I think at this point I must introduce you to my inner dialogue. You know that little voice we all have, the one that nags you all day at work asking ‘did you actually turn your hair straighteners off?’ or ‘I’m pretty sure these are the jeans that give you really bad VPL…’. Well that little voice changed drastically the moment my little baby girl was taken from my body. The word taken is significant because this fear of her being taken from me continues to taunt me on a daily basis. You may be thinking, Mandi your baby was taken from you in order to save her little life. And you are of course absolutely right, and my ‘reasonable mind’ knows that. The trouble is, like many of us, I am ruled by my ‘emotional mind’ and it is this part of me that controls my little inner voice. I started to feel completely out of control, of everything. I had planned a calm, natural birth. James and I had been having private hypnobirthing classes and to my surprise, I had actually started to feel relaxed about labour. I was excited about it. I wanted to experience it for myself, because in my naïve mind, I thought this would entitle me to being a ‘proper woman’.
I hadn’t heard of hypnobirthing before I discovered Danielle. Danielle is a midwife, young and pretty and full of optimism and charm. As I said, to my surprise I had become comfortable with the idea of labour and I was looking forward to it. This is all credit to Danielle. People that know me were flabbergasted that I was engaging in hypnobirthing. I took pride in telling other people about it. Like all expectant parents, I just wanted the very best for my baby. I was excited about the ‘skin-to-skin’ contact that I would get immediately after the birth, to really secure and initiate that bond with my little one. James and I had discussed that should I be unable to do this (for whatever reason), then he would have the first ‘skin-to-skin’ contact.
Actually, on the morning that this happened, Danielle was on shift. I do remember that. I remember seeing her face, in uniform, with her own little bump appearing (she was pregnant). She looked as stunned as I felt. I just looked at her and said, I think the water birth is off. She smiled, but the nervous smile, we all know that smile.
The main points about hypnobirthing that I had really connected with, was that I was in control. I had been taught about the different stages of labour, what to expect, what drugs may be offered. I was ready. And then this was taken from me, see, taken. People kept taking things from me and I started getting intrusive thoughts about what people might do next. These thoughts and that little voice are still with me, but I have much more control over them now, although I don’t have complete control and that can be scary.
With the help of James, Carol, my sister and Fluff I will piece together the weeks that followed that day. I call it a blur because it is. Thank god for the care assistant that told me to buy a little book and jot things down each day. Without that I wouldn’t have my own little reminders of what happened.
Out of theatre
I was taken to recovery briefly before going back to the ward and again the man with my dad’s face appeared (Dr T), to tell me my daughter may not make it. I am sure Dr T was much gentler with his news delivery, but I don’t know what was said exactly. I think I just nodded again. I had started to accept that my baby was going to die. I wasn’t me, I wasn’t really there. I was sort of watching me and I felt sorry for me. The desperate sadness was starting to hit me.
Back on the ward and in a side room I was approached by a lady who was talking about breast feeding. Talk about mixed messages. I didn’t question it at the time though. I just kind of, took the syringe and teaspoon and started to try milking myself. Still shaking from the spinal and my head obliterated, not knowing if my baby was dead or alive and not knowing really what the hell had just happened. I sat, slumped and tried my hardest to express something so that if my baby was alive, she could at least have some of my milk.
James has just reminded me, by asking “don’t you remember what that lady brought for us?”. Obviously my response was no. He reminded me that the boob lady had brought a photo of our little girl. Our first photo, in a cardboard frame. Something to look a while I tried to squeeze the tiniest drop if milk out of my little boobs. This did nothing for me by the way. Looking at that picture didn’t fill me with love and force my breasts to explode with oodles of milk and gushing wonderfulness…….I looked at that picture and saw what (to me) looked like a dead baby. My poor little girl, fighting and struggling already. It wasn’t fair. I did everything I was supposed to, this should not have happened to me. However, emotions aside, that picture is significant now. James has just reminded me that it is in her memory box along with ECG leads and hospital name tags. Actually when we were leaving the House, James noticed this photo had fallen down behind the build in drawers in our room. He spent an age carefully removing drawers and returning them to their original position in order to retrieve this photo.
I was made aware that our little girl was alive and I was desperate to see her but I couldn’t move so James went to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to see her. I don’t know how he did it or even how he coped on his own. I have never asked him. Maybe I’ll ask him. I couldn’t have seen her on my own like he did. I needed James then more than ever to hold me up, in so many ways, not just physically.
James came back to me and told me that our baby was “lovely” and neither of us can remember much after that. The next thing I do remember is the Irish midwife helping to force my numb legs into the wheelchair so that I could visit my baby. The rules are that you can only go in a wheelchair to see your baby once you can weight bear. I could not weight bear but the midwife was one of those real human types, a bit clumsy and very un ‘PC’ but that works well for me. Between her and James they forced my dead, swollen legs into the wheelchair and off we went to see my baby.
When we arrived at the NICU, James pushed me through the doors and I looked to my left, I counted 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…6 incubators I think I counted. But guess what..? I had no idea which one had my baby in. What kind of a mother did that make me? I didn’t even know what my baby looked like. I knew she was bigger than your average pre-term baby, but that was all I could recollect from the image in my head from theatre. James wheeled me over to the first incubator. It was vibrating and was loud, louder than I had imagined the equipment being. I saw the man with my dad’s face, Dr T. He had no mask on this time, I could see his mouth and he had a wide smile but a serious face. He was kind and he spoke softly to me. He clearly knew how to speak, he pitched his communication perfectly to my needs that day. He explained that our little girl was on a thing called an oscillator. An oscillator is a type of ventilation used in preterm babies as it can reduce damage to lung tissue by delivering very small breaths very rapidly to the baby’s lungs (180 to 900 breaths per minute). This is of course a very basic explanation of oscillation ventilation in preterm babies and if you’re interested then I urge you to read further on the subject.
I asked if I could touch my little girl and I was shown how to carefully open the incubator doors. I stroked her arms, legs, hands. I whispered into her that I loved her so so much and that she was a strong little girl who was loved beyond imagination. I put some music on my phone, something we had listed to through the pregnancy (River Dawn, a hypnobirthing piece of music) and I sat there, staring at this blue ish swollen baby girl. I was not struck by an overwhelming sense of love. That would be the wrong word to describe what I felt in those early moments with my baby girl. What I felt was an enormous sense of protectiveness. I looked at her, her body shaking from the ventilator, tubes coming out of her mouth, belly button and hands, cables and leads on her chest and feet, and I thought, how the fuck am I supposed to protect you? I know that I will, I know that I will go to the end of the earth to save you from pain and suffering……except, I can’t can I? Because here you are in front of me, suffering, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. I was lost. I was starting to realise how very lost I was. I couldn’t be a normal mum. So what exactly was I? A mess. The beginning of the mess I became.