They were wiping him off.
I’d just finished labor and with a couple deep breaths I let the shock of having a boy wear off and the exhaustion of labor set in. I looked down at my chest to find his feet right at my chin.
What a mess of legs! I thought. I have a tall little boy.
Then all at once: Wait, I want to see his cute little face! Why isn’t he facing me? They’re taking a long time to wipe him down… Why isn’t he crying yet?
It was then I realized, they weren’t wiping him down, they were trying to stimulate him. He hadn’t taken his first breath yet. And just like that, in a matter of seconds, our highest high plummeted to our lowest low.
Panic set in on Kent’s face. They pulled Titus’ body off mine and laid him next to me on the bed to start compressions. I closed my eyes and prayed. Lord, help Kent be calm. Give him strength. And please give my baby breath. All around me voices pleaded, “Come on baby boy. Breathe baby. Breathe.” Kent and my sister Jaci prayed out loud, pleading with God, begging him to intervene.
Instantly, I knew we needed to pray for him by name, but no one knew his name yet.
Kent’s voice broke into my thoughts, “Should we tell them his name?”
“Yes, yes. Tell them!” I replied.
“His name is Titus. Titus Kent Hagen,” he said without taking his eyes off our son.
There was no time for reactions, for oohs and awwws. I think I remember exchanging a quick look with my sisters before we came back into the chaos of the room and the prayers continued.
My sister Tess held my hand. I heard her voice in my ear, “Lord, give him your breath. Lord, give him your breath.” Over and over she prayed. And a calm I can’t explain settled over me. I held Kent’s hand and reassured him, but our son was still not breathing.
And with that, my world shattered. The paramedics arrived. Stats were exchanged. Then all at once his umbilical chord was cut and Titus and I were separated for the first time in 9 months.
I was put on a stretcher and while they strapped me in, I begged someone to make sure to cover me up before wheeling me out of the room. I passed by my family and exchanged brief looks before entering the cold night air. This is not how I imagined leaving. Kent was told there wasn’t room for him in the back with us, so he sat up front. Into the ambulance I went, right next to Titus. There were two paramedics working on him still. I made sure they knew his name and we sped off towards the hospital. My body ached on the hard stretcher and suddenly I realized my legs were shaking. A paramedic asked me if I wanted a warm blanket. He didn’t wait for my response and reached over to grab one for me.
We arrived. The doors opened, “We have baby and mom…” one of the paramedics recited medical jargon to the hospital staff. They wheeled me inside, into the hallway of the ER. Titus was in a room to my right. I could hear them working on him. “Has it been 3 minutes? Push another epi.” Their urgent communication continued.
My body wouldn’t stop shaking. My muscles ached. Then suddenly Kent was by my side. He took my hand and I looked up at him, his eyes calmed my shaking for a minute. We stayed like that for a second, exchanging a look worth a thousand words.
“Go be with Titus.” I urged.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, yes! Go!” He squeezed my hand and rushed into the room, leaving me in the hallway.
I looked around and noticed, for the first time, all the nurses and paramedics standing around watching, hands to their mouths, concerned expressions etched across their faces. It was as if the whole ER came to a stand still to watch our story play out.
One of the paramedics asked how I was doing.
“I need water. Can I get some water?” I asked. My mouth was so dry. I heard chatter around me. We need to get her into a room. The paramedic came back with a dixie cup and a straw with a tiny sponge attached to it. He pressed the sponge to my lips. It tasted like menthol. “I’m sorry, this is all I could find.” I thanked him. Room 1 is open. Take her to room 1. I couldn’t wait to get off the stretcher. They wheeled me into the room next to Titus’. 1, 2, 3… They counted out and transferred me to the ER bed.
“Is that better?” a nurse asked while covering me in a warmed blanket.
“Yes.” I smiled at her, “Thank you.”
My muscles eased a bit, but my whole body hurt. I asked for pain meds.
“Is there anyone you’d like with you right now? A family member?” my nurse asked.
“Yes, please. My sisters! Jaci and Tess.” She left to go get them.
A couple nurses and a doctor stood at my feet. She hasn’t delivered her placenta yet. I heard them say. And suddenly I couldn’t handle the pain anymore. I begged for meds. They took my blood pressure, hooked me up to heart monitors, and worked on getting IVs in both my hands. Jaci and Tess rushed in, one of them on each side of my bed.
“I want pain meds.” I pleaded. “And water. I’m so thirsty.” My sisters went to work, making sure I got what I needed. The nurse brought me another dixie cup with a sponge straw, this time it was water. She told me I could only have a few sponge-fulls. They didn’t want to give me too much water, just in case. I knew what she meant – just in case I needed surgery. I wrote it off as a precaution.
“How’s Titus doing?” I asked my nurse. She said she would find out.
Then I felt it – all the pushing. The nurses and doctor at my feet were pressing down on my stomach to get my placenta out. I groaned in pain and shut my eyes tight. Jaci and Tess held my hands as they worked. The nurses pressed harder and harder and tears streamed down my face.
“I know, I’m sorry, honey. We’re almost done,” one of the nurses said.
Finally, it was over. They stopped pressing down. I could breathe a little easier, but my body still trembled with pain. I’m so tired, I thought as I laid there. I felt a heaviness to my very core. Tess put the tiny sponge of water to my lips. I gladly took it. They told me they were going to run some tests on my placenta to see if they could find any answers for us. I thanked them.
“How’s Titus?” I asked my nurse. She said she would check for me.
There was talk of transferring me to another hospital. I took another sponge full of water and looked up to see Kent standing with Jaci in the corner of my room by the door. She had her arm around him. He gave me a little smile and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. Why isn’t he with Titus?
A few minutes passed and finally the commotion around my bed subsided. Kent came over, held my left hand, and confirmed what hope hadn’t allowed me to believe.
“He didn’t make it.”
“What?…” I searched Kent’s face, confused. “No. No…”
Tears streamed down Kent’s face. I shook my head and cried without tears. I was in complete shock. It couldn’t be true. Titus wasn’t gone. He was in the NICU recovering. We prayed for a miracle! Didn’t God hear our prayers? And yet even as these thoughts rushed through my head, deep down I knew he was gone. I’d known since someone yelled, “Call 911” in the birthing room.
The hospital chaplain entered my room. A nice man with a kind face. He told us how sorry he was for our loss. I can’t remember anything else he said until, “Would you like to see him?”
I nodded emphatically, “Yes. Yes, please!”
He and Kent left the room to go get our sweet boy. It had been over an hour since Titus was born and I had yet to hold him, or even see his face.
The next 20 minutes were the most heart wrenching I’ll ever experience. I met my little one for the first time and said goodbye to him all in less than an hour. Kent brought him into the room. I’ll never forget how proud he was, holding our son – how tenderly and lovingly he looked at Titus. He walked to the side of my bed, placed him in my arms, and I came undone. A tiny version of my sweet Kent. How could I not fall instantly in love? Tears flooded my eyes as I traced his face with my fingers – his tiny forehead, his puffy eyelids, round little nose, and pursed lips. We spent time pointing out all the details – his tiny bubbly toes and chubby, dimply fingers.
“What color are his eyes?” I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t seen them yet.
“Blue.” Kent said with a small smile. He reached over and opened one for me to see. Deep, gorgeous blue. Pain filled my heart anew. Oh, what I would give to see those eyes open. We held his hands, stroked his full head of beautiful hair, and exchanged looks of longing. How could we feel such joy and sorrow at the same time?
“I know this is a weird request,” I said looking at Kent sheepishly. “But I want to see his butt.” Kent smiled back at me and started to unwrap Titus from his swaddle. I had to see it – the little baby bum that pushed against my ribs for all those months. The one I cupped with my hand and smiled thinking, I can’t wait to meet you baby bear. Kent held Titus up so I could take a good look. I know you, I thought and playfully cupped his little bum once again.
We introduced him to his aunties, his uncles, his grandma and grandpas. I told him how lucky he is to have each and every one of them. We swaddled him again and took pictures. I ran my fingers down his soft, silky baby skin and kissed his cheeks over and over. Oh, how we loved on him.
And just as quickly as it started, it was over. Paramedics arrived to transfer me to another hospital. I handed Titus over to Kent so they could unplug all my IVs and get me onto yet another gurney. The charge nurse at the ER reassured Kent and me that we could come back the next day. They’d set up a room for us and we could spend as much time as we wanted with Titus. We had no idea, at the time, how sick I was. I ended up spending three days in the hospital recovering, receiving treatment, consistent blood tests, and blood pressure monitoring and we never went back to spend time with Titus the way we thought we would. My heart fills with sorrow when I think about it. Why did I hand him over so easily? Why didn’t we have more time?
We’ll never know why things happened the way they did. And even though there’s no medical explanation for why Titus didn’t make it, I believe with every fiber of my being that God used my son to save my life. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have gone to the ER, they wouldn’t have discovered the severity of my sickness, and I might not have survived.
Because of Titus, I’m here to tell the story, to cling to Jesus, and try to make sense of these ruins. Because of Titus I feel my Saviors love more intimately than I ever thought possible. Because of Titus, I am changed.
And if the reaction you all have had, the response to his life that we’ve received, is any indication of the kind of heart our Ty has – I’m in awe. He would have sought reconciliation and healing. He would have loved deeply and intentionally. He would have pursued intimacy with Jesus. He would be known by his joy. He would run towards the hard things and in doing so imparted courage to those around him to do the same.
I wish he had a lifetime, here on earth, to show us his big brave heart. But in a way, we are still experiencing it. In a way, by inspiring us to do all these things, he is making such a profound impact on so many lives.
So maybe it’s not just his mommy’s life that he saved. Maybe, in a way, he’s saving your life too. I pray everyday that Jesus uses my sweet Ty to bring people to Him and show them His abundant love.
Yes, I am marked by loss, by pain, by grief. But I’m upheld by love – the love of Jesus and Kent and a little 9 pound bundle of love named, Titus.