Jack had made a garbled phone call to my Mum to let her know what had happened. It was about 11pm and he could hear Thea very much awake and playing in the background. She had woken up when my Mum arrived and hadn’t re-settled on realising Mummy wasn’t there. It’s always me who comforts her when she wakes. We’re always together. My heart aches now thinking about how it felt knowing I couldn’t be there and how confused she must have been. A few minutes later, after witnessing Jack’s harassed attempt at a telephone conversation, a kind female doctor offered to call her back and run through what was happening. I could just about make out the muffled voice of my Mum across the room asking ‘will the baby survive?’ and the doctor exhaling the honest and fragile answer of ‘we don’t know that’. Sometime soon after that I must have tuned out from trying to listen. What more was there to say?
I composed a generic WhatsApp message explaining the situation and sent it to the people I initially thought should know, or would be able to pass info onto others who would want to. My brain was fried and I wanted to pore over the details with as few people and as few times as possible, but didn’t want to leave anyone in the dark either.
The following day I let my Instagram followers know via my stories. This may seem like an odd move to some, but although I don’t know many in real life, there are plenty with whom I talk to on a regular basis and would class as having genuine friendships with, and this also would let anyone I know in real life who I hadn’t included in the WhatsApp message know what was going on. The replies soon came flooding in. It was warming to know I had so much support from ‘real life’ friends and insta, but I eventually deleted the story because I found it too overwhelming to pick up my phone and read any more messages.
In the morning, after a stiff, crumpled sleep in a shiny chair bundled in his camo fishing coat, Jack and I agreed that he should go back to our house to reassure Thea and have a shower, and grab some bits I might need. Whilst he did that, my Mum ‘swapped’ and came to see me in the hospital. I don’t recall our exact conversations, but I remember they related to accepting the cards we’d been dealt, and mentally preparing for the worst. She tentatively asked me what I felt the worst possible outcome would be from all this. I said that our baby would die, or be so poorly that he’d never have any quality of life. She asked which was worse, and I said the latter. She didn’t say it directly, but pretty much the purpose of the question was to confirm our standpoint on any impossibly tough decisions we may have to make, before he was born. Jack and I had already discussed that we wouldn’t want our baby to suffer, should we find ourselves in a scenario where nothing more could be done for him.
The fact that we were engaging in this heart-rending dialogue, when less than 24hours before we had been excitedly sharing with Jack’s parents the date of our planned c section, and what was supposed to be our baby boy’s birthday, just felt completely surreal. It was all arranged. He was coming on Monday 18th March, in the morning. I’d seen it as my chance to have a controlled and positive birth experience after the trauma of my first. It was now Sunday 9th December, and all of a sudden, our baby had to be born, and may not even live at all. Thoughts flashed through my mind from the day before, and I pictured how we’d been sat in the car to and from Kent, trying to visualise how it were possible that my cervix had been wide open potentially the entire time and maybe even before, and how my perfectly healthy, living baby had just been hanging down in his sac, and I’d had absolutely no idea.
Initially, I was advised that a natural birth would be the best, safest way to deliver our baby boy. I went into panic mode and started hysterically stammering that I just couldn’t do it, not after last time, tears rolling down my cheeks. Jack 100% had my back and explained in a more coherent way that we didn’t feel I could cope with reliving the trauma of my first labour, especially under these circumstances. As it turns out, I calmed down and rationalised that it was the fact that I didn’t progress last time that caused the experience to be as bad as it was, and the impossible positioning of my full term baby. This time, I was already fully dilated with no pain to speak of, and the baby was only a fraction of the size and definitely not stuck. My Mumma bear kicked in and I conceded that if there was a better chance that he would survive, I could psych myself up for a natural birth, no matter what.
As it turns out, they carried out an ultrasound and he was presenting between transverse (sideways) and footling breech (feet and legs straight down), and a planned/emergency c section was the safest way. It would need to be a classical (upwards) incision because of the limited growth of the womb for such an early birth. This would ensure the best possible access to the baby to get him out as quickly and safely as possible.
A lovely midwife called Gillian took over looking after me. I remember her particularly because she was ever so kind and sweet. She had glasses and a bob haircut with a sparkly Christmas hair clip. She somehow made this awful situation more bearable just by being lovely. I was a ticking timebomb…everyone was waiting for my waters to spontaneously go, or for me to be rushed into theatre. Gillian excitedly dressed into scrubs ‘just in case’ (apparently they’re difficult to get hold of in the right size at short notice, who knew?) and whipped out a festive scrub hat she’d been saving for the first December trip to theatre on her shift. I thought this was the cutest thing in the world, and I am a little disappointed that it didn’t end up being on her shift that our baby boy was born.
We waited, waited and waited. Nothing changed, my waters didn’t break. I played out the scenario in my mind that they might not go, and wondered how long I could stay on this delivery bed with my legs up, laying as still as possible to keep him safe inside. Thankfully, I was eventually swapped onto a real bed, a bed designed for resting with an actual mattress, not one of the hard funny angled beds/chairs intended for birthing babies. I was also given a hormone drug usually reserved for women in the very early stages of spontaneous premature labour to slow down contractions. They said there was no evidence it would be effective for someone like me who was fully dilated, however, there was nothing to lose and if it prevented me from having any more tightenings, this could potentially keep the baby safe for longer. I would have said yes to anything at all at this point if it might protect him.
It was explained that following his birth, if he survived, our baby would be stabilised and transferred to another hospital with a specialist NICU. It would either be Brighton, or Portsmouth. We are familiar with Brighton, and really hung onto hope it would be there. It was still a long drive for what’s actually a short distance as the crow flies, but it was the preferable scenario that he would be cared for there. After many phone calls back and forth, they eventually said they would reserve a bed ready for him at the Trevor Mann Baby Unit in Brighton. Little pieces of good news like this are what kept us going, we were doing well at keeping positive and getting pumped for his arrival.
Gillian arranged for the lead paediatric/neonatal consultant to come and explain the process of our baby’s transfer to us. She came in the room and softly explained how he would be put into a plastic bag, intubated, stabilised and an ambulance transfer service would stick on the blues and twos, and rush him to Brighton. This was the first time someone had not sounded hopeful about the outcome. She did her best to prepare us for the very real possibility that he would not make the journey, even if he made it through the birth. After she left, Jack and I looked at each other, deflated, and acknowledged that the conversation hadn’t inspired much hope. We mentioned to Gillian when she came back how we were feeling, and she very gently, but matter-of-factly, told us ‘She understands better than anyone what we are dealing with. It isn’t her job to sugar coat’. Instead of breaking down, we nodded and accepted that this was the truth. It didn’t help us feel any better about what was about to happen, but in our hearts we knew it was better that we were prepared (if you ever possibly could be in this situation).
In the end, a surgeon came in on Monday morning and sat down next to my bed. She said it was her professional and gut feeling, that it was the best time (of the very limited options we had left at this point) for our baby to be born. She explained that every possible specialist in this field that they had access to, was in the hospital that day. The amniotic sac was still intact, the baby was stable, the drugs I had been given had enough time to be fully passed onto him. If we waited any longer, the outcome could be that my waters go the next day, and the birth is no longer controlled or supported by the top desirable combination of qualified professionals that were on hand to assist today. We agreed. After a quick ultrasound to confirm baby was still not head down (he wasn’t!). I signed the papers and everyone began scrambling to prepare for theatre. Their estimate was that he would be 1lb9oz (he turned out to be 1lb 10z). Impossibly small. I have no idea what we were expecting.
I’ve never been more nervous. As they wheeled me into theatre, it was completely surreal and I was tortured by the conflicting feelings of wishing this to be over, and desperately longing to be able to keep my baby safe, and for none of this to be happening. When we arrived, I was told they’d never had so many specialists and qualified members of staff in the room before, and everyone went round individually saying their name and their job titles. In hindsight, I can see why they did this, and it was comforting to know we were being so well looked after, but at the time, their voices trailed and mumbled in the background of my consciousness. I couldn’t tell you a single name or job title that I heard that day.
It took several goes for my spinal to work, which was unnerving in itself (ha!). Eventually it was successful and things behind the curtain began. It happened painfully slowly and far too quickly all at once. I felt the familiar rummaging of a c section birth in my belly, and all of a sudden a lifting feeling and heard the tiniest little squeal like a kitten, and a momentary flash of an impossibly small, shiny, red baby poking above the curtain. “Happy Birthday” the surgeon said half-heartedly, quite clearly trying to make the experience more pleasant and normal than it was, but her voice was distracted and shaky, and this experience was everything but pleasant, or normal.
I let out a haunted sound I have never before or since heard myself make, as I literally felt life being wrenched from my body. I cannot begin to describe it. It was half animal and half like the cry of a tortured spirit in a ghost story, trapped forever in the nothingness that lies somewhere between life and death. I have never been so overcome with grief and sadness in all my life. It was as if my whole body was caving in together with my baby bump. He was gone. I couldn’t do anything. It was my job to grow and protect him and he was no longer part of me, he was in someone else’s hands and I had failed at my only duty to him.
Kind voices gathered around my head, reassured me and told me it was done, congratulated me, and told me baby looked great. Jack stroked my head and told me well done and he’d seen the baby. A kind scouse nurse told me she’d been over to see him and he had been kicking the doctors off as they tried to stabilise him, and at that time he had been breathing all by himself, which at 25+0 was practically unheard of. She said what a positive sign it was that he was so feisty and fighting. This was helpful to hear, of course, but I couldn’t allow myself to feel anything more now. Utterly exhausted and overwhelmed from everything that had happened in the last 36 hours, my survival instinct kicked in and I emotionally shut down, and shifted my thoughts elsewhere. Namely to asking when I was allowed to have a cup of tea. All I could think about or ask for was my cup of tea. There was nothing more I could do.