Our first birth story – part one
This is the first in a series of posts that I have found very difficult to write.
I’ve written before about my long and winding road to Motherhood and the challenging but miraculous fertility treatment we received in China, but I’ve never written the full birth story of our little girl.
There is a good reason for that.
If you’ve read my About Me page you’ll know that I started this blog as part of my therapy for Postnatal Depression. In fact it wasn’t until more recently that I’ve come to understand that it was probably the traumatic birth of our daughter and not just her prematurity or being isolated from friends and family, that was one of the main contributing factors to my depression. I don’t write about my PND very often, if at all. I thought that was because I’d recovered completely, but when I sat down to finally write this after reading a birth trauma post by the lovely Suzanne at Ghostwriter Mummy, I realised that I just don’t have all the memories.
I have blocked out a large part of my daughter’s early life. That realisation leaves me stunned and sad.
I feel that I need to go back in my mind to those early dark days and piece together what I can. Not for closure or resolution – I’ve moved on – but because I can’t bear the thought of losing these precious times, however difficult they were. If I have learned anything in the last year from brave, beautiful Jennie and little Matilda Mae it is that every moment has to be cherished.
And so here is part one of our first birth story.
On June 25th 2009 Michael Jackson died. I remember precisely where I was when I heard the news on CNN because I was lying in a hospital bed in Shanghai, China, just across the street from our apartment, willing my baby to grow.
She had always been small for her dates, but our week 34 scan showed that her slow growth had slowed too much and somehow my amniotic fluid level had started to drop. Ten days later she’d gained no weight at all and the fluid had dropped again, this time down to just under 7cm. Our American born Chinese OBGYN, Michelle, admitted me immediately into hospital so that we could be monitored closely. I was put on an IV drip, paddles were strapped to my belly and I watched as a graph of our baby’s heartbeat spewed out on long sheets of paper, the nurses chatting in Mandarin around me. I caught a word every so often and tried to figure out what they were saying but it was too exhausting so in the end I let it wash over me. Michelle popped in later and confirmed that so far everything was ok but I’d have to stay in overnight.
As it turned out I didn’t go home until our baby was born.
As well as breakfast, lunch and dinner the nurses started bringing me protein shakes three times a day, the kind a weight lifter drinks. I breathed in thirty minutes of oxygen every few hours, burning my nose and drying my throat. I was given three steroid injection to help strengthen her little lungs, preparing for the likelihood of an early c-section. Michelle wanted to try and hold on until 37 weeks because there was no neo-natal ward at the expat hospital we were in and she didn’t want to have to transfer us to the local hospital unless it became absolutely necessary. (If you’ve read about my experience of fertility treatment at a local Chinese hospital, you’ll know why I was so grateful for this.)
At a time when I should have been nesting at home it was all very scary and bright and real.
I listened to Sarah Kennedy on Radio 2 over the internet, her reassuring voice telling me the time at home, the weather, the news, anything to still my mind. OH had joined me in the hospital, working from a desk in the corner of my room and going back to our apartment to sleep.
And all the time I had to eat, eat, eat in the hope that it would help our tiny baby to gain weight.
My weight went up to 11st 8lb.
Hers didn’t budge an ounce.
Michelle told us this meant that my placenta wasn’t functioning properly and was ‘maturing’ or starting to break down too early. At the same time I was reabsorbing my amniotic fluid, leaving baby in a dangerous position. Guilt and anger at my own body flooded through me – why had it stopped nourishing and protecting our baby? Then the fear began to creep through my veins, after everything we’d been through to get this far had fate finally caught up with me, was it reeling me back in? (No, no, you’re not supposed to have children, you didn’t think you actually could, did you?)
The days passed slowly and I had a scan every morning to check our little one’s weight and length. Seeing her bobbing about on the screen was a blessing that I looked forward to – just to know that she was still there, still alive, still moving. I began to obsess about fluid levels and heart rates, learning more than I ever wanted to know about the importance of every little ounce and bpm.
On the morning of 6 July 2009, I had my daily scan as usual. But this morning something was different. We could never understand what Michelle and the technician were saying to each other but this time she didn’t translate for us. She watched the monitor closely. Then we were sent back to our room. A few minutes later she came in and told us that our little baby girl’s breathing had started to slow, ever so slightly, and so she wanted to take her now. I would be having a c-section at 36 weeks in three hours time…