STUPID STUPID STUPID… to think that my birth plan – whatever that means – was back on track. The only thing you can plan for when it comes to children and parenthood is that nothing will go according to plan.
On 29 June 2016 Isabelle was born premature, via emergency c-section, four weeks earlier than expected, at 35 weeks. This was due to a failing placenta which sent her into distress as she wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
My unborn daughter was being starved of oxygen and I had no idea.
Being a first-time mom, I did not pick up on one of the main signs of foetal distress – stillness. Given this baby tried on many occasions to re-enact Alien’s infamous scene, I had noticed her absence of movement since that morning, but just thought she was getting too big to move, maybe she was sleeping or maybe she was experiencing an uncharacteristic bout of laziness.
It has crossed my mind, in conjunction with a few cryptic comments from the medical staff, that had I been at home that Wednesday morning, Izzy would have died in utero. I would have carried on unaware of the danger, I would have put off going to the labour ward, even if I did think it strange that she was so still, to avoid being labelled as melodramatic or a hypochondriac. And while I worried about what other’s would think or the inconvenience of traipsing to the labour ward at odd hours, my unborn baby would most likely have suffocated.
Or it could have been fine and any of the factors that complicated my birth may have never materialised. I truly believe there is no certainty when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth and raising kids. Just best guesses and a whole lot of faking it till you make it. Luckily for me, I didn’t need to wait and see which side won out.
I was already in hospital after being admitted four nights earlier with a bad kidney tract infection that had caused preterm labour. Doctors tell me the two were unrelated and actually, it was lucky I was in the hospital and being monitored so the distress was caught early.
Over the course of the next three days, my routine was as follows:
- 5 am: Wake Up so nurses could check mine and the baby’s stats and run a 15-minute trace on the baby and my uterine wall.
- 6am-7am: Have tea and buttermilk rusks. Wait for either the nurse or Dr Barrow himself to feedback on any tests they had run or the trace itself.
- 7 am: Have breakfast – often maize porridge, which I haven’t had since I was a kid, and forgot I actually quite liked.
- 8 am-10 am: Try put out fires at work caused by my absence, finish up any urgent things outstanding and answer emails.
- 10 am-12 pm: Entertain. First, myself with Candy Crush, a word search in People magazine, hospital TV, Facebook or a book. Second, my visitors. My husband, mom, sister and sister-in-law visited a much as they could, which was good cause it was boring AF in that ward surrounded by other pregnant women who joined me in this labour limbo – to be in the labour ward but to not be in labour. But for the most part, those few days were quite lonely and long.
- 12 pm: Lunch. I cannot remember a single lunch meal, which is indicative of their neither truly good nor truly bad blandness.
- 1 pm-5 pm: More “entertainment”. Both myself and others.
- 5 pm-6 pm: Another 15-minute tracing and check-in from the nurses. A visit from Dr Barrow. The verdict on whether I would be discharged from the hospital in the morning. Sunday night: Nay. Monday night: Nay. Tuesday night: Yay!
- 6 pm-7 pm: Supper. Again quite forgettable.
- 7 pm-8 pm: Most delicious hot chocolate from the hospital restaurant delivered by hand by an attentive husband.
- 8 pm-9 pm: More “entertainment”. Just myself.
Tuesday evening after having had the routine tests, Dr Barrow came to see me as he often did to explain the verdict and the “plan” for the next day.
“Everything looks good. The pre-labour contractions have stopped for a couple of days now, your infection seems to have been cleared up, all seems well with the baby. So, I think you can tell your husband he can fetch you tomorrow and take you home. Looks like I won’t see you again. Good luck with the next few weeks.”
And in his final words, he sealed our fate. Bad juju. Never say never.
On that much anticipated Wednesday morning, the day I would finally be going home, to finish the nursery, wrap up at work, wash the baby clothes, read the last few chapters of the “how to parent” book, tick off all the things I still needed to buy from the checklist and see my real doctor in four and a half weeks’ time for my planned birth date. It’s like I was tempting the fates with my naïve arrogance.
I had my usual 5 am tracing and I could tell after 15 minutes something was wrong. The nurses were concerned. I am afraid of flying and I have a theory, that if you watch the air stewards like a deranged stalker you will be able to discern if the plane is in trouble – if the stewards are smiling, chatting and relaxed, then we are not crashing. By this metric, it was official, “Houston, we have a problem”. The nurses were not smiling, they were not relaxed, they were not jokingly berating me for always leaving my window open and letting the brisk winter air into the ward.
Shortly after completing the first test, they began the test again but now for an hour (I had only ever had it for 15 minutes). So, for one hour, with the minutes ticking pay at a glacial speed, I forced myself to remain calm playing Candy Crush, because when my heart rate went up so did the baby’s. It’s amazing how long time can expand or contract depending on whether you want it to be over quickly or last a bit longer. One hour can shrink to the blink of an eye when it’s all the time you have to go grocery shopping, visit the chemist and draw money from the bank. But it is can conversely stretch to a lifetime when you are waiting alone in a hospital bed trying to line up virtual gems.
Given my newly acquired by significant experience, almost four days of watching the paper eke out of the monitor twice a day, I was quite well versed in reading the squiggles and I was not sure what all the hubbub was all about. The uterine wall was stable. My heart rate was stable. And the baby’s heart rate was stable. Or at least according to my definition of stable – consistent.
After the hour of monitoring was completed, the nurses called the doctor to review the printout. By this point, Will had arrived at the hospital to take me home. I had already called him to say that I suspected something was worrying the nurses and Dr Barrow. So, we waited – me in the bed and him in the chair beside me, silently, each stewing in our own private vision of what the worst possible outcome would be.
In his usual style, Dr Barrow, lumbered, somewhat out of breath, which was not unusual for this rather large man, into the ward to review the results. He mumbled a greeting and avoided eye contact – neither out of the ordinary. Whilst he reviewed the length of paper, he released a few indistinguishable mutterings and grumbles.
He turned to my husband and me and said, “The baby’s heart rate is showing signs of tachycardia, which means her heart is beating extremely quickly for a sustained period of time. A normal foetal heart rate is 120-170 beats per minute, she is showing a heart rate of 190-195 beats per minute that has been consistent since the first test and all the way through the next hour. This is a sure sign of foetal distress.”
Fuck. Me; “Ok. What does it mean?”
Dr Barrow; “Have you noticed anything different? Has she been moving as much as usual?’
Me; “I didn’t really think about it, but now that you mention it. Yes, she has been quite still.”
Dr Barrow; “Ok, stillness at this stage in your pregnancy is not normally a good sign. Let’s get you downstairs to my rooms and we can do an ultrasound and check what’s going on in there.”
I was put into a wheelchair and wheeled down to his rooms. As I was wheeled into his rooms through his waiting room, past several women with their impatience and frustration written plainly on their faces. Oh, right, these were his scheduled appointments, his day-to-day business. It’s easy to forget that specialist doctors like gynaecologists and paediatricians often have to do two jobs – their scheduled one and their emergency one. And I was the unplanned obstacle that had arisen to ruin his receptionist’s perfectly planned day of appointments (again with the oil and water – babies and planning).
My husband and I vowed after our time in hospital that we would never ever EVER moan about waiting for a gynae or a paed again. While we wait and bitch and moan about wasting our time, we forget that these doctors might very well be saving some other mother and her baby’s life.
For what would be the last time, not that I knew that at the time, I hoisted myself up onto the bed and prepared for the ultrasound. Not sure if any of you have watched “Nine Months” with Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore, but I have many times. In the movie, Robyn Williams plays the role of Julianne Moore’s substitute obstetrician and she is not pleased that her doctor is away. She is also not pleased that she has been lumped with this strange man with strange mannerisms and even stranger antics (ringing any bells for my story so far?).
While Dr Barrow bears no resemblance to the late great Robin Williams and he definitely didn’t carry himself with the same warmth and twinkle in the eye, he did do a mean impersonation of the character in that exact moment prior to the ultrasound filled with anxiety and uncertainty.
With incredible thoughtfulness, Dr Barrow used a bottle warmer to warm the lube that was used to conduct the ultrasound. Normally, this gel is fairly cold, so as it hits your tender belly skin, it feels like someone is running ice down your delicate abdomen. So, this act of kindness is indicative of the man’s true nature, despite his less than warm bedside manner.
However, in his haste (and I guess worry for my baby) when he flipped the bottle over like a flair bartender making a cosmopolitan, the heated and thus thinned gel jetted out of the nozzle in an unexpected ejaculation starting at on my hair, then my face, moving down my neck, reaching my chest and finally landing on its intended target – my abdomen. (In my head: Oh my actual fuck), out load; “Gasp”.
Will, despite his nervousness, or maybe because of it, released a girly giggle. And immediately, grabbed some paper towels to try and wipe off my hair, face, neck, everywhere except my stomach really.
Dr Barrow, may have mumbled some sort of curse slash apology but for the most part he carried on all business, nothing to see here, this is the way we do it. But in all honesty none of us really cared for long, we all wanted to know what was wrong and one Robyn Williams impression wasn’t going to distract us for long.
The scan did not deliver good news. As far as the doctor could tell, my placenta was failing and so Izzy was not receiving sufficient blood flow from me to her, so she was being starved of oxygen.
I shot off a rally of questions; “But she’s early. Will she be alright? Doesn’t she need more time? Why is my placenta failing? Can’t we stop it? Can we not wait a few more days, until I am ready?”
Dr Barrow said; “We have to make the best of a bad situation. She has had a full course of steroids, so hopefully, her lungs will be sufficiently developed. If she stays in any longer we risk worse complications. The safest thing for her is to get her out of you as soon as possible.”
Right, I was failing my baby, my body had become inhospitable.
Looking back now, it seems almost as if this could have been my body experiencing a premonition of what my mind and heart would experience in a about a week’s time.
Of course, my immediate response to the news that in an hour I was going to be sliced from hip to hip and have a living breathing creature removed from the cavity was to ugly cry, and I mean Viola Davis ugly cry.
I was crying from heart dropping shock, from vomit-inducing fear and from the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to go.
I had a plan.
I had a plan. FFS.
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