Today is the day when my daughter turns into a teenager. Some might say that she’s been one for the past few years; but I couldn’t possibly comment. She’s very intelligent, fiercely independent and no matter what she might say at times, she’s a tough cookie. The phrase that most typifies her is- she knows her own mind.
I can recall most of my pregnancy with her as if it was yesterday. I had a lot of difficulties during this time; I was never someone who bloomed during those days. I had constant twenty-four hour-sickness and a range of issues, which made things incredibly difficult. Yet the day she was born was one of the happiest days of my life without a doubt. Not only was I excited to meet my baby, but I was relieved that after all of the problems I had experienced, she had finally arrived. In many ways my pregnancy and her initial few days on this planet have gone on to represent a pattern repeated throughout her life.
I was nearly thirty-eight when I became pregnant with her. She was very much wanted, and we had only just begun to try for a baby when I discovered I was pregnant in, of all places, a Morrison’s car park. I had thought that with my age it would take at least several months. But no, it happened pretty much straight away. As I was considered to be a geriatric mother – a lovely phrase – I was booked in for a scan at about eight weeks. I had been experiencing quite severe stomach pain, but I assumed that was merely my body changing with the pregnancy. I was so excited to have the scan but within a few seconds of the sonographer pressing the implement onto my stomach, I could see the colour draining from her face. She looked shocked. She excused herself for a minute and returned with a consultant. I was terrified that this meant the baby had died.
The consultant told me that there was a huge ovarian cyst, the size of a grapefruit, on one of my ovaries. It looked as though it was twisted. This explained the pain. I was transferred to a ward and within a few hours told that I needed an operation to remove the cyst. A consultant came into see me and explained that I had a ninety-five per cent chance of losing the baby during the operation, but if they didn’t remove it, there was a risk of more serious issues for me. As they wheeled me into the anteroom before the operation, an anaesthetist warned me again that there was little chance of the baby surviving this operation, since essentially, they had to perform an operation very similar to a caesarean section.
I came out of the operation and was placed on a gynaecological ward. There were a lot of old ladies there having various operations. I seem to remember one telling me she had fibroids like a string of sausages, or perhaps I dreamt that? It was very much like a hallucination. I fully expected that I would no longer be pregnant. The pain was immense, even with morphine. I just sat quietly waiting for them to inform me the baby had died. I was finally wheeled into a scan room. I was bed-ridden, and everything felt very sore. I prepared myself for the worst. And then we heard it. A very strong beating heart showing that even though I had been through abdominal surgery, the baby had somehow survived.
I returned to the ward. An elderly gentleman was there visiting his wife. I was so happy I just blurted out, “My baby’s still there!” To which the gentleman replied, “Mark my words, it’ll come out with boxing gloves on!” All the elderly ladies in my ward were overjoyed with my news. I was soon well enough to leave hospital. I continued to experience quite a lot of pain, especially where the scar was, but that was a small price to pay.
A few months later, I was told that it would be a good idea to have an amniocentesis. This is a procedure carried out to find out if the baby has any genetic difficulties. In those days, there was a concern over older mothers being more likely to have a baby with Down’s syndrome. Amniocentesis involves a large needle going into the amniotic sac to draw out the fluid. I’d been seeing a regular consultant just about every fortnight since my operation, who was incredibly experienced and knowledgeable. My consultant asked if I would permit a student to carry out the procedure. There was a small risk of miscarriage, but the consultant assured me that he had only ever experienced a one hundred per cent success rate. I agreed.
The consultant had a very gentle soothing voice. He quietly spoke to the student as they began the procedure of inserting the needle. “Nice and gently.” He encouraged. “Nice and gently.” This continued for a few minutes as the consultant talked his student through the process. “And now…. slowly…. begin ….” Suddenly the demeanour of the consultant changed. “Get it out! Quick!” He yelled. I looked to the screen and then I saw why he was so concerned. You could just make out the tiny hand of the baby on the screen, starting to grab the needle. “I have never seen that happen before!” He laughed afterwards. “What an incredible sight!”
Like any pregnant woman, the last few weeks were extremely difficult. I was in constant pain and every time I would attend my prenatal appointments with the consultant, I would beg them to take the baby out. My daughter’s father paid for me to have one of the new 4D scans. Our scan was so clear, and the baby’s features so defined, that she became a model on Nottingham buses even before she was born. About the 30th November, when I was about 35 weeks pregnant, I had an appointment and I had prepared myself to assert my authority and demand they finally take the baby out. I entered the consultant’s office and was just about to begin my long-rehearsed speech when my consultant looked at me, smiled broadly and asked, “How about we get this baby out on the 5th December?”
So, on the morning of Tuesday 5th December 2006, at about 7am, my Dad came to look after my son, whilst I went with my baby’s father to the hospital. I was the first on the list and was about to go to surgery, when an emergency came in. I didn’t therefore go down until about 11:30am. It was quite a funny experience having a caesarean whilst awake. I react quite a lot to medication and I can recall speaking to the anaesthetist about ballet as some sort of drunken fool. My baby’s father fainted when they gave me the epidural. In fact, the whole experience was framed in a golden-brown haze and made me feel as though I was a spectator rather than a participant.
My consultant was still in surgery with the emergency and so two other doctors came in. I believe that they may have been Arab, as they were talking to each other in an unfamiliar sounding language, more like singing, whilst delivering my baby. They had allowed me to put some music on and so my daughter came out to the sound of Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows. I recall some George Michael in there too. They say that having a caesarean when awake, feels like someone doing the washing up in your tummy. I always had difficulty imaging that until I experienced it and had to concur; it was indeed like someone doing the washing-up in your tummy. We had a camera ready to record her first moments, but someone pressed the wrong button and we ended up videoing her instead. So, her very first seconds are kept on a camera . You can hear me shouting dementedly, “Oh, is that my baby?”
After they had finished the caesarean, the doctors rather unusually waved goodbye and left. It was so surreal. Everything seemed to be fine but then as they wheeled me back to the ward, my baby was making a very weird noise, like a seal barking. A consultant was called for and he told me that my daughter needed to go immediately to intensive care.
“Do you really mean it?” I asked, “Or are you just being cautious?”
“She really needs it.” I’d never been so terrified in my life. I had held my baby for half an hour and now she was being whisked off to intensive care. They took me back to my ward where I couldn’t stop sobbing. Apparently, my baby was seriously ill. I was told to try and sleep and given more morphine. All I could do was constantly look at a picture on the camera’s viewfinder of the baby I had held a few hours earlier. I felt so incredibly lonely.
In the middle of the night, I called the midwives. I really wanted my baby, but it was 4am and I was still bed ridden. I was also on a drip. The nurses and midwives told me not to cry and that I could go in the morning. But one kind porter took pity on me. He wheeled my bed down to intensive care and I lay at the side of my baby for several hours, just looking at her and willing her to get better. In the morning on their rounds, a team of consultants started discussing what to do with her. It seemed so odd that they were referring to her by name. I was so worried that after all that pain and all that trouble, I would lose her. Judging by the faces of the consultants her chances were not good.
The rest of the day, I stayed there. I asked one of the nurses if she had ever experienced this as a mother. She told me that she had. “How do you cope?” I asked as if searching for a magic answer. “You just cope.” She smiled back. It was so hard for me. I wanted to feed my baby. I wanted to hold her. All I could do was put my hand in the incubator and touch her skin. Things could not have been any worse than they were on that first day and I really thought she was going to die.
I must have fallen asleep because eventually I found myself back up on the ward. The nurses told me that I could try and get up and move about. I was desperate to do this just so that I could go back to see my baby. After a very hasty shower, I went down to ICU but when I walked into the room where my baby had been, she was no longer there. The nurse must have seen my anxiety and quietly pushed me out of the room into the neighbouring ward. “She’s in here.” She took me in and there were far less tubes. “We moved her out as she’s so much better.” And just like that… she recovered. Her progress over the next few hours was immense and so that by the end of the following day, I was feeding her myself. It wasn’t long before she was on the ward with me and a couple of days later, we were able to go home. The baby who was in ICU recovered within twenty-four hours.
And thus, it has always been with her. She will develop an illness, seem incredibly unwell, almost to the point that you are worried to the extreme, then within twenty-four hours she’s just about fully recovered and like the kind elderly gentleman once said in the gynaecology ward, she comes out ‘fighting with her boxing gloves.’
I had a son before my daughter. When he was born, I remember lying awake holding him all night and just looking at him. I couldn’t believe how beautiful he was. I always wondered before my daughter was born, if it was possible to love anyone as much as I loved him. But it was. I’ve been extremely blessed to have a boy and a girl and even when life has been awful to me and things have gone wrong, it has always been my love for my children, which keeps me going.
To me, my daughter brightens any room she walks into. I love spending time with her. She is sometimes so like me that I find it scary. I hear her saying things to me that I said to my own parents. I am very proud of her and all she has achieved. She works hard and delights in giving her best to everything. I’m even more amazed that she seems to enjoy Geography, despite my attempts to prove otherwise to her. She has a great sense of humour and loves to make us laugh. To me she is perfect. I know I may only have another five years at home with her until she goes to University, so I’m going to make every second of those moments matter. And just as the music that played as she came into the World, “God only knows what I’d be without you.”
Happy Birthday Fifi!