We walked into the NICU, and while I still didn't know what was wrong with Carter, I felt it from Dan. When I saw the nurses, my gut told me it wasn't good. There were folding privacy screens near Carter's area. I put my eyes on Carter, and he was alive - so why are we here? Dan asked to speak with the doctor alone. He knows me, and knew if I had any glimmer of hope, I wouldn't be able to see the reality of the situation. They put the privacy screens up and I sat across from Carter's area as Dan and the doctor spoke. One of his nurses pulled up a chair next to me and just hugged me as I cried. Did we need to do surgery? Did they have to do another scan? Did they find something else? Was I about to lose my son?
We were taken to the family room which was the same room we went to earlier in the day after we heard about the brain scan. The doctor sat next to me on the couch, as Dan leaned against the wall in front of us. I looked at Dan. He had his hand on his mouth and tears in his eyes. "Justina, Carter has a hole or holes in his intestines". My initial thought - okay, then fix it. It was life threatening. He already had bacteria going into his stomach. I kept shaking my head no. No, I won't lose him. He's a fighter, he's got this. I sat there sobbing uncontrollably. The doctor kept going because he hadn't actually said what I knew was coming. Even if we tried surgery, we would probably need to do more, and now it was in addition to a brain bleed and a potential heart issue. "He won't have a quality of life"… the words Dan and I dreaded of possibly hearing from the moment I went into preterm labor. The doctor got tears in his eyes. "I'm not asking you, it's the right thing to do for Carter," he said. I'll never forget those words. No words could describe that moment or how we were feeling. I can't even begin to try. I looked at Dan, and I hesitantly agreed that it was the right thing to do. The doctor asked if we wanted to spend time with him and hold him. He told us a personal story and that we would regret it if we didn't.
The nurses set up Carter's area with the privacy screens. I sat next to the incubator and Dan sat across from me. His incubator opened. This was it… this was the first and last time we would hold our son. One of the nurses put him in my arms. I couldn't help but smile as I looked at him and cried. Hi Carter, It's your mom…I'm so sorry. I love you so much. You're so strong. Please forgive me. You're my entire world. Forgive me. You're the best thing that has ever happened to me and your dad. I wish you were still safe in my belly. You're so strong… I had so much to say to him. I hummed the same song I had been singing since I was still pregnant with him, when he was in the incubator and then at that moment. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey, you'll never know, dear, how much I love you, please don't take my sunshine away. I realized at that moment the irony of that song. I stared at him, touching his hands, his face, and his eyebrows. Those long eyelashes, those lips, everything about him… he was so perfect. The doctor came over, smiled, and said, "He knows his mom is holding him. I can tell just from his stats right now." I put my fingers on his chest so I could feel his heartbeat. They gave him pain medicine to start getting him comfortable. I continued talking to Carter, loving on him, and touching him. Over an hour went by. I wanted to sit there forever and never let go. Dan sat across from me just staring at us. We were both in so much pain. I asked Dan how we were supposed to say goodbye to our son, and he said, "It's not goodbye, it's see you soon." It was time for me to give him to Dan. It's okay my sweet boy, I'm giving you permission to let go. I'm so sorry. I love you more than you'll ever know. I put him in Dan's arms, knelt down, and kissed Carter over and over. Dan said "It's time. My mom is out waiting for you." Dan had asked me if he could be alone with Carter when he passed in his arms. It was something he needed, and he didn't want him passing to be my last moment. I knew from his voice it was something he needed to do. I looked back at Carter and his father, my amazing husband, staring at him… an image I'll never be able to see again.
I walked toward the exit of the NICU for the last time. My mother-in-law was standing at the door. I just fell into her arms. I was so numb. Carter was with Dan, and they were taking him off support. I just said goodbye to my son. We sat in the waiting area and cried together. I didn't want to see Dan because I knew once I saw him walk down the hallway that Carter was gone.
And then came Dan down the hallway, head hanging, with Carter's belongings in hand. He was gone. I sat in disbelief. I was in shock. I felt so empty and so numb. I felt lifeless. Our son took his last breath in his father's arms at 11:22pm.