August 06. 2006 6:59AM
Now I lay me down to sleep, Part 1: A pregnancy's frantic turn
OTHER STORIES IN THIS SERIES: NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP
First of four parts
Tribune Staff Writer
Brittany Baich craned her neck to see the screen as the technician spread cold gel across her swollen abdomen.
As soon as the small plastic device pressed down on her body, a black-and-white image of her healthy 37-week-old baby quickly appeared.
Brittany studied his perfect little profile in awe. She pointed to his eyes and nose as her own mom cried happy tears at the end of the bed at this first glimpse of her grandson.
Then, just as suddenly, the baby lifted one arm and then the other in front of his face, moving here and there and distorting their view.
Although her obstetrician ordered the exam that morning after she developed raised blood pressure and protein in her urine, misgivings never entered Brittany's mind. Sure, she was tired and nauseated in her first trimester late last summer, but her pregnancy had been complication-free.
"I hope it is a boy, I hope it is a boy," she kept thinking as the Memorial Hospital technician quietly collected her son's measurements.
Brittany broke the silence.
"Can you make sure this is a boy?" the 18-year-old bashfully asked. "Because I'll be really upset if it's a girl and she has to wear blue."
As the afternoon of March 8 turned to early evening, the doctors told Brittany she could go home. She was relieved to hear her blood pressure had returned to normal and things appeared fine on the ultrasound. And, yes, she would be delivering a baby boy.
Her mom drove her up Indiana 933 to Denny's, where they devoured big breakfast platters before she dropped Brittany home on the outskirts of downtown South Bend. Brittany climbed the steps to her second-floor apartment on Leland Avenue.
Feeling full and tired, Brittany couldn't resist the urge to lie down. A nap sounded perfect, because her boyfriend, 25-year-old Otis Wigfall, had not yet returned home from helping a friend build a fence in North Liberty. It was his day off work at local factory Handex.
Brittany awoke about 9 p.m. and started preparing for bed. She undressed and wrapped a towel around her big tummy before heading for the bathroom. She urinated into a plastic container, because the doctors instructed her to collect her urine for 24 hours.
That's when she felt a gush.
Startled, she looked over her pregnant stomach and saw blood streaming between her legs, spewing into the toilet.
"I was freaking out because I didn't know, Was I going into labor? But why am I not in pain? I started panicking because every time I moved an inch it seemed pints of blood would come out," she says.
She quickly pulled out her cell phone and called her father, who lived in the neighborhood. He was her backup plan in case Otis was working when she went into labor.
Brittany almost passed out, still bleeding as she hung up with her dad and frantically phoned Otis.
"I said, 'Maybe you're in labor, so calm down and just breathe,'" Otis recalls saying as he finished the fencing job, promising to start for home.
Hearing sirens, Brittany turned toward the bathroom door, "knowing if I didn't have the strength to go open the door downstairs that my son and I were going to die."
Blood dripped on the carpet as she stumbled down a steep flights of stairs and fumbled for the right key to unlock the door.
Slowly she lowered herself to the floor as her dad dashed up the sidewalk and opened the door. And as the ambulance arrived, questions raced through her head.
The EMTs placed Brittany, weak from blood loss, flat on her back on a stretcher. She put her hands on her stomach, moving them around nervously as the ambulance took off for the hospital.
She felt her baby move for the first time since she started bleeding, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
"I figured he was going to be OK," says Brittany, who felt the baby change positions inside of her, as he had so many times in the last few months.
Meanwhile, Otis thought everything was fine with Brittany as he packed up his belongings in North Liberty. Then the 25-year-old received a call from Brittany's mom.
"She was like, 'You need to hurry up! Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?'" Otis says.
As soon as he hung up, the phone rang again. This time, it was Brittany's brother.
"He was like, 'Where the hell are you?' And that's when I knew something was really wrong," Otis says, "because he doesn't panic too much, he's pretty solid."
As he sped to the hospital, he wondered whether he would be too squeamish to cut his son's umbilical cord.
"I didn't think I was gonna be able to do it," says Otis, who feels queasy in hospitals and around blood.
As medics rushed Brittany into surgery, doctors asked a flurry of questions. "I was so confused," she says, "I didn't have any answers."
The doctors told her they were going to perform an emergency C-section. "And they put me under," she says.
After surgery, Brittany woke to see her dad, mom and two older brothers.
"Where's my baby?" Brittany asked her mom.
"Where's Otis?" she asked.
"Where's my baby?" Brittany demanded.
Again, her mom was quiet.
Then without a word, her mom and brothers stood up and walked out.
Only her dad stayed.
Looking at his daughter, he gently spoke.
"I'm not going to lie to you. Your baby is going to die."
August 07. 2006 6:59AM
Now I lay me down to sleep, Part 2: A heartbreaking decision
Tribune Staff Writer
Second of four parts
From her hospital bed, Brittany Baich looked up at her dad. He was overreacting, she thought. Her baby boy was not going to die.
"You know how you see all the medical shows on TV and everything goes so wrong but somehow it's always OK in the end? I thought maybe things really did go bad, but maybe things weren't completely wrong," she says. "I thought with all the technology, everything would be OK."
"And," she says, "I thought I got there quick enough."
Brittany was transported to Memorial Hospital after she started bleeding, 37 weeks into her pregnancy, at home. Her boyfriend, Otis Wigfall, arrived shortly after her emergency C-section, and a nurse showed them to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, where doctors and nurses care for premature babies and babies born with health problems.
They washed their hands in sinks inside the door and then the nurse pushed Brittany's wheelchair inside the room.
The NICU is a place where babies are attached by wires to machines that flash heartbeats and breathing patterns, where some are fed by tubes, and others receive puffs of air in their noses. Lights flash and buzzers sound above swaddled infants inside incubators and on small open beds, alerting nurses to their changing conditions.
Brittany's little boy was lying in an open bed and a light was shining down to warm his body. The nurse wheeled Brittany to his side.
"Oh my gosh," she said in a whisper.
She looked at his beautiful face and dark wavy hair, so proud. And yet it was so heartbreaking to see the tubes and wires streaming from his body to the monitors and machines.
As tears trickled down her cheeks, Brittany did her best to stand. She raised her hand to gently run a finger across his soft skin, then she stroked his hair.
"What is his name?" a nurse gently inquired.
Brittany had invested hours thumbing through books of names from the library. A few times at work telemarketing at Americall in South Bend, colleagues warned her to put the books away.
She and Otis had narrowed the field down to five, but the couple hadn't agreed on the final selection.
"Braylin," she decided, and she asked the nurse for a pen and paper. After scribbling the name a few different ways, she decided on the spelling.
A nurse wrote his name, his weight, 5 pounds, 12 ounces, and his length, 19 inches, on a light blue card with a Sesame Street sticker in the corner and taped it to the bed.
She brought them a hospital camera, and Brittany and Otis took photos. Each tube and wire affixed to his little head, face and body connected him to a different machine. He appeared to be resting peacefully in just a diaper, his fingers curled under as his hands rested on his chest.
Brittany gently picked up his left hand and wrapped his fingers around hers.
That night, she went back to her room, but she could not begin to sleep without Braylin. She leaned back in bed awake, staring at nothing in particular, worrying about her baby.
Meanwhile, Brittany's mom, Kay, went back to her daughter's apartment. "I walked in and saw the baby things, and there was blood everywhere -- I wasn't prepared for that."
On Thursday morning, Dr. Femi Okanlami entered their room and sat beside them. He immediately recognized Otis, who had gone to Marian High School with his daughter.
Braylin had shown no signs of life at birth, the doctor informed them, and it took more than five minutes of resuscitation for doctors to find a heartbeat.
"He explained I had an abruption and (Braylin) was without food and oxygen for too long," Brittany says.
Okanlami told Brittany not to blame herself; she did nothing wrong.
"I thought maybe I ate too much" at Denny's, she says.
"They also explained to me if I had not gotten to the door downstairs to unlock it, or I would have waited five minutes longer, I would've died because I was hemorrhaging."
Brittany was lucky.
But Braylin was without air for so long, he suffered significant brain damage. And that damage couldn't be reversed, so continuing life support did not offer any certainties.
He might never awaken.
He might not be able to feed himself, or walk, or talk.
"The doctor told us keeping him on the machines was just prolonging his death," Brittany says. "There was nothing else we could do."
They talked about their options in private, letting Okanlami know a little while later that they wanted to take Braylin off the ventilator.
Memorial chaplain Bridget Smith asked the couple if they wanted Braylin to be baptized. They agreed and asked her to administer the sacrament.
Brittany, Otis, their parents and a number of other relatives all gathered around Braylin's bedside, where curtains helped provide some privacy in the intensive care unit.
For the first time, Brittany held her little boy.
She felt so nervous.
"I didn't want to disconnect anything," she says. "And I didn't want to rock him or hold him wrong because I had never held a baby before."
Otis knelt beside her as they gently laid a little white gown over Braylin, and Bridget began to speak.
Today we bring this infant, Braylin, to Jesus, believing He reaches out to receive him in His arms and blesses him.
Braylin, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Then family members said their good-byes and departed.
Brittany and Otis stayed, lovingly cuddling, kissing and hugging Braylin.
"Part of us wanted to keep him on the machines as long as possible, but to see him like that ..." Otis says. "We didn't want to remember him like that."
A nurse started to turn each machine off and remove each tube and wire. As the final machine shut down, it made a gentle whooshing sound.
It was 1:20 p.m.
Brittany wept as she cradled Braylin in her wheelchair. Otis cried as he placed one hand on Braylin's head and the other on Brittany's shoulder.
"After they removed his lifeline, we didn't think he was going to make it two minutes," Otis says. "We thought that was it."
Then, something happened.
They heard tiny breaths.
August 08. 2006 6:59AM
Now I lay me down to sleep, Part 3: Cherishing every moment
Tribune Staff Writer
Third of four parts
Every breath brought hope. Brittany Baich and boyfriend Otis Wigfall wondered: If Braylin could breathe on his own, maybe he would be OK after all.
"We thought, 'Wow, they were wrong, he's going to live. He's going to live,' " Otis says.
A minute passed.
Then two. Then three.
As Braylin kept breathing, a nurse suggested they take him back to their room for privacy. Once there, Memorial Hospital chaplain Bridget Smith asked them whether they wanted to collect some keepsakes.
"Brittany said yes, whatever we had to offer she wanted because she really wanted to remember the time she had with Braylin," Bridget says.
She made handprints and footprints with the parents. A nurse helped them cut a lock of Braylin's dark brown hair, which Otis thinks would have looked like his.
Bridget showed the couple a "remembering" heart necklace. They would place the small inside heart around Braylin's neck, later, and keep the large outer heart for themselves.
And they took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.
"I held him on my chest so he could hear my heart beat," Brittany says. "I don't think I let Otis hold him that much."
"No, not at first," Otis says. "Then she asked me if I wanted to hold him, and I said, 'Now that's a dumb question.' "
Sometimes Braylin breathed normally, and it looked and sounded as if he was asleep.
At those times, "We thought he was too strong, he couldn't die," Otis says.
Then Braylin would stop.
He would start turning blue, his body would stiffen and he would clench his tiny fists.
"He wouldn't breathe for like a minute," Brittany says, "then out of nowhere he would gasp for air. That happened so many times, and every time we thought it was the last."
Every second they held him seemed like an eternity. It was during these sacred but painful hours that Bridget told them about a photographer.
About Eileen Dimino.
"I told them there is a photographer in town who would donate her time to photograph a baby who is terminal," she says. "They were such a nice family and Braylin was so photogenic. I thought it would be important for them."
Eileen arrived with cameras and flashes in hand about 8 p.m. Thursday. "I didn't know what to expect, but I was able to treat them like a regular family."
She hung a black backdrop in their room and gently issued instructions for different poses with their son.
"Dad, move this way."
"Mom, if it's OK with baby, let's move him that way."
The mood was solemn, even more so when Braylin gasped for air. Everything and everyone would stop and look until he drew another breath.
Eileen stayed about 15 minutes. "He's so beautiful," she told the parents before she left, having taken about a dozen photos. "You're so blessed."
Otis, Brittany and her mother took turns holding Braylin overnight.
He was never set down.
Nurses came in periodically to check his vital signs. The one time they took him out of the room, only a few seconds passed before Brittany frantically hit the nurse's button on her bed. "I wanted my baby," she remembers.
Otis said they kept trying to will Braylin to wake up, so the three could go home.
He held Braylin on his lap for a while, kind of tickling his left foot, when the baby suddenly jerked his leg "as if to say, 'Leave me alone,'" Otis says.
Braylin's leg movement was something Otis would not tell Brittany about until months later. He was afraid it would give her more false hope.
The chaplain greeted the couple early Friday morning, asking what they needed. "It is a roller coaster not knowing, but it is a peaceful time, too," she says. "The family savored every moment."
She asked Brittany and Otis if they wanted to take Braylin outside. Early that afternoon, they bundled him up in a blue and yellow quilt made by volunteers and held Braylin in the courtyard in front of the hospital, watching and waiting.
"We finally got to be alone with no one telling us what to do," Otis says.
Braylin began struggling again, "so we went back to the room," Brittany says.
He breathed and stopped. Breathed and stopped.
Then everything was silent.
"I thought he was going to start breathing again," Brittany says.
But he didn't.
Two-day-old Braylin took his last breath at 1:15 p.m. Friday, cradled in the arms of his mom.
August 09. 2006 6:59AM
Now I lay me down to sleep, Part 4: 'He's right here with me'
NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP: THOSE WHO CRADLE MICHIANA'S LITTLEST PATIENTS
Tribune Staff Writer
Last of four parts
Before calling a nurse, Brittany Baich and Otis Wigfall cuddled close to Braylin. They would never know the sound of his voice or the color of his eyes.
"That's what I wanted him to do so bad. I wanted him to see his mommy and daddy," Brittany said.
Even though Braylin never opened his eyes to see the world and people around him, Brittany takes comfort from the fact that he lived long enough to hear their voices and to feel their touch.
He breathed on his own for a full 24 hours.
"Braylin didn't want to go to heaven yet. He wanted to spend time with his family and make some memories. When he accomplished that, he let go," she said softly.
His funeral was on the following Tuesday. The service was small.
Brittany and Otis mounted Eileen Dimino's photos of Braylin on posterboard for family to see. Dr. Femi Okanlami and members of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit nursing staff attended.
"Not only are we doctors, we are human beings, too, and feel the loss," the doctor said.
There, chaplain Bridget Smith recounted the story of David and Goliath.
The chaplain compared the armor David took off to fight the giant to the monitoring wires and oxygen lines Braylin found he could live, at least for a little while, without.
"He stayed alive for so long, even though they took all of his armor off," Otis said of the story later, with emotion. "He stayed alive and kept fighting."
At his funeral, Braylin wore an outfit of light blue, with a football patch on the front and a blue cap on his head. It was supposed to be the outfit he wore home.
Before his casket was shut, Brittany and Otis took a final few photos of their baby and said their final goodbyes.
Kneeling beside the coffin, Otis and Brittany placed inside with Braylin the black cap Otis wore those two days at the hospital and a pair of little Iverson shoes. And they gave him a small football.
He was buried at 1 p.m. at Southlawn Cemetery in South Bend, the last plot in a row of other babies and children, on a cold March morning.
Under a shelter at his grave, Bridget recited a bedtime prayer that Otis said when he was a little boy:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.
Brittany and Otis are still together in their Leland Avenue apartment.All they have are keepsakes. A little newborn diaper. A bag of tubes that connected Braylin to monitors. His white baptismal gown. Their part of a heart necklace that they placed around him before the casket was closed. And photos -- dozens of photos.
Family snapshots are preserved in an album on Brittany's dresser. The professional photos mounted on posterboard from Braylin's funeral lean up against their living room wall, resting on a wooden diaper changing table.
"I see them every day," Brittany says of the images Dimino took of her son hours before he died the afternoon of March 10.
Someday, Brittany will show her future children what their brother, her firstborn child, looked like.
"The photos have helped me heal," she says. "I just take a look at the pictures and remember him being in my arms, breathing on his own."
When she is having a hard time falling asleep, Brittany relaxes by listening to Braylin. After he was taken off the ventilator, Otis taped their baby breathing into Brittany's cell phone.
On the surprisingly clear recording, Braylin sounds as if he is asleep and snoring, first very softly, then louder.
Brittany often holds it up to her ear, pressing it over and over again. Otis one day hopes to stream the minute-long sounds on a tape for several minutes so Brittany could simply press "play."
"But I can't listen to it," Otis says tenderly, looking downward. "It makes me cry."
Months later, a question lingers in Brittany's mind.
"I wonder why it happened and why it happened like that and I don't know why," she says.
"I don't know what the reason is, either," Otis adds. "But he's in a better place and one day I'll know what the reason is. Had Eileen not come to take the pictures, it would be so much worse, because we're still going through stuff right now."
A few times, they have watched a DVD of photos set to "Hush Little Baby" that Dimino made. Brittany's older brother, Adam, made her a second DVD to snapshots the family took, set to "If I Saw You in Heaven," by Eric Clapton.
"When I watch the slide show I feel like I'm holding Braylin again. I feel as though he's right here with me in my arms," Brittany says.
In her dreams, she sees Braylin, and he opens his eyes.
"And everything is OK," she says.
When they first came home, they saw two little boys running in the neighborhood. Brittany and Otis looked at one another and said, "Yep, that would be Braylin, running around and jumping up and down."
Every Monday is "cemetery day," when they head south in their black Lincoln Town Car to visit Braylin.
A small marker reads, "Braylin Lamar Baich, March 8, 2006 to March 10, 2006." Otis and Brittany are saving for a larger, heart-shaped headstone where they will etch Braylin's photo and the saying, "Our little warrior."
What does their future hold? Brittany and Otis are talking about marriage. Even though their families lived just a few houses apart when they were growing up in South Bend, a recent trip Brittany took with Otis' family was an important one.
Do they want to have more children?
"I do," Brittany quickly says.
Otis does not respond right away.
"For her to have to go through all this," Otis says, looking down at his son's grave. "We have to take it a day at a time. I want to have more kids, but not right now."
Staff writer Heidi Prescott: firstname.lastname@example.org (574) 235-6070
August 09. 2006 6:59AM
A record of their stay on earth
Photographer works to document dying babies
NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP: THOSE WHO CRADLE MICHIANA'S LITTLEST PATIENTS
Tribune Staff Writer
SOUTH BEND -- All Eileen Dimino has to remember her father by are memories and a few pictures.
Her father died when she was 5. She has always wished she had more photos taken with her dad.
"I see the same ones of me with him over and over again; I was the third kid, so I didn't get the same attention" photo-wise as her older siblings, she says. It is one reason she became a photographer.
Another reason is the time she spent abroad as a Saint Mary's College sophomore: She took 70 rolls of photos in less than seven months in Rome.
Dimino spent the first few years after college working at photography studios in the South Bend area and elsewhere in the state, where she learned the ins and outs of taking pictures of babies and children.
Babies cannot be rushed, while the typical youngster will follow instruction for as long as 15 minutes. And Dimino is not above using Gerber puffs and candy as bribery, she says with a chuckle.
But in October, she learned about a relatively new national program called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep during a photographers seminar in Illinois. This is the story they heard:
A Denver photographer received a phone call in February 2005 from a man who asked her to come to the hospital to photograph his newborn baby. Starting to schedule something for the following week, the man said, "No thanks, that will be too late." His son would be removed from life support that night.
The photographer instantly cleared her schedule. She took pictures of the baby and his parents while he breathed on the respirator, then without any tubes and wires, realizing there would be no chance for retakes. The death of their baby boy was devastating, but the photos helped them heal."We were all bawling, and Michael (her husband) and I cried in the parking lot," Dimino recalls, "and we said, 'How can we not take part in this?'æ"
After Christmas, she contacted chaplain Bridget Smith at Memorial Hospital in South Bend and told her about the program. Dimino asked if she could forge a partnership, of sorts, with the hospital to be called upon to photograph a baby who is going to die.
She met with Smith, who spoke with Memorial officials about Dimino and Traditions, her relatively new photography studio in South Bend, and her intentions.
"She knows how important the photos are as keepsakes," Smith says, "for a family to have a record that their child was here, and was significant, and was loved."
Dimino received the call about Braylin Baich the afternoon of March 9.
"She asked how quickly I could come, and I said about 9 (at night)," she recalls.
Could she arrive any sooner? Smith knew Braylin could take his last breath at any moment.
"I told them I would try," Dimino says, knowing she had to find a baby sitter for her son, Jacob, since Michael was not home yet from teaching at Culver Community School. Her regular baby sitter was busy, so her baby sitter's grandmother offered to help out that evening.
Dimino arrived about 8 and took about a dozen snapshots of Braylin, his mom, Brittany Baich, and dad, Otis Wigfall, in their private room.
"I encouraged her to make sure and take her time with the family, not to feel rushed, but to make this another experience for the family to remember," Smith says.
The hospital chaplain first calls Dimino or another participating photographer to see whether someone is available. Then the chaplain will inform the family about the program and give them the photographer's contact information.
"This is not something I'm doing for money or publicity, and it is not a program you want to do by yourself. The more photographers we get on board the better," Dimino says. "I hope I never have to be in a situation like these families. I want to help as much as I can."