On August 8, 2013, at 1:15 AM, I watched my son die before my eyes in the guest bathroom of my parent’s home in Arlington, Texas.
82 days later -- Jenn, my newborn son Hunter, my parents, and I walked out of Medical Center - Arlington with a healthy baby, smiles on our faces, and a different perspective on the rest of our lives.
Back to August 8...
At least that’s what my eyes THOUGHT they were seeing. To me -- there was no scenario that included the amount of blood Jenn lost that morning in that bathroom and Hunter surviving. It just wasn’t possible.
So as I stared at my beautiful wife with my wide, unblinking eyes and slack jaw, I watched her turn pale as the blood ran -- no poured -- no GUSHED -- out of her with three paramedics and three fireman surrounding her.
She was 25 weeks pregnant, and we had arrived in Arlington three days before. I was doing some work in the area while Jenn and the girls played with Uncle DeeDoo (Jeff) and Aunt Allison who were visiting from New York City.
Jeff and Allison had announced their first pregnancy seven hours before our adventure began. In the midst of the horror surrounding Jenn in those early moments, one of her top priorities was not letting Allison know what was happening to her. She didn’t want to scare Allison. THAT’S what she was thinking about. And that’s why I’m so happy I talked her into marrying me.
At 1:15 AM, Jenn was awakened by what she thought was her pregnant body saying, “welp! I’m pregnant and I need to pee -- so here we go!” She thought she was peeing on herself.
A little annoyed at first, Jenn’s irritation soon turned to terror as she realized that the fluid was crimson red -- and it was everywhere.
She was asleep on the guest bed with our 2 year old daughter. I was asleep on the floor at the foot of the bed with our 4 year old daughter.
Not wanting to wake the girls, Jenn softly called out to me -- “Mark. Help. I’m bleeding.”
I happened to be awake already (having just watched the Conjuring a few hours before I was having a little trouble drifting off to sleepy land), and when I heard those words my thoughts instantly jumped to the minor bleeding event we went through four weeks prior which was no big deal. Jenn was diagnosed with a partial placenta previa at 20 weeks. Placenta Previa is when the placenta is partially or fully covering the birth canal. It’s supposed to be higher up above the baby away from the canal. If it gets near the birth canal, you can have some bleeding issues. A fully covered birth canal 100 years ago (and maybe even more recently than that) meant that mom, baby, or more likely both -- died.
Women who don’t get medical attention pretty quickly once a major bleed initiates will most likely die with a previa. They will literally bleed to death.
“Mark. Help. I’m bleeding.” I stood up just as Jenn quickly vanished into the guest bath which connects to the bedroom we were sleeping in. My “this is no big deal -- we’ve done this before” attitude vanished just as quickly when I put my hand on the bed to steady myself in the dark. My hand didn’t touch a regular, dry sheet or even a slightly damp sheet. My hand disappeared in a bloody puddle -- it felt like someone had dumped a full glass of water on the bed. That’s when I knew this wasn’t good.
Unbeknownst to us, Jenn’s partial previa had moved. But it hadn’t moved in the right direction. Now her placenta was fully covering the birth canal, and it would stay there until October 25 when George Kingsley would remove it with his bare hands right after he pulled Hunter out into the world.
I walked over the bloody trail on the carpet from the bed to the bathroom and my eyes followed the bloody footprints across the bathroom floor to the toilet where Jenn sat -- looking up at me with a helplessness that I have never seen from anyone in my entire life.
She wasn’t panicked but said, “what do I do?”
I had no idea.
I grabbed my phone and called Len Tadvick, MD -- Jenn’s OB in Abilene -- at 1:18 AM. He answered on the first ring. Seriously. He answered the phone like he was sitting there waiting for my call.
“Len, it’s Mark. Jenn’s bleeding pretty bad. What do we do?”
“Meet me at the ER as soon as you can.”
“Len … we’re in Arlington.”
“....................then just get her to an ER and keep me posted.”
Then he prayed with me. I have no idea what he said. But it was a moment I will never forget as long as I live. He prayed with me and for me over the phone -- 160 miles away.
I hung up and dialed 9-1-1 at 1:20 AM.
A firetruck was in front of my parents’ house five minutes later followed by an ambulance two minutes after that.
10 minutes later we were at the Women’s Center at Medical Center -- Arlington (4.8 miles away -- I know this because I racked up more than 500 miles on my bike commuting back and forth over the next 82 days).
They shot her with steroids and starting pumping magnesium into her IV -- two things they do when a preterm baby is about to be born.
Dr. Kingsley (the chief of the OB hospitalists at MCA) came in the room and began telling us what was going to happen and the dangers of delivering a baby at 25 weeks.
To me it was sort of good news, since 5 minutes before I thought Hunter had left us for good. But as reality set in I realized what he was saying -- 90% chance of major neurological defect // 60% chance of death. They were prepping Jenn for a cesarean section. At this moment they asked me what Jenn’s birthday was, and I couldn’t have answered the question had there been a gun to my head -- I was so shell-shocked that I had no idea.
Right before they came to take her into surgery, they checked her bleeding one last time and it had slowed. So they called off the cavalry and decided to wait.
Jenn got two pints of blood in a transfusion and they said she lost much more than that. At least she started to get her color back at that point.
They moved her upstairs around 3 AM on August 8th. On the transport upstairs I ran into my dad and brother who were sitting in the waiting room. Having no idea what was going on or what to do, they came up to the hospital and sat. They were just there. That’s what family does.
82 days later George Kingsley made an incision below Jenn’s belly button, pulled Hunter out healthy and screaming, and confirmed that Jenn’s placenta was, in fact, completely covering the birth canal. It was 9:24 AM.
No one could believe that Jenn had come to MCA in the state that she had and made it 12 weeks with no other episodes or complications. That just doesn’t happen.
Jenn was able to do it by the grace of God, thousands of hours of prayer said on our behalf, and a calm, quiet spirit. It was remarkable how many of the doctors and nurses would comment on Jenn’s positive outlook and sweet spirit. On more than one occasion I overhead nurses arguing about who was going to get Jenn on the preceding 12-hour shift. They all wanted her. Jenn thinks it was since she was such an easy, low-maintenance patient.
My guess is that they just liked her and wanted to be around her as much as possible -- I can relate with that.
The one and only time I saw Jenn nearly lose it was at 2:30 AM one morning when a tech came in, turned on all the lights in the room, left to go get something, came back, checked Jenn’s vitals, then left the room for good. I was awakened a few seconds later by Jenn slamming the door. She’d had to get up to turn the lights off because the tech had left them on -- AT 2:30 IN THE MORNING.
This was news to me since I had on my mindfold sleep mask and had no idea lights had even been turned on (sheepish grin). I did burst out of the room and try to find the aforementioned tech but she had undoubtedly already ducked into another room to wake up some other unsuspecting antepartum patient.
We left our house in Abilene on August 5, a Monday, and planned to be back on Saturday. We had no idea that it wouldn’t be until October 28 that we’d see home again. It’s the longest I’ve ever been away from what I’ve called “home” in my whole life -- by a long shot.
While we were gone:
- our dog, Roger’s, disgusting skin flap came off (thanks Nana)
- I potty-trained Hope
- Hope learned to swing all by herself
- I grew a phat beard
- I started a podcast
- I healed myself physically after years of over-exercising and over-stress
- I got a new crockpot, set of knives, dehydrator, candle lanterns, lights for my bike, and soap to last me an entire year (thanks Amazon Prime)
- I rode my bike somewhere every day but one -- it was raining that day
- I became a fan of the Counting Crows
- I worked at out the YMCA
- I worked out at Crossfit Boom
- The girls and I went to the park
- The girls and I went on barefoot walks
- I was kidnapped and taken to a Rangers game which ended with a walk off homerun
- I nursed Haelyn through a 12-hour stomach bug
- I got to see Uncle Deedoo and Aunt Allison -- TWICE
- I was close to Uncle Brad, Aunt Jennifer and Annalyse and got to be with them more than I would have otherwise
- The girls and I went Halloween Princess dress shopping
- We went swimming and the girls learned how to swim with their heads under water
- I learned how to do a sweet pony tail
- I had to say goodbye to my parents’ dog, Owen, who had to be put to sleep the day after Jenn went into the hospital. He was the best doggie ever.
- I read Atlas Shrugged and about 10 other books
- Jenn read 12, yes twelve, books
- I kept a daily journal which I’m going to transcribe for our kids to read someday
- I spent 78 of 82 nights at the hospital with Jenn
- I got so excited whenever friends or family would come visit us -- and so many of you did for which I will forever be so grateful
- I revamped my “Discipline for Two-Year-Olds” strategy -- which included less screaming
- Abilene opened Carters, McAlister’s, Men’s Warehouse, Enchilada Express, and built a Fuzzy’s and a Golden Chick
Lots more happened while we were gone including my realization that my wife and daughters (and now son) are my heart outside of my body (not literally because then I would die). Actually, it’s pretty close to ‘literally’ because if I ever lost any of them, I would probably die.
I physically ached for my daughters when they were at their Nana and Papa’s for a couple of 4-5 day stints. They’re among the first things I think about upon waking every day and among the last things I think about every night before I drift off to sleep. The other things I think about at those times are Jenn and how much I wish the Cowboys would just get over themselves and win me another Super Bowl -- it’s been EIGHTEEN YEARS!!!!!
And then, according to the girls’ and my new favorite song, “All I do is dream of you the whole night through -- with the dawn I still go on dreaming of you.” They call it the “Yoo-wee Yoo-wee Song” and I’ll never hear it without thinking of our time in Arlington.
My parents introduced the girls to some old school hymns and now they sing “Standing On the Promises” and “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” on a daily basis -- which I’m totally OK with.
I learned how to deal with the constant worry of what would happen if Jenn started bleeding again -- it never went away -- not for ONE solitary second. It wasn’t until Hunter was born and we were driving home that I realized the worry was gone.
I realized how much I love my wife and what an amazing human being she is. And just as a human being she would be the most incredible person I’ve ever met -- but then she gets to throw in amazing mom, amazing wife, amazing sister, amazing daughter, amazing niece, amazing mom, and amazing mom. Did I mention amazing mom?
Totally unfair that she gets to rack up all those points because all I have is -- average dad, average-to-below-average husband, moderately average brother and son, football participant, and last but certainly not least, incredibly magnificent beard-grower.
I know that most, if not all, moms would do what she did for their unborn son. But that doesn’t make it any less inspiring and incredible.
THAT’S how she didn’t go crazy in that bed for 82 days. All she had to do was identify her motivation -- to keep baby Hunter cooking for his health and life -- and she was fine. She never complained. She never whined. She never asked “why me?” She stayed positive and just dealt with it. She did it all for Hunter. And in the great scheme of things, I know without asking her that she would do it a hundred more times without hesitation if it meant health and life for any of her three kids.
Now, I’m not saying she didn’t have her emotional moments. They were few and far between but all of them had to do with mommy duty. She was sad about not being there for bath time. She was sad about always having to hear stories and see pictures from all the park adventures. She was sad that she wasn’t there to potty-train Hope (oh wait, no she wasn’t, she was thrilled about that). She was sad she missed breakfast every morning. She was sad she couldn’t pick them up and hold them. She was sad she couldn’t see them dancing in my parents’ living room. She was sad she couldn’t lay next to them until they fell asleep. She was sad she couldn’t say prayers with them, tell them a story, or put the toothpaste on their toothbrushes. She was said she couldn’t pick out clothes and help get them dressed. She was sad when they would leave the hospital screaming, “I WANT TO STAY WITH MY MOMMY.” She doesn’t even know this (well I guess she does now) but my mom found Hope on more than one occasion in the middle of the night walking through the house asking where her mommy was.
I got a small glimpse into what it must feel like to by physically torn in half. Early on during our adventure, Hope was having a hard time not having her mom around and then having me leave at night. I would be getting ready to hop on the bike while hearing her screaming at the top of her lungs, “I WANT MY DADDY!” over and over and over.
All I wanted to do was to go back in there, snuggle her tight, and lay next to her all night. But I also wanted and needed to get back to Jenn. Thinking about her being in the hospital room alone at night was a commensurately nauseating and horrible feeling. That was hard. We eventually worked out a strategy and Hope started dealing with the separation a little better -- but leaving at night was never a piece of cake.
Probably the thing I learned through this ordeal that I’m most grateful for is my changed perspective on life. I try to think every day about what I’ll be thinking about on my deathbed -- and whatever THAT is, that’s what I try to spend time and energy on.
When I’m down to my last few minutes of life, I’ll be thinking about my two, sweet little girls and whether they’re happy and safe or not. I’ll be thinking about what a lucky dog I was for having the high privilege of being able to call Jennifer Lauren Barker my wife (I’ll also be wondering which old dog she’s going to end up marrying when I’m gone and try to poison that guy). I’ll be wondering if I did everything I could possibly do to raise Mark “Hunter” Rogers, Jr. in the right way. I’ll be thinking about my dead brothers (because there’s no way either of those jack-wagons are outliving ME) and their families. I’ll be hoping that my kids love and respect me and want to be around me. I’ll be hoping they will talk positively about me when I’m gone and not remember times of anger or impatience. I’ll be hoping that they aspire to live like I lived. And die like I will die.
I will NOT be thinking about money or cars. I won’t be thinking about how big my house was. I won’t be thinking about all the name brand clothes I or my family wore. I won’t be thinking about how fast I can run the 40-yard dash -- which is probably somewhere in the 4.3 to 4.4 range but I’ve got a hammy so I can’t know for sure. I won’t be regretting that I never went to a Super Bowl (but hopefully I will have done that, so…). I won’t be wondering what would have happened if I had watched 20 more movies every year.
I’ve always loved my kids and wife more than they will ever know -- more than I would have ever thought humanly possible before I knew them. Any parent can attest to the fact that you love your kids so much that it literally, physically hurts you. That’s something you don’t understand pre-kids. Something that I can’t wait for my brother to feel. And now I feel equipped to take full advantage of the time I have with my family and to try my best to tell them and show them how much they mean to me.
And if it took being in a hospital in a city not our home for 82 days and having to watch my wife sacrifice so much for her baby boy and thinking that my son had died before my eyes to really get a grasp on that? I’ll take it any day of the week.
There’s another song that the girls ask me to sing for them nearly every night -- The River of No Return. It’s a song from an old Marilyn Monroe movie about losing your love on the river. The River is time, and in my version of the song, “my love” is my kids. Every day that goes by is another day you can’t get back. Every night I say goodbye to the 4-year, four month, 8 day old version of my Haelyn. In the morning, she’ll be the 4 year, four month, NINE day old version of my Haelyn. The lesson is -- take full advantage of every moment and every day you have with your family. And that’s what I think about every time I sing the song. Sometimes it’s hard for me to hold it together and finish it.
The song ends with this line -- “I lost my love on that river and forever my heart will yearn -- she’s gone forever down that river of no return -- she’ll never return to me”
The list of blessings far outweighs the list of negatives we compiled throughout our ordeal. And I’ll hug my wife and kids just a little tighter than I already do because of everything we went through.