I’ve been feeling anxious and emotional all day, and as the hours went by and it came closer to the anniversary of Talia’s birth the feeling just became stronger until here I am now, mid-evening, sitting on the sofa with a box of tissues and wiping away the tears.
This time last year I was in a shared ward with other expectant mothers. I’d had an ultrasound in the late afternoon which showed my baby’s feet clearly pressing down on my bulging, partly dilated cervix. As a result I’d been told to go immediately back to bed, keep my feet up, and not get up unless I needed to use the bathroom. My hopes of going home in a day or two were dashed, and I anticipated a long, boring period of bedrest waiting for “Tic-Tac” to grow and hopefully arrive close to her due date.
My lower abdomen was sore, and I mentioned it to every nurse who came to check on me, but each time they felt me they said it was still soft and it was nothing to worry about. I remember I was in tears that evening too, because I’d asked if they would call my mother if anything happened (like me going into labour) and they said they couldn’t guarantee it. I felt lonely and miserable. Around 11pm I felt I was unlikely to sleep with the pain in my abdomen and rang to ask for some panadol. The nurse who arrived to see what I wanted felt my stomach and immediately called for someone to take me down to a labour ward. As they wheeled me out I was begging them to call my mother.
Down in the labour ward I was in a big room by myself. I met a funky young midwife named Xena and was introduced to a handsome young surgeon whose name I forget, but in chatting we discovered we had both gone on student exchange. My labour pains were intensifying and they offered me morphine. Not knowing how long I would be in labour, and being a total wimp, I accepted it. In retrospect it was the only thing I regret, because I was a zombie for the following 24 hours.
Not knowing if the nurses had called or not, I asked Xena if she would contact my mother. However no sooner had she started to leave the room than in came mum. A nurse had called and left a message when she was asleep and didn’t answer the phone quickly enough. However the number they said to call back on was a wrong number, so mum just assumed the worst and got straight into the car and drove immediately to the hospital and buzzed security to be let in. It was around midnight. I remember holding mum’s hand really, really tightly as we waited to see what would happen.
It must have been close to 2am when the surgeon decided that it was too risky to let me continue labouring. With Talia in the footling breech position, if my waters broke her body might easily slip out leaving her head stuck, and there was a real risk of umbilical cord prolapse – which could lead to brain damage or stillbirth. I don’t recall the exact sequence of events following that, but I was moved to an operating theatre. I can recall going through a series of swinging doors, like you see at the start of medical dramas on TV. I met a couple of friendly anaesthetists. One was almost a stand-up comedian, he just had one joke after another as he supervised his more junior colleague painting my back with a cold liquid before he put in the epidural. By this stage the morphine had taken effect and I was not in so much pain, but everything felt not-quite-real, as if I was watching it all happening to somebody else. Sleep deprivation may have also been to blame.
I met up with my mother again in the operating theatre. The room seemed to be full of people – two surgeons, the midwife, the anaesthetists, three people from the NICU. I remember that I could feel nothing from the chest down, but from the chest up everything was shaking uncontrollably, as if I was cold although I don’t recall being cold. I didn’t even feel quite so frightened by that stage, just numb and vaguely annoyed that I couldn’t stop my arms from wobbling like jellies. I would have liked to actually see what they were doing but perhaps it was better not to. Mum could see some of the action reflected in the big silver light over the operating table as she held my hand again. She told me about the big blood clot which was behind the placenta, and possibly the cause of my premature labour.
I had no idea how long it would take but was still surprised at how quickly everything happened. They started at 3am. Within minutes Talia was out and being bubble-wrapped by the NICU team. It took a little longer to stitch me back up again, but even so it wasn’t long. A NICU person held a pathetic wrinkly red-faced bundle near me and I reached up to brush a finger on her forehead before they whisked her away. Mum stayed with me in recovery, but I only recall recovering long enough to finally fall asleep.
When I woke up it was morning, and the morphine was like a haze. I was in a private room, and someone had brought me a polaroid picture of my baby. I remember looking at the photo and feeling empty and slightly frightened because I didn’t feel any emotional connection, no rush of love, only blankness as if I was looking at a stranger’s baby. At the same time I felt physically empty too, because Talia had always been a wriggly baby who kicked regularly and I felt barren without the movement inside me.
The rest of the day was a blur. I recall very little, other than speaking to my stunned husband on the phone from Singapore, and my mother arriving with a bunch of striking blue orchids. In the evening I agreed for Talia to take part in a clinical trial, and someone showed me how to use a breastpump.
So much has taken place since then.
Today I made a cake, blew up balloons, got ready for the big day tomorrow. My husband is in Singapore again and it all seems a bit unreal. To celebrate the last few hours of her last day of being zero, I packed a bottle (of milk for Talia) and bought some takeaway and we sat in the park in the twilight and watched the ducks and the dog-walkers together. It was incredibly peaceful and such a beautiful contrast to the same night last year.