So dear reader, a beginning that was very nearly an ending.
I was 26, Guy Fawkes Night (5th November) looking at a thin blue line on a white stick and feeling really scared. I was in a new relationship, with a man with children from his first marriage and a new baby was not on the cards, the grand scheme of things for either one of us.
So Hubster and I found each other further bound together by this little collection of cells growing inside me and we faced it together. We found our own flat and made a nest for us, my stepdaughters and bump. The bump that I swear had stairs and furniture inside me, that hated Chinese food, adored monster munch crisps, that was always ten degrees hotter then everyone else, that changed and stretched my body in magnificent and Alien like ways
I adored and hated pregnancy in equal measure. I loved watching my stomach move, loved the rather cheesy miracle happening within. I hated the tiredness, the kidney infections that caused me to go to hospital twice. I reached the point at 31 weeks where I had had enough. I was tired, hungry (I was starving all the time!), full up, bits of me were swelling and I just wanted to hang my bump up on a hook for 24 hours and feel normal again.
Then following the worst curry ever (think Heinz tomato soup with mild curry powder and an extra dash of salt) one May bank holiday weekend I started to be sick at about 4 am. Putting it down to food poisoning I let Chris lie in whilst I paced our apartment feeling ill. It wasn’t shifting or easing so I woke him up and we went to the hospital. What followed was an experience that I still feel I watch back like a film or a disjointed photo album, I can’t really remember how I feel or to many of the details but here is what happened to the best of my recollection.
I was admitted and given a steroid injection as there was a chance the baby may be coming early. Blood tests were done and repeated and added to and everything was borderline normal. Chris stayed with me all day until about 8pm when he went home, both of us still believing it was food poisoning. If there was any complications overnight I would be moved to another hospital as the one I was in was full. He would come back to collect me after the work the following day.
At about 11pm I was being monitored on the FHM (foetal heart monitor) when I had a crippling sharp pain in my stomach. The midwife came in and told me that she ‘would strap [me] to that bed if [I] did not keep still.’ This didn’t bother me – I think I must have sensed that something bigger was going on and she was doing her job. I wasn’t in anymore pain but just not comfortable on the hard bed (I think I was in a labour room as I seem to recall unused stirrups at the end of the bed). Half an hour later she came in. Went. Came back with a doctor. They went. Came back with a midwife. They went. Both came back with the doctor. Argued (quietly). They left. Then the other midwife came in and said ‘well love you’re having your baby now!’ Oh!
‘Not being transferred?’
‘No – there’s no time we need to get the baby out now.’
‘Oh? I want you to wait for Chris – have you called him?’
‘Yes – but we can’t wait’
I would like to say my brain kicked into gear and I was in full control of my faculties and knew exactly what was going on. I didn’t though. I could just manage an ‘oh.’
So I’m whizzed into theatre and sat on the edge of the bed, spine seemingly contorted in an impossible C shape having an epidural when a head emerges between my legs.
‘Don’t worry love. I’m not your baby,’ says a grey, curly haired midwife who’s missing a few teeth as she pops the FHM on my stomach ‘we need to monitor you all the time in case you need to go under.’
‘Oh! What do you mean?’ (under the table? hide and seek wasn’t an appropriate activity at this time said the little voice in my head)
‘Knock you out love. Things are a bit touch and go.’
Chris booms into the room like an extra from a medical drama. He’d had his own drama that night on being told that ‘things weren’t looking good,’ he’d jumped over a chair to get ready quicker and landed flush on a glass – if he hadn’t been wearing trainers he would have ended up in the emergency room himself!
I don’t remember crying but I must of as I usually do in this sort of situation. There seemed to be hundreds of people suddenly. The doctor then told me he was going to deliver our baby. Chris hunkered down so he wouldn’t see anything (he HATES blood). There was a fountain of blood that made everyone jump. The brief cry of a baby. Then frantic working everywhere – to my left where they were with our daughter (a girl!!), on me, the briefest glimpse of our baby who opened her blue eyes wide (really startling blue says my memory – they’re greeny/hazel now) when I said hello held in the arms of a bespectacled impossibly young neo natal nurse and then there’s a gap – I remember seeing legs in the air and wondering who they belonged to (they were mine!). Then a night on machines and being woken as I tried to sleep (was unconscious?) by lights in my eyes and needles in my arms. Chris telling me the baby was called Katherine Grace (and I remember not really caring as I was full with illness and stress and trauma).
What I didn’t know then was that Chris had gone to see Katherine in SCBU and her lungs had collapsed that night whilst he was visiting her. The consultant nearly couldn’t save her. That’s why he didn’t wait to name her – he didn’t want her to die without one.
I woke up the next morning a different woman. I was a mother for a start but I was also four dress sizes larger due to oedema (fluid retention) – I looked like an elephant (minus the grey skin, trunk and tusks – now that would be a pregnancy complication!). I couldn’t walk with going dizzy. I couldn’t go anywhere with a nurse. I was a rarity, I was discussed in dispatches! (This is where doctors discuss the really complicated interesting cases – get me!) I had developed severe sudden onset pre-eclampsia (characterised by high blood pressure which can also cause organ damage) with placental abrupta (the stomach pain was my placenta breaking in two) as well as a very large blood clot which was the fountain that had burst when they did the c-section. Three life threatening conditions rolled into one rather bewildered package.
I finally saw Katherine that night with Chris- so 15 hours after she was born. Nurses had taken me as far as the door of the SCBU earlier in the day only for the Registrar to chase us down shouting ‘get her back in bed – she’s too ill to be up.’ And there she was – hooked to a CPAP (ventilator), no fat, 31 cm long, 1.6kg (3.6lbs), my hands, her fathers mouth.
Now one of the things that get asked of me as a blogger and a doula is about the ‘rush of love.’ Some women get it, some don’t. Why the difference? Drugs impact our systems, our body is still in fight or flight mode following birth, a positive vs negative birth experience. I didn’t get that overpowering amazing wave and I don’t beat myself up over it – now I know that I was in shock, that my body had missed so many of the natural hormone cues through the stress of her birth and the drugs. At the time all I knew she was mine as I was hers – and we didn’t need anything other then that. The ‘love,’ would come.
She stayed in hospital for a month and just grew and grew. The bubble of the SCBU was our world. We had salsa lessons from a nurse, had cultural exchanges with an American about how ‘open you Brits are to getting your boobs out!’ No more drama for her. For me there was ten days in hospital, recovering from pre-eclampsia takes time as it peaks about five days after birth – when that happened an eagle eyed paediatric nurse took Katherine from me as I struggled not to faint, pass out or vomit. Going home empty armed was hard but I was luckier than the family of a little boy called Josh, named after the curry his mum craved, the fight for life was too much for him and he died one week old. Members of the local National Childbirth Trust (NCT) organised a lift system for me so I could get to hospital – I never really thanked them enough for that……..
Breastfeeding was a challenge. She was too small, I was too big. I needed more support than there were resources for. I also did not respond well to the lactation consultant laying the guilt card on me implying I was lazy for wanting to sleep through the night (and recover from giving birth nine weeks too early!) rather than get up and express. So she left the hospital formula fed and with me convinced I will not shame another mother for the choices they make because I had made the right one for us.
How do I feel twenty years after the event? Well we never let it hold Katherine back, we didn’t wrap her in a bubble. I hope we didn’t treat her differently from her big sisters. I wish I’d appreciated the impact on Chris at the time but I was either ill or completely tunnel visioned towards Katherine. Was I traumatised by it? Thats a hard one to answer – I think worse things have happened to me since that have caused more damage. Did I approach my next pregnancy differently? Well I felt that I had gone through the worst that could happen (I was wrong I realise now – says she in a dangle for a future blog) so I don’t remember being scared. Writing this took me a few days and there will be edits, and tears but at the time of her birth I was ok – I think because it was the only birth experience I had had I didn’t know to want to do it another way. Experiences since then have reshaped my recollections, made me appreciate just how lucky I was.
Now? Katherine’s at university studying anthropology, protesting for women rights and climate change, a tattooed vegan who’s got her mothers moves on the dance floor (and curly hair!) and the quiet rebelliousness of my dearly departed mother in law. She’s just a little bit of wonderful.