What is it like to die? What sensations does the body experience? Do we see the infamous tunnel of white light? Do we hear angelic voices whisper our name, calling us home?
I don't know the answers to these questions, and neither do many intelligent scientists and philosophers. But my baby does. My baby knows what it is like to die.
Samuel brought me many happy days in his short life. The positive pregnancy test was the first day. We found out we were pregnant the morning of Aug. 30, 2012, and my husband and I were thrilled. A rush of emotions surged through me over the next few days -- shock, excitement, happiness, joy, wonderment. I was on a natural high.
Days before Samuel was born, my body started going into premature labor due to an intrauterine infection. At the moment I learned I would have to deliver my son, my heart shattered into a million pieces. The first words out of my mouth were, "I just want him to live."
I had read that babies can survive at 26 weeks out of the womb. I was crying. I was hysterical. I was shaking. I was in shock. What did this mean? Would my baby survive? My entire life was just flipped upside down.
Samuel Brian Mackey was born at 6:35 p.m. on Jan. 27 by emergency C-section, weighing 2 pounds, 9 ounces. I was only 26½ weeks along in my pregnancy. My body kicked my son out of the warmth and security of my womb and straight into the NICU.
On the way to the NICU, I was so excited and nervous. My heart was racing. I was giddy and felt a huge smile on my face. I wondered if my son would even like me.
The moment I laid eyes on Samuel, I fell in love with him. My heart grew a hundred times its size in that moment. I loved everything about him, his dark hair, his hands and feet, the fuzzy hair on his body. He looked just like me! Our son is here! We have a baby now!
But it hurt me to see my son in an incubator attached to so many tubes and wires. I hated my body for kicking him out so early.
My entire life made sense to me when I held my son for the first time. You know how you go through your whole life searching for meaning, for purpose, for direction, guidance, answers? It's like everything just fell into place, perfectly. The puzzle was complete. Samuel was the missing piece. Samuel completed me. He completed John and me.
My life continued to make sense every time he was in my arms. The chemistry between us when we were skin to skin was electrifying. I could feel the love flow between us and through my veins.
My son is a warrior. Samuel spent 11 weeks of his life fighting every obstacle that was thrown at him. He had blood transfusions. He was put on a ventilator. He had a collapsed lung. He had pneumonia, twice. He had surgery on his heart. He had an inguinal hernia. He had a yeast infection. He had blood infections. The blood vessels in his eyes were growing abnormally.
All of these things were putting more strain on a premature body that wasn't ready to enter the world yet, especially his heart and lungs.
On March 25, Samuel coded for the first time. His heart rate and oxygen levels dropped significantly, but they were able to bring him back. It happened again on March 30. There was also another time, on April 2, when I was holding him that he froze in my arms. I thought I had lost him then. But he still came back to me.
Samuel coded again on April 13 after being in my arms. The doctors were ready to give up, but after 40 minutes they were able to establish a heart rate. He was on a machine called an oscillator that was shaking him to oxygenate his blood and breathe for him.
The oscillator was loud. I wondered if Samuel felt anything that his body was going through. We couldn't touch him because he was already going through so much and touching him could overstimulate him and cause sensitivity and agitation. We were just doing everything possible to keep him with us.
The following morning Samuel's heart rate started to drop. Chest compressions and Epinephrine were not working.
Samuel's heart stopped beating and he died at 8:53 a.m. April 14. They disconnected his wires and tubes and handed him to me. That was the first time I saw my son's face without tape and tubes; it was the first time I held my son like a mother holds her baby.
Samuel's life matters and has changed our lives forever. He made my husband and I first-time parents. He made me a mommy. Because of him I know what that feels like. You really don't know the intensity and depth of love a parent has for a child until you experience it yourself.
Samuel opened our eyes and our hearts to the greatest love ever known. He brought John and me closer together. Samuel has taught us to see the value in relationships. He showed us how fragile life really is.
Samuel was determined. He put all of his energy into living and fighting as long as he could for us. Samuel's soul is pure, radiant love. That love has forever changed us. We carry it with us always. Although our physical journey together has come to an end, we love our son more each day because love transcends death.
We love you Samuel! Always and forever.