That is a photo of Kid 1 almost 9 years ago now. She is just under 9 pounds. She is in an incubator…in the NICU.
I first posted it onto Instagram last year, on her 8th birthday, and spoke briefly about my experience then. I also talked about it with Anya Hayes for her latest book The Supermum Myth. Earlier this month, at Anya’s book launch in fact, I met a beautiful new Instagram friend*, who is basically my birth twin. She described the cathartic effect of writing about a horrendous birth experience and strongly recommended that I do the same. Apparently, September is Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness Month. I had no idea until I saw a post from another one of my beautiful Instagram friends, Suhir**, about her NICU experience with her daughter. I think it’s more of an American thing, really. Nevertheless, and late as usual, I’m going to use this opportunity to write about what I experienced…and see how I feel afterwards. This is my story.
I had THE BEST pregnancy. I’m not bragging; it’s just a fact. I had a little bit of nausea at the beginning, but essentially sailed through. Kid 1 was clearly very comfy in my womb as she made no attempts to leave it until exactly two weeks after her due date (and a few more sweeps than just two…). Days of long walks and bouncing on a birthing ball and drinking castor oil (NEVER AGAIN!) and eating food covered in scotch bonnet peppers and everything else you have been told is a good method of bringing on the birth of an overdue baby was tried. Sometimes hope through contractions (aka pre-labour Braxton Hicks KMT) followed. Other times, nothing. but Kid 1 was only coming when she was good and ready.
Coincidentally, on the day, that she did decide she was ready to be born, she also decided to bless us with her inaugural poo. My waters broke while I was standing in the bathroom at home, I noticed a green tinge, called the hospital, who, after days of telling me to sit tight and wait until my contractions were closer together than one every 30 minutes, told me that I needed to come into the hospital right away. I asked if I should go to the midwife-led birthing unit but was told, in no uncertain terms, that I should come straight to the maternity ward. The plug was pulled on all hopes for a water birth as per my very comprehensive birth plan. I should have known from there that things were not going to be straight forward. To be honest, with me, they never are…
So, I arrived at the hospital (The Photographer drove me) and was having THE WORST contractions. I was doubled over in pain and couldn’t walk. Porter saw this and brought me a wheelchair. Humiliation number 1. However, also relief cos forget dragging myself through the maternity ward to my room. Recollection becomes more fuzzy here cos significant pain and nine years will do that to you, but someone wheeled me somewhere and I was hooked up to a monitor to check how distressed baby was. Not too distressed apparently, as I remained hooked up to a monitor, with very minimal dilation, and equally minimal attention from the staff, for about 12 hours. I remember immediately disregarding everything I was told during my NCT classes and initially politely requesting, and then, subsequently, demanding some pain relief – STAT! During that time I had copious amounts of gas and air, a shot of pethidine, 2 epidurals and not very much food or sleep. I also had a midwife who was a smoker. Not that I have anything against smokers *insert extreme side eye emoji*, but, a heightened sense of smell combined with Midwife ‘Fag Ash Lil’ combined with a prolonged labour combined with intense pain did not a good combination make. Anyway, fast forward through the smokey haze (did you see what I did there?) to when I was told that baby was coming and I should start pushing.
Johnny Cash is a liar. Well, not a complete liar, but love is not a burning ring. The Ring of Fire is located somewhere down there in my lady parts. It was pain like I have never know. And, although I have forgotten the physical sensation that it created at the time, the faded memory is enough to send a shiver down my spine. I cursed the lady who ran the NCT course for not explaining this. I hated her the whole way through my pushing. Especially when suddenly a whole load of people rushed into my birthing room (which, I suddenly realised, was different to the room that I had been labouring in for hours – when had that happened?) because the baby was now in distress and had to come out. Someone told me to push with the contractions.
“Chin in. Breathe. Don’t push yet. No! Not yet! You’re doing great. Breathe. Deep breaths. Is that a contraction? Now push! Like you’re doing a poo! Well done mum! You’re doing great”
I didn’t feel like I was doing great. I felt like I really wanted that water birth that I had been sold. I wanted the panpipe music that I had downloaded playing in the background. I wanted the lavender pillow. I wanted the scented candles burning all around me and I certainly didn’t want my legs up in stirrups. Humiliation number 2.
The contractions were getting worse. Baby was nowhere to be seen. Someone else told me that the consultant would need to assist the delivery by using a ventouse (a suction cap). It didn’t work. Nothing could have prepared me for sound that the cap made as it popped off my baby’s head while the consultant was pulling on it with all his might. I literally expected to see a decapitated head on the floor. To this day, I do not know how I got through it. Someone told me that they would have to give me an episiotomy as the opening wasn’t wide enough for the baby. I was delirious. I vaguely remembered what that was from my pregnancy forum reading throughout my pregnancy and screamed “YES! JUST DO IT! YES!” and they cut me. I screamed again. Someone told me that they would have to use forceps as baby was stuck and needed to get out urgently. Again, I screamed “OK! PLEASE, JUST GET MY BABY OUT!” Forceps were used…and used…and used…and finally, my baby was pulled out. Silence.
“Congratulations! It’s a girl!”
I couldn’t understand why they were congratulating me. Baby was placed on my chest for that first skin-to-skin bonding. Baby was blue. I didn’t even know a black baby could be blue. More silence. Suddenly, I was acutely aware that there were a significant number of people in the room. Where had they come from? Baby was whisked away from me and I could see the doctors talking to The Photographer. I couldn’t bring myself to ask any of the questions that were racing through my mind. I didn’t want to hear the answer. I just lay there, watching and remembering the NCT session in which we had covered emergency c-sections. That lady hadn’t talked about other possible complications at birth. I hated her again. I was told that my baby was being taken to a specialist hospital where she could get the care that she needed because she was “very sick”. I was numb.
Fast forward again through delivering the placenta without my baby or The Photographer in the same hospital, let alone the same room, being taken to surgery to get stitched up (I had incurred a 3rd degree tear due to Kid 1 being back to back – don’t even start me on how that wasn’t identified earlier in the process…) and being wheeled to the new mum’s ward, minus my new baby. I was there for 2.5 days, catheterised and trying to heal from the tear, getting telephone updates from The Photographer on the status of our daughter (“she’s a fighter”), asking and being told that, unfortunately, there were no beds available in the other hospital for me to join my daughter, expressing through heavy tears to photos of Kid 1 that The Photographer had sent me from the other hospital, feeling a stabbing pain in my heart as I heard the other babies cry at night, covertly watching the other mums give their babies their first baths, asking and being told that, unfortunately, there were no beds available in the other hospital for me to join my daughter, pretending that I was sleeping when the Bounty photographer came round to take those precious first photos and feeling like a complete failure for not being able to do something as simple as deliver a healthy baby.
Then, after asking if there was a bed available in the other hospital for me to join my daughter for the nth time, came the response that I had been praying for…”yes, there’s a room for you. We’ll be moving you today”. I was as over the moon as someone who had no idea whether their child was going to live or die could be. The ambulance drove me to the other hospital. I had no idea what was waiting for me when I arrived…
Part Two Coming Soon.
*@motheringfunday *insert kissy wink emoji*
**@_suhir_ *insert kissy wink emoji*