violated fire code and parked it right in front of the exit. So if natural labor began, Bryce couldn't leave if there's a veiny, blood-filled mass with a tendency for hemorrhaging sitting in the way. The second problem: You can't remove the Mutant Lunchbox if it latches on to the uterus. That's a huge bleed risk because you'd have to sever lots of arteries and veins. In cases when the placenta is too well attached, you have to take the entire uterus out. Bad stuff.
Because of these two anticipated scenarios, Celeste's doctor had put together a plan of delivery weeks ago. She laid out an entire protocol that was supposed to lower the risks. That's the funny thing about risks; It seems like sometimes, they have a mind of their own.
In the delivery room, I was dressed in my scrubs just like in the movies. My seat was next to my love, who was on the operating table, arms stretched out. There was a screen cloth right above her sternum obscuring her nether region. Her face was glowing in the halo of the operating lights. She smiled, peacefully. Seeing her made me feel the same. I'd prayed several times by now, so I was ready for whatever came next.
This is early for Bryce, I remember thinking. His lungs were still so underdeveloped. "Is there a chance that he won't cry when he comes?" my wife asked the doctor. "Yes." Just needed to know what to prepare herself for, I suppose. I kissed her forehead and stroked her hair. Busyness on the other side of the cloth. Sucking sounds. Clanging instruments. Surgical aides walking back and forth.
The doctor prepared her, "OK, you're going to feel some pressure." "OK," Celeste said. Moment of silence. And then, the loudest, most beautiful wail of a tiny, tiny human that I've ever heard. I giggled aloud like a little kid who'd just opened exactly what he wanted for Christmas. Tears streamed from the outer edges of Celeste's eyes to her ears. Bryce ______ Sanders was definitely not quiet.
Even though his lungs and eyes seemed fine, our little guy was still, well, little. That'll happen when you're born two months early. Immediately after they pulled Bryce out and allowed Celeste to see him, they had to hustle him off to the neonatal intensive care unit because of his early arrival. Unfortunately, with Celeste, the doctors saw what they'd feared... placenta accreta. They would have to remove her uterus.
We'd known the risks. This was not devastating news. Besides, we were so high on a relatively healthy baby being born, we didn't have time to mourn the reality that Bryce would be our last biological child. We'd always said we'd have two more. Nevertheless, we were blessed right now. I went back to the prep room to wait on her so we could go see our tiny titan together.
One hour passed. Then two. The third hour came and I knew this was definitely not what they'd told me would be happening. She was supposed to have been done by then. Something was definitely wrong. Unbeknownst to me, Celeste was in a fight for her life.
Remember the condition where the Mutant Lunchbox attaches itself to the uterus? There are actually two stages after that. The worst is placenta percreta, where the placenta grows through the uterus and begins attaching to surrounding organs. It's extremely dangerous and extremely rare. One out of every 50,000 births. A high bleed risk has elevated to a potential breaking of the dam. Only a couple of decades ago, this was a death sentence. Today, if doctors are surprised by this, it's still extremely life-threatening. Our doctors were surprised.
It turns out that Celeste couldn't use the restroom because The Mutant Lunchbox had grown all the way through her uterus and welded itself to her bladder. What was supposed to be 40 minutes to close her up after the delivery had turned into a pitched battle to remove the life source to Bryce that was trying to undo the life of Celeste. She was losing blood. Fast.
They took her uterus and cut her bladder in seven different places. She lost her entire body's volume of blood, and then some. They used 14 units of blood on her, when most adults only have 11. But she was alive. Eight hours of procedures later, with the work of eight surgeons, but she was alive. Praise God.
She would later tell me that I looked at her with a sense of wonder that made her a bit uneasy when they finally wheeled her out of the operating room and into the intensive care unit. And she was right. Based on what had just happened, I was wondering how our reunion was possible. Yet there she was, smiling. A mother of two with a brand new mama's boy to spoil. I had one main person to thank: Bryce.
Why was he so still that day? Why did he rest so calmly and quiet his heartbeat to make the doctors believe there was nothing good to come of waiting any longer? The doctors thought he was in danger, but they were wrong. Zero complications. At nearly 4 years old today, he has grown up to be the roughest, toughest fella who's willing to challenge the law of gravity every chance he gets. He was fine. But he knew Mommy wasn't.
I believe Somebody gave him a mission. "OK, listen here little buddy. I need you to do something for me. Your mom is in danger. But nobody knows it. If we wait, she'll have to come home sooner than I want her to. The only way we can keep that from happening is for you to be very, very still. Can you do that for me? Good." If you ask Bryce today if he remembers being in Mommy's tummy, he'll say yes. He'll say, "God was with me in mommy's belly. And he told me good job."
I'll say. He put his little lungs on the line and told the doctors the only way he knew how that his Mommy was in trouble. It's just miraculous that everyone who needed to, listened.
Plans are tricky. If you don't make them, they say you plan to fail. Control the risks. Think ahead. Yet in a scale of eternity, it seems like our true ability to control the controllable is as limited as the last breath you just took. My son, entering this world, taught me one of the greatest lessons I've learned thus far. I couldn't save him. I couldn't save her. But in my helplessness, I found peace. There was the serenity of knowing that I know nothing, but apparently someone's already seen the script and is very capable of seeing a scene to its end. Once I came to terms with that fact, in this most palpable sense, it's amazing, but I felt free.
The next day, Celeste was well enough to move to the maternity ward. Our room was much brighter, filled with primary colors and pictures of storks and tiny babies. This was much, much better. "I think I know what his middle name should be, Bryce," she said not too long after waking in the maternity ward.
"Sweetie, umm, Bryce Bryce Sanders just sounds like you stuttered," I offered. "No. Bryce will be what we call him, but his first name will tell his story," she responded. "OK, so what is it?" She grinned, still staring out the window, bathed in dawn's soft orange light. "Actually, it's names. Paul William."
"I like the ring. What do those mean?" I asked. "Paul means small. William means protector. That's what he was for me," Celeste said. "Yeah, you're right," I considered. "I owe him one. Big."
And so we named him Paul William Bryce Sanders.
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