In the 1970s, when “Rocky”-mania was sweeping the country after the release of the Sylvester Stallone movie, I was living in Philadelphia. The excitement was particularly intense there since the story’s location was set within the City of Brotherly Love.
For months, any trip past the Philadelphia Museum of Art would reveal a multitude of fans of various ages and physical conditioning enthusiastically copying Stallone’s portrayal
of Rocky by running up the imposing set of museum steps, arms pumping with excitement.
During the height of Rocky-mania, a patient with premature ruptured membranes was admitted to the maternity unit I worked on as a registered nurse.
The baby’s due date was three months away. More than 30 years ago, the therapies available to help women and preterm babies in this situation were very limited. The woman – I’ll call her “Amy” – was essentially hospitalized, confined to bed rest, given a relatively new drug regimen to promote the baby’s lung development, and carefully watched for signs of infection. And then Amy, her family, friends and caregivers took a deep breath, hoped for the best, and began the anxious wait to see how long her pregnancy could be maintained.
Amy described her days on the maternity unit as seeming to go on forever. Along with all of Amy’s support people, I did my best to help her pass the hours with books, games and conversation. I encouraged Amy that every day her pregnancy continued was a golden day, increasing the chance her baby would survive.
As the days turned to weeks and then a month, our hopes for Amy and her baby began to soar. When Amy reached 32 weeks of pregnancy, we were ecstatic. Amy and her baby were going to make it. I just knew it.
So it was a swift return to reality when at week 33 of her pregnancy, Amy woke up with chills. Her white blood cell count rose, confirming the arrival of the infection we had tried so hard to avoid. Amy was rushed to Labor and Delivery for an emergency C-section. She delivered a baby boy weighing 4 pounds. Amy and her husband gave their son a cherished family name. But when I started her post-operative care she told me they were nicknaming him Rocky because he was a fighter and he would win his fight for life. And I believed her. Many 4-pound babies did well. With all the efforts to save this baby – he just HAD to live …
But almost from the moment he was born, Rocky did not do well. Shortly after birth he was transferred to a pediatric hospital to receive more advanced treatment in a neonatal intensive care unit. Despite every available medical intervention and the prayers and hopes of all of us who loved and cared for Amy and her family, Rocky died a few days after his birth.
In the 1970s it was customary to move any mother whose baby died to another floor to try and spare the mother the additional sadness of seeing the other babies. But Amy refused to move. She insisted she wanted to stay with the nurses who had tried so hard to save Rocky. And so all of us did what we could to comfort Amy and her family and we mourned Rocky together.
Just over a year later I was in the hall of the maternity unit when I heard someone shouting my name. There was a woman on a gurney leaning toward me with a look of pure joy!
“Linda – I just had a beautiful, healthy little girl!” For a moment I couldn’t place her. And then I realized: Rocky’s mom! I rushed to Amy and we embraced, sharing tears of joy.
I cherish my memory of Amy all these years later. I have learned to treasure times in life when there is a second chance at happiness. Even though the joy was tinged bittersweet, the birth of this baby was surely another opportunity for joy. Perhaps because second chances do not always present themselves, I have learned to search for them and thank God for them when they do appear.