matthew's story

thank you for coming over to read about our precious angel son, matthew phillip. below is the story of our son's birth and death i wrote only a few weeks afterwards.

on january 6, 2009  i stayed home from work. i wasn't feeling good and had some cramps i thought were braxton hicks contractions. the day before i had them too. i googled pre-term labor signs. there was no pattern. nothing i could time. ok, i thought...these are braxton hicks for sure. ken came home from work and i told him i wasn't sure these braxton hicks contractions were normal. it was the day of epiphany here in greece so i knew my greek doctor was not at the clinic. we decided to call our base doctor who is a family practice doctor and has delivered several babies. he told me to drink a glass of cold water, lay down for 45 mintues, and monitor if my contractions were getting any stronger. if i had more than 3-4 i should go to the clinic. before i laid down, i went to the bathroom and noticed a little blood. i told ken we had to go to the clinic right then.

i remember crying out, i can't have this baby tonight!! i'm only 28 weeks. it's too early.

we called the clinic to tell them we were on our way. the contractions were closer together and getting more painful. oh no, Lord, please don't let me have this baby tonight. it's not time for matthew phillip to be born.

we arrived a little after 8 p.m. the mid-wife hooked me up to the monitor and the baby's heartbeat was normal at an average of 151. when i felt a contraction i would ask her, is that a contraction? is this normal? she would kind of nod, not revealing much, and told me the doctor was on his way. i had moments of feeling scared, but i also had quite a few moments of peace during the time before the doctor arrived.

the doctor arrived about 9:45 and i vividly remember the look of concern on his face. he asked me how long i had pains and i told him i thought i was having braxton hicks contractions since yesterday late afternoon. i told him they were not regular and up until a few hours ago, they weren't very strong. certainly nothing i would equate to labor pains. he asked why i didn't call him the day before and an overwhelming feeling of fear and guilt came over me. he did an exam and then ordered the nurse to bring me down to get an ultrasound. the doctor had a look of disappointment and defeat on his face and said i was dilated 3 cms and he couldn't stop the labor. he said matthew was breech and that i would be having a c-section very soon. i cried out to ken and said i couldn't have the baby because it was too early. i was trembling and scared. they wheeled me back up to the exam room for surgery prep. i told ken he had to call the base doctor and get him to talk to my doctor.

Lord, this isn't happening. make them stop the labor so my baby boy will be ok.

ken came back with the doctor and he told me that the base doctor was in agreement. they couldn't try to stop the labor because it would be a danger to me and the baby. i was too far dilated. the doctor told me he would be putting me under for the c-section. then he introduced me to a woman who was the neonatal specialist. my doctor explained to us that as soon as matthew was born she would be accompanying him in the ambulance to heraklion (about 2.5 hours away) where there was a nicu. i told ken to call my mom and let her know what was going on. the nurse wheeled me down the hall and i remember ken being there and then he wasn't. everything happened so fast. i didn't tell him i love him. i didn't say i'll see you in a little while.
in the operating room was the neonatal specialist, my doctor, and 2 anastesiologists. i was so scared. i told the doctor i didn't get to tell ken i loved him and if anything happened to me....

he pointed to a camera in the corner of the room where i could see ken standing in the hall. he was pacing back and forth and all i wanted at that moment was for him to be holding my hand.

the tall anastesiologist stood over me and said in a minute he would put a mask on me and everything was going to be ok. then someone said something (in Greek of course) and he laughed. at that exact moment, i stopped being afraid. i had no idea what was said. but i thought if he could laugh in this very scary situation, everything was going to be ok. i wasn't going to die. and neither was my baby. i asked my doctor if i could see matthew when he was born (not knowing if this was possible since he was putting me under.)

i awoke in a groggy state to my doctor smiling from ear to ear. "look cortney, here's your baby." i distinctly remember the change in my doctor's face and demeanor. the look of worry was gone from his face. i remember seeing matthew's sweet little face in the incubator, but it is a very foggy memory. i didn't know it would be my only memory of seeing him alive...
 
we got confirmation in the middle of the night (early on jan 7, 2009) that matthew made it to heraklion with no complications.

thank you, Jesus!
i didn't sleep the first night because i was so excited that we had our son! the doctor insister i could NOT leave their hospital to go to Matthew's hospital 2 hours away because of the risk of infection. i didn't put up a fight...because i didn't realize i needed to.
i NEVER thought i wouldn't bring my precious first-born home.

we made a plan for the week that ken would go with someone each day (so he didn't have to drive the whole 5 hours to/from by himself) and come back to chania at night to stay with me in my hospital. the doctors said if i wouldn't take pain meds i could get discharged saturday, january 10, 2009, three and a half days after he was born.
on ken's first visit, wed., jan. 7 he went with our base doctor and they all met with matthew's doctor. ken came back with great news! although matthew phillip was intabated he was not requiring any additional oxygen to breathe. he weighed in at 3.5 lbs and 16 1/2 inches (which was really big for a 28-week baby). ken got to see him open his eyes and move his little feet and hands around! the doctor, although reluctant, let ken take a picture of matthew, which turned out to be the only one we have. the doctor also said that signs were good but any sign of infection in his blood may not show up for 2-4 days.

so we prayed. lots of people prayed.
the next day, thurs., i shared the picture of matthew with everyone who came to my room. i was a proud mama. :) i answered a lot of 'congratulations' emails, accepted baby gifts, and wondered how quickly we could get the house ready with supplies since almost nothing was done. lots of friends came to visit and they found one happy mama. they brought premiee clothes since i had none.

that evening, ken came back from heraklion. he told me they tried to take matthew off of the respirator but it was unsuccessful. he told me the doctor said it was ok because at 28 weeks lungs are not fully developed. they were going to try and take him off each day. suddenly sitting there, ken became very emotional and broke down in tears. at first i thought there was more to the story; that something was terribly wrong with matthew. but ken was just overwhelmed at everything that had happened. i assured him everything was going to be ok.
i just knew God was going to keep our first-born son, matthew phillip schwalbe healthy.

on friday, i was moving around pretty well (truth is i was pushing myself really hard so i could get to my baby!). the doctor assured me i would be going home saturday but suggested i might take it easy that night and then go to the hospital on sun., jan. 11. i also started pumping so i could breast feed matthew when he was ready. the doctors estimated that in 2-3 weeks he could start receiving breast milk. he was being fed nutrients through his umbilical cord just as if he was still in the womb. before going to heraklion that day, ken went to the chania courthouse to get matthew's birth certificate. they wouldn't let him name the baby because i was not present. he tried to explain i was in the hospital recovering from a c-section with no luck.

he walked away with a birth certificate that said "baby boy schwalbe." a baby with no name.

ken returned friday night and said it was hard to see matthew with his face covered up. he was getting his "sun tan treatments," something they do to all premiees to prevent jaundis. he also told me they tried again to take him off the respirator but matthew couldn't breathe on his own yet.
none of the things matthew couldn't do, e.g., breathe or eat on his own, discouraged me. i just knew he was going to be ok. a month to a month and a half in the nicu and i was going to take my baby boy home.

the thought never crossed my mind that i wouldn't. and i knew that i had had a baby who was 3 months premature.

on saturday, january 10, 2009 i was discharged and ken decided not to go to the hospital to see matthew so he could help me home and we could pack. i was pretty slow-moving after a c-section and no pain meds. if i could change one thing in my life, it would be that i would have gone straight from my hospital to his hospital that saturday night.

while we were packing the interpreter from the base called and said she had spoken to the doctor and told us there was a sign of infection, but the doctors weren't sure exactly what it was and weren't too concerned. so we weren't. we took down the christmas decor in our house and packed our bags for 2 weeks. the plan was that we would stay for 2 weeks, then drive back to do laundry and things we needed to in chania, and then go back for another 2 weeks, and so on, and so on.
on sun., jan. 11, 2009 we left the house around 9:15 a.m. about an hour into the drive we received a call from matthew's doctor and she talked to ken while he was driving about the infection. we told her we were on our way. 10 minutes after we hung up, we got a call from the base interpreter who works in the medical office. she wanted to know if we spoke to the doctor. we said yes and told her we were about an hour and a half from the hospital. we asked her to have the base doctor call us because we were starting to get scared.

were they trying to tell us things weren't going well? tears started to flow. doubt about my baby coming home with us crept into my heart and i started to shake.

our base doctor called and i heard ken say over and over, "oh, ok." my heart started beating out of my chest. i was in shock because i just knew matthew was going to be ok. ken pulled over to tell me that our base doctor said that the next 24 hours would be critical and would determine if matthew was going to make it. we both balled our eyes out. we screamed out to Jesus. we pleaded. we begged.
i screamed outloud, Lord, take me before you take my son!!

ken continued driving, this time faster, and at one point we fish-tailed on the slick road. we decided to just go a safe speed and continued to pray aloud. i also called my mom repeatedly until i finally got in touch with her. i told her she had to start praying. she felt as though God was saying matthew would be healed supernaturally and gave me a scripture in Matthew and i remember when she got to the part, "in this VERY hour, you will be healed." i felt much better after we hung up. matthew was going to live.

we arrived to the hospital and ken dropped me off so i didn't have to walk. he parked the car and met me at the entrance. we walked up to the nicu, put on our hospital gowns over our clothes and walked back where a doctor said the heaviest words i have ever heard:

"I'M SORRY."

i burst into tears and screamed. "what do you mean, you're sorry?"

the doctor just nodded his head at us. i felt my knees buckle and i collapsed some into ken's arms.

i kept saying, "lord no!!!!! you CAN perform a miracle."

i kept thinking how amazing it would be if suddenly the monitor showed a beating heart and all the greek hospital staff were witness to it. they insisted we sit down while i was screaming so i could compose myself. after 15 mins or so, i insisted on seeing my son.

they walked us in the room where all the babies were and we went over to matthew's incubator. he was laying there with all his tubes still attached and his respirator still pumping. we reached into the arm holes to touch his little leg. we never got to hold him and after 5-6 minutes we were ushered out of the room. it was almost noon which was when all the families got to come in and see their babies for 1 hour per day.

we went back to the office and spoke to the nurse who basically said since it was sunday we had to come back the next day to talk with matthew's doctor, the chief of the nicu. i remember just sitting there in shock. ken and i held each other and cried and cried and cried. we called my mom and i said to her, "he's gone." she burst into tears saying over and over. "no, jesus!" i couldn't take it so i told her i would call back later and hung up.

the thing that made me really angry was that the nursing staff came in and asked what they should do with his body. they were trying to ask us if we wanted an autopsy but didn't know the english word. looking back now, i also realize that the nurse probably thought we wanted to take matthew with us right then. in greece, it is very common to have the funeral before sun down the day a person dies.

we spoke to our base doctor and he told us he the medical interpreter would be coming the next morning. we asked the staff to wait until then before they did anything. they gave us a hotel recommendation and we left the hospital without a newborn baby and crushed, broken hearts.

i couldn't believe i didn't get to see matthew phillip alive except for the foggy memory i have of him when he was first born.


i couldn't believe our baby was gone...