6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 30, Delivery Suite H, St. Vincent Healthcare.
“Did it happen?”
Jaime replies “no” and laughs. Everyone giggles at my giant groan of relief.
The room is warm, maybe a little too warm. Everyone is talking, about school or work or friends or baby Alejandro. Just above the chatter, a soon-to-be born baby’s heartbeat thumps through the monitor speakers. The room smells odd — a mix of leftover pizza, the antiseptic smell of a hospital and the mustiness of too many nervous people packed into a small space.
There are smiles on everyone’s faces, but under them, there is just fear. And sadness.
Around 6:30, Jaime’s father, Dick, gathers up most of the kids to head home for the night.
Jaime DeVries and Daniel Gonzalez decided not to have the kids there, not knowing how long Alejandro would survive after birth. Marcella, 13, is the only sibling to stay. Makayla, Jaime’s oldest, shuffles to her mother’s bedside, tears brimming in her eyes. Jaime sits up as much as she can, tubes and IVs shifting as she moves, and puts her forehead against Makayla’s.
Makayla begins to cry, whispering hushed worries into Jaime’s ear. Jaime wraps her arms around Makayla and promises her that Mommy will be OK ... the baby may not live ... but Mommy will be alright.
Makayla’s face bunches up in a sob. A final hug before Grandpa Dick’s gentle hand pulls her away.
For the next two hours, different people come in. Nurses enter every 30 minutes or so to check on Jaime. Aunts and cousins and friends stop by to give Jaime and Daniel hugs and wish them luck. Or say how sorry they are.
In the background, the lub-dub of the heart monitor. Alejandro’s there.
Daniel tries to take a nap on the love seat tucked in the corner of the hospital room. He’s still exhausted from his long string of shifts at the mine. His eyes shut for 10 minutes at a time. He snores slightly before being awakened by the buzz of a text message or the loud rock-and-roll ringing of his cellphone — another friend or family member checking in on him and Jaime and unborn Alejandro.
Family members talk about whatever comes to mind.
Jaime and Marcella snuggle on the hospital bed, Marcella’s head on Jaime’s shoulder. They watch a horror movie on Netflix, making comments about predictable plot twists. It’s a B-list film, “13 Sins.” It’s a distraction.
The doctor and medical intern come in a little after 9 p.m. to check on Jaime. The doctor can feel the top of Alejandro’s head.
Everyone knows that Alejandro soon will enter this world. And then he will leave it.
Daniel tries to nap again. Jaime’s mother, Sue, wrings her hands in her lap. Rita’s eyes look glassy, like she wants nothing more than to cry. Instead, she puts on a brave face, trying to stay strong for her son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law.
Eyes keep glancing at the screen, monitoring Jaime’s contractions, spikes growing closer together. The heart monitor still beats its muffled thump.
Around 9:30 p.m., the anesthesiologist returns to strengthen Jaime’s epidural. She’s finally starting to feel some serious pain. Shortly after, Jaime calls the nurse to report she’s starting to feel a lot of pressure, like the baby is coming soon.
When the doctor returns, Jaime tells him about the pressure she’s feeling; the first moment I hear real fear in her voice.
What she has been preparing for and dreading for four months is finally happening.
The doctor checks her. She is fully dilated. Everyone leaves the room except for the nurse, doctor, intern, Daniel and me. Marcella sits in a chair outside the bathroom, just around the corner from Jaime’s bed. The doctor gets Jaime’s feet in the stirrups and the surgery lights are turned on.
Alejandro’s head is clearly in view. Already. He’s coming.
Within a minute, Alejandro is fully free. It’s 10:24 p.m.
He’s crying loudly, something neither Jaime or Daniel were sure would happen. As soon as Alejandro is placed into her arms, Jaime starts to cry, tears rolling down her cheeks. She holds him close; Daniel crawls next to her in bed, his rough hand touching Alejandro’s red, slimy, bloody head.
People come back in, pushing closer to see his tiny face. Tears well in all of their eyes. Their son is alive and yowling, just like any normal, healthy, newborn baby. Jaime's and Daniel's fingers trace the lines of Alejandro's face, his little purple fingers curling around one of theirs.
They cry, tears streaming down their cheeks, as they tell him how much they love him.
“I love you, mijo. I love you so much,” Daniel says.
The doctors — almost invisible — clean Jaime. Blood and fluid is everywhere. No one seems concerned. The focus is entirely on Alejandro — 6 pounds, 11 ounces, 20 inches. Head circumference, 13½ inches.
The doctor and nurse touch Daniel on the shoulder, asking if he’d like to cut the cord.
The cord — the only thing holding Alejandro’s condition at bay, connected to his mother. Daniel gets up, places the scissors where the doctor tells him to and snips.
The lifeline is severed. Everyone in the room begins to sob.
A glimmer of hope
Everyone knows what this means. What isn’t known is, how long? How long will his little lungs keep sucking in air? How long can his dysfunctional heart pump blood?
Jaime and Daniel hold Alejandro close, and Marcella is pressed against them, her hand stroking her newborn brother’s face and arms. They comment on how similar he looks to Daniel; Alejandro is his “little twin.” They tell him how much they love him.
They laugh. More tears. How cute Alejandro is; how perfect.
Alejandro softly cries, softer than before.
Daniel mentions that he doesn’t look sick — that a random stranger who saw him would never know that he won’t survive the night.
Daniel speaks the hoped-for miracle that maybe there was a mistake, that this perfect baby boy is not broken inside, that he’ll survive this night and the next and countless others.
That one word — “maybe.”
After 20 minutes, Alejandro is passed to Marcella, who holds him, her tears dropping gently on the face of her brother. His purple fingers curl around hers, holding her hand.
Next, Rita holds her grandson, then Sue. Sue has been standing steadfast at her daughter’s side, her hand planted on Jaime’s shoulder. She's quiet, but the tears are there.
When they hold Alejandro, everyone stares into his face. It’s as if they’re trying to memorize every little detail. The shape of his lips, the curve of his ears, the little wrinkles on his forehead, the dark color of his hair.
Around 10:50, Daniel and Jaime want to spend precious time alone with their son.
Everyone else shuffles into the hall; some sob, some lean silently against the yellow hospital walls and stare.
I find a quiet dark corridor and slide to the ground, my camera hits the floor with a thunk. Alone. I know I am working and I have to do my best to capture Alejandro’s life. But in that moment, I let go.
I am just human.
And I cry into my hands, trying my best to stifle a scream.
As we each retreat to our corners and walls, Jaime tries to comfort her crying son.
“It’s OK, baby, just relax,” she cooed. “It’s OK.”
“We should have let the little kids be here,” Daniel said.
“How was I supposed to know? They told me he would only last minutes. I didn’t want them to see him pass,” Jamie said.
Daniel keeps mentioning that maybe the doctors were wrong; maybe Alejandro will survive.
“This is the way he was made, Daniel.”
Before the family comes back, Jaime says, “He’s a fighter. He’s not gonna give up. He’s got two parents who are fighters, too.”
Alejandro is wrapped in the black-and-white blanket his big sister Makayla made for him. His cries have slowed to one shuddering, quiet cry after every labored breath.
More words of love, more tears. There is so much love in that room. Fear also is there.
Ten minutes later, everything changes. Alejandro stops whimpering. His color has changed. He has gone from a deep purplish red to pale. He no longer cries, open-mouthed and wailing. He breathes slowly as his father holds him, planting kisses on his forehead.
Jaime watches Daniel with their son, her gaze a mix of love and sorrow — painful adoration. Now, it’s Jamie’s turn.
She takes Alejandro, bowing her whole body over him, her forehead touching his, her hair falling all around him. As Daniel and Jaime spend time with their son, holding him and stroking him, Alejandro’s breaths grow further and further apart. His skin grows paler.
Exhausted from crying, he’s holding onto life tenuously. Alejandro’s parents realize this, and take him into their arms, keeping him close, staring into his face, crying and comforting each other.
And yet that face is peaceful, silent.
My camera drops, the strap around my neck catches it.
I cannot take more photos.
Coming close to Alejandro, his face is not so placid. Eyes closed, Alejandro is gasping, struggling for every breath. Every breath a fight. And they’re growing farther apart, maybe 30 seconds, maybe 45.
The life is slowly leaving him.
Marcella, Daniel and Jaime can see it, too, their sobs a little harder and more ragged than before.
Maybe is gone and soon Alejandro will be, too.
A few minutes later, we are asked to leave the room, leaving Marcella, Daniel and Jaime to spend Alejandro’s last minutes surrounded in love and quiet — no whispers, no camera shutter clicking. Just them.
He is gone
Jaime cries out. A deep, anguished, tearful cry, and I know he is gone.
It’s 12:05 a.m.
He looks so different: His skin is white with a tinge of purple. His lips are even darker. His eyes are closed. One arm falls limply from the blanket his sister made him.
Daniel is in the corner, his arms wrapped around his mother as he sobs —ragged, guttural sounds.
Jaime is sitting on the bed, her legs folded, her arms limp and empty in her lap. She is pale. Her eyes are red. Her hair has been pulled into a ponytail.
They have changed, too.
Marcella kisses the baby’s forehead as she carries him to Jaime. Jaime takes him and holds him, rocking him slowly back and forth. She kisses her son’s forehead.
Alejandro died just moments after midnight on Jan. 31.
He lived for 96 minutes.