With my second pregnancy I thought I knew exactly how this birthing thing went, but life had other plans…
I remember driving to the hospital at 33 weeks pregnant with my mum thinking ‘it’s okay, it will all be fine’ and honestly believing it. These things just didn’t happen to me. I’d had a quick, non-fuss birth with my first baby and was naively smug about it. I just assumed my second birth would be as straightforward. But you know what they say about best laid plans…
Only an hour earlier I’d gone to the local A&E as I’d experienced a small bleed. It was tiny but it was there – you can’t un-see a colour like red. After five minutes of extensive googling with suggestions that ranged from ‘it’ll be nothing’ to ‘get the hospital now’, I decided to err on the side of caution and get checked out. The residing doctor didn’t seem too concerned but sent me to the hospital for a full examination. Once there I was seen quickly with one of those dignity losing examinations; the kind where your feet are crooked up in stirrups while you’re being investigated down below. The doctor told me yes, there was a bleed, and that yes, I’d need to stay overnight to have a scan in the morning. Just in case. I was so annoyed. I had writing to do. I had plans that weekend. More pressingly, I had to pick up my two-year-old son Raff from daycare. Reluctantly I rang my husband and told him what was happening, explaining that he didn’t need to bother coming and to just pick up our son from daycare. Less than 15 minutes later everything changed.
After they’d ushered me into a room and started the general admission process, they hooked me up to a machine to check the baby’s heartbeat – within minutes alarms were going off. Her heart rate was going incredibly fast, and then excruciatingly slow. Tachycardia they called it. She was in distress. A doctor called Prem (who I nervously joked had an apt name) came in and said with no uncertainty ‘we have to get her out’. I told her no, that it was too early, that I wasn’t prepared and had nothing with me. I tried to bargain with them to give it another hour or so. I was sure her heart rate will normalise. They listened to what I had to say but thankfully ignored my non-medical advice and prepped me for surgery. While they explained the development of a premature baby and the state her lungs would be in (usually underdeveloped at 7 weeks early) my mum rang my husband and told him to ‘get here now’. I later learned he sped through rush hour traffic, down the gutter of the motorway, arriving just in time for them to dress him in powdery blue scrubs and a matching hairnet. I remember briefly thinking he would have made a handsome doctor. Even then I still thought it was a joke. I still questioned the doctors as to whether they really needed to get her out. I knew it was too soon. But the plan kept progressing. My jewellery was taken off, drips were dug into my veins, steroids for the baby’s lung development were jabbed into the meaty part of my thigh and I was asked to literally sign my life away. By that stage my hand was shaking so much I had to get my husband to do it. I felt sick with worry, with guilt, with the unknown. I felt anxious that I’d done something to make her come early. Everything felt queasily, uncomfortably wrong.
Suddenly I was being wheeled through the labyrinth of the hospital. The first thing I noticed in the operating room was the amount of people in there. I counted 12 at one stage, all moving around like an orchestrated dance – all with their own role to play. Paediatrician, obstetrician, nurses, premature baby nurses and anaesthesiologists. You name it, they were there. And there I was, the unintentional star of the show, bang smack in the middle, lying flat on my back, under the bright lights.
It’s hard to explain the sensation of someone reaching inside of you and pulling a baby out. Even though I had an epidural to not feel anything, I could still feel the muted sensation of tugging and pulling as they reached in to get her out. At some points, the force of it felt like my whole body was being lifted off the operating table. The obstetrician later said that when he reached in to pull her out, it was warm like a bath when it should have been cool – a clear sign something wasn’t right. The time passed slow, then fast – just like her heartbeat. And all of a sudden, she was pulled out just as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ was playing from the speakers overhead ( I don’t think I’ll ever hear that song and not think of her!) She cried a loud and welcome cry, and they held her up just long enough for me to see we had a baby girl.
My husband went with her, while they sewed me back together. I just lay there, practically paralysed, with my head to the side, trying to catch a glimpse of her but she was sheltered by a whole team of people working on her. Every now and again, whether they planned it or not, the scrub-clad team would part, allowing me to see a little piece of her. Although she came out looking healthy, within minutes her movements were slowing down so they had to give her oxygen to help her breathe. She was then taken to the premature baby unit (SCBU) and after what seemed like an eternity they finally, finally wheeled me back through those same corridors to see her.
It was quite a confronting sight, she was in an incubator, with a mask on to help her breathe. And she was so small. I felt relieved but completely overwhelmed that I couldn’t hold her, or touch her – I guess I was still in shock about what the hell had just happened. It all seemed so surreal. With a short list of names we immediately knew Sloane, meaning warrior, was the right choice for her. Later, when the obstetrician came to see us he told us he thought I had what they frustratingly call an ‘unexplained infection’ which caused her premature birth. He mentioned the word stillborn enough times for us to realise how INCREDIBLY lucky we were. He told us she was strong, and had come out fighting. And with every guilt-filled day and worry-filled night, and all the anxious boomerang-ing back and forth to the hospital where she lived for almost a month; I kept reminding myself of that.
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