This is a post about how I had my tiny, crumpled, grey bundle of baby wrenched from my arms five seconds after I got to finally hold her, and had to watch her be whisked one way while I was whisked another, leaving my husband standing alone amid puddles of blood. It was meant to be about how I finally managed to stop feeling sorry for myself about that, but then I went on and on so this post has now become Part I: How I Became a Mother. And because it’s a miserable one, I’m going to give you some spoilers and tell you that it has a happy ending, and here she is:
I mean, you don’t get much better than that as an outcome of a hardcore agonising near-death experience, am I right?
I was the worst kind of naive first-time pregnant woman. I was never sick; I was full of excitement and confidence; I had read books and decided on a birth plan; I had everything planned.
I was lucky. My baby grew, healthy and perfect, and I was healthy and perfect too. I researched hypnobirthing and breathing techniques. I couldn’t even imagine things going wrong, or how wrong they can go.
We went into the hospital early, probably too early – though my waters had gone, and I was five days overdue, the contractions were very bearable for the first twelve hours. I couldn’t wait though – I was so desperate to meet the baby and I figured being in the hospital might hurry her along.
It meant spending hours overnight while my husband slept in the narrow hospital bed, pacing around the room, bracing myself against the pains wracking my body. My palms were scored with half moons where my nails cut in as I tensed up. I had been prepared for pain, but not for the relentless of it. The exhaustion of dealing with wave after wave after wave, swallowing down panic at the thought of it continuing, the not knowing how much longer, how much more I had to take.
Anyway, labour is pretty much as boring to read about as it is to go through, so let’s just cut to 18 hours later, past the epidural, past the midwife getting me to ring my husband to tell him to come back from the local McDonald’s as I was ready to push (he’s going to be thrilled with me for sharing that little morsel). Past the pushing itself – the epidural not working properly, the pain and terror and sheer effort of the pushing stage, the undercurrent of tension as the midwife got the instruments and said it was because “baby is getting a bit tired” (anyone who’s ever seen an episode of One Born Every Minute knows what that means), the peculiar crunch of the forceps. Past the bit where the room filled with people and someone looked at my new baby, the one I hadn’t even seen myself yet, and told us there might be something wrong with her, and if that thing was wrong with her, then she wouldn’t be able to make it. And that they had to take her away for checking but that “Mum can have a cuddle first”.
And so, the first person ever to call me Mum (and as any parent knows, you get a lot of that shit from people who can’t be arsed to learn your name when you become a parent) was also the person to deliver about the most spectacularly devastating blow I’ve ever received. I mean, I’m a pragmatic type but that’s not the sort of hit you can take without reeling. I do remember being very confident that my baby would be fine, and telling everyone that was the case, but I presume that was just some cold primeval protective mechanism kicking in to stop me losing my shit entirely.
So here I am, ready to meet baby. Her name had been chosen for so long, and I felt as though I knew her so intimately, but I had never even seen a proper newborn. That’s why, when they placed the slithery, grey, crumpled lump in my arms I didn’t know whether it was normal for her to look like that, or if that was another contributing factor in the appearance of a paediatric team and a crash cart in the room.
In the meantime, and without going into the gory details (trust me, it’s literally gory) I was soon having what turned out to be life-saving surgery performed by a surgeon in theatre, while my brand new girl was being cared for in SCBU. The small indignities are what I remember most – having to choke out a request for a bowl between retches as I vomited orange bile all over myself (two days of labour with only Lucozade in my tummy – hey, you can take the girl out of Ireland…); no one covering me up with a blanket as I was transferred from bed to trolley to bed; the nurse who wrapped my baby’s wrinkled little head up in a towel as if it was something shocking, never thinking that I would want to savour every imperfect detail of her precious little body; having to beg a trainee midwife to find out if my baby was still alive; my husband being left alone in the blood-soaked room and having to choose which of us to go to, without anyone to help or advise him.
And then, after the surgery, being refused any requests to bring me to SCBU until my epidural had worn off, so sitting up in my bed and beating at my legs with my fists to get the feeling back sooner. The blank, incurious eyes of the porters who had to transfer me (still covered in blood) to the postnatal ward where the other women held their babies.
I have no photos of the first hours of her life. I didn’t even get to see all 8lbs 13 of her bursting out of the incubator in SCBU – my husband took her to me as soon as it was discovered that she wasn’t in fact suffering from the fatal condition they had first feared. What I do have is a video on our video camera, a video I don’t remember my husband taking, of the moment I first got to hold her properly.
I’m unrecognisable to myself – bloated and grey and slumped, like an underwater creature washed up. But I’m smiling, it’s the middle of the most traumatic and distressing night of my life, and I’m just fucking beaming at this little package of blankets like there’s a new sun all swaddled up in there. I unwrap her carefully, delicately. Each limb emerges like another gift. My fingers graze her flesh. Her starfish hands furl and unfurl. She’s here.
To be continued…