So, today, Kid 1 is 9 years old. We bought her the new bicycle she has been banging on about. We gave her a bag of sweets to take into school (sorry other parents of kids in year 4). We took her to a well-known pizza restaurant for dinner this evening, cos she’s fancy like that. We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and got her to blow out the candles on the plain, sponge cake that she loves so much. What we did not do, is tell her the tale of her birth. I mean, she knows that she almost died because she inhaled her poo (a fact that truly grosses her out, btw), but she does not know the ins and outs of the whole, sorry affair…and she won’t, for a very long time.
But you guys, on the other hand, you wanted it, so, you will get it…all. If you haven’t already read Part One, you can read it here. If you’re here for Part Two, here we go!
I left you in the most dramatic way I could – in the ambulance on the way to the hospital to reunite with my daughter, after not having seen her since she was forcibly extracted from me 2.5 days prior.
I couldn’t quite believe it. In a matter of moments, I would be seeing my daughter for the second time. The Photographer had been filling my head with positivity, telling me that the doctors and nurses were very hopeful about her chances of pulling through. I had convinced myself that I would arrive at the hospital, be taken to her, see that she was perfectly fine and leave with her in the Maxi-Cosi car seat that I had taken ages to choose. What I didn’t realise was that the photos that he had been sending had been carefully composed and selected in order to shield me from the extent of Kid 1’s sickness. I arrived at the hospital and was wheeled up to the neonatal unit. It was early evening by this point, and, although the day that my waters broke had been unusually sunny, only 3 days later and it felt like a scene out of The Matrix.
I walked into the unit and saw Kid 1 in the incubator, hooked up to all kinds of tubes and wires, with a mask over her eyes to shield them from the UV rays of the phototherapy lamp (on top of everything else, she was severely jaundiced) and hospital issue woolly hat and mittens on (remember I told you she was a fighter – apparently she had been trying to pull her mask off). I couldn’t even touch her. It felt like I was looking at something in a display tank. One of the most surreal moments of my life. At some point, I was told that she had aspirated meconium as she was being delivered and it had clogged her lungs, making it hard for her to breathe, hence the blue baby that was placed on my chest. I looked around at the babies in the other incubators. Many of them were tiny, the size of my hand. Then I looked back at Kid 1, who was born a very healthy 8lbs 13ozs, and couldn’t understand what was going on. She was big. In fact, she was enormous. She shouldn’t have been there. I started crying…and didn’t stop for days.
The Photographer had been very kindly allowed to stay in one of the private mother and baby rooms while I was recovering in the other hospital. When I arrived at the new hospital, as there were no beds free on the maternity ward, I took that room. We based ourselves there during our stay, going out for silent dinners in local restaurants for respite and bringing takeaways back to the room to eat to the soundtrack of a generic soap opera or the news. I haven’t really thought about how much the experience affected The Photographer until now. Having to be the strong one throughout it all; being there for me and Kid 1, while batting away well-meaning friends and family who I was in no state to want to entertain must have been so hard. But, he did it and it’s just one of the many reasons why I know I found a good one in him and I will love him forever.
Over the days that we were there, Kid 1 steadily regained strength and she fought her way out of NICU and into SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit). She was out of the incubator and into a hospital cot and I was able to touch her, eventually hold her and finally attempt to breastfeed her. Her cot was moved into my room so that we could bond together, alone.
I’ve skipped past the many emotions that weighed heavy on me during our time there – sadness, anger, emptiness, loneliness, despair, and repeat. I’ve also failed to mention the head, throat and chest-aching, but silent, sobs that my body would endure every day – sometimes with The Photographer there to try to console me, but often while I was alone or with my new baby. And I also almost forgot that I was still recovering from the third-degree tear, not able to sit down without firstly steeling myself and then with something soft underneath me. Suffice to say, it was the all-time lowest point of my life. Not only was I trying to come to terms with the fact that I had almost lost the child that I had waited so long for, but I was also trying to express as ferociously as I could to satisfy an increasingly hungry baby who refused to latch onto my breast (despite the efforts of some very hands-on midwives *insert extreme side eyes*) and who was subsequently being bottle-fed. Anxiety increased exponentially with the knowledge that the mixed-feeding of my baby would reduce my breast milk supply, ultimately doing neither her nor I no favours at all *insert extreme eye roll* (BTW, I continued to mixed feed for 7 months…)
In the relatively short time that I spent as a NICU mum, I saw heartache greater than I have ever known. Every parent I encountered was constantly red-eyed. At the time, I didn’t feel able to connect with anyone else, still not sure why, although probably because I was liable to burst into tears at any moment. I would always smile and say “hi”, but I couldn’t ask how they were doing. I was just about managing to hold my shit together. Selfishly, perhaps, I had only enough focus for my daughter and that was that.
So, after seven days, we were finally discharged. The Photographer and I bought the biggest box of chocolates for the staff on the neonatal unit and wrote a heartfelt message of thanks in a card to them all. We can never thank them enough for what they did for us…and what they continue to do for so many families. We finally got to use the Maxi-Cosi car seat. We took Kid 1 home. She still wasn’t latching properly and she was still slightly jaundiced, but, despite entering The Matrix a few days earlier, it was still a sunny October so I was instructed to keep her by the window when I got home. I got lots of help with the breastfeeding from a lovely, Nigerian midwife who knew my mum (#awkward). Cue all the normal, new baby stuff + the tear recovery. We wrote a stinking letter to the Chief Executive of the NHS Hospitals Trust, mainly focusing on my time in the first hospital, and received an apology back, along with a promise that this would never happen again. That maternity unit has since been closed and, on that day, I danced a merry jig, I cannot lie. Thankfully, I have made a full recovery and have been lucky enough not to have suffered any of the ongoing issues associated with a third-degree tear that Dr Google would have you think were inevitable. I am truly grateful as I know many women are not so lucky.
I’ve tried to make this as concise as I can for you, but also to convey some of what I went through in the hope that when I tell you that I fell pregnant again, 20 months later, and I was adamant I wanted an elective caesarean section, you can empathise.
Despite months of trying my hardest to convince the powers that be that I could not go through the emotional pain of another traumatic birth (and what a bloody joke that I had to rely on the say-so of others to determine how my baby would be delivered!), and despite moving hospitals and consultants twice, I was told that I had delivered vaginally once, so I could do it again and I was denied a c-section *insert ‘APPLICATION DENIED’ stamp here* I dabbled with the idea of going to a private for a while, but conceded that the doctors probably knew what they were talking about and the £7-10,000 was probably better spent on the baby when it arrived. Anyway, despite the previous birth appearing on my hospital records, I went into labour and was assigned a student midwife who was, I can only assume, very studenty. Student missed the fact that Kid 1+1 was back to back. I wasn’t dilating again and labour was incredibly long and painful…again. Eventually, another more experienced midwife happened to check me and felt that something wasn’t right. She called in the consultant, who made me sign some kind of medical release and rushed me down to theatre for my emergency c-section! ARRRGGGH/I TOLD YOU SO! But also, gratitude forever to that midwife. I delivered a healthy baby girl and got to hear the first cry this time. And that moment is one that I will never forget.
I am so glad that I have finally got it all down. I’m sorry if reading this has been hard for you – that was never my intention. Recalling everything has been emotional, but it’s made me appreciate what I have all the more. My entrance into motherhood was not as I thought it would be. But, it is mine. If by owning it and sharing it with you, I have made one person feel less lonely in their motherhood journey, it has been totally worth it.
This post is dedicated to the wonderful staff in the Starlight Neonatal Unit, Barnet Hospital, without whom today could have been so very different.