The birth of our first baby three-and-a-half years ago seemed, at the time, to be packed with drama and incident. Now that he has a younger brother I think we can all look back at that time as basically a walk in the park, though infused with the sort of nerves you always have when doing something big for the first time. Then when it was over, of course there was a fair amount of relief mixed in with the joy. This time, though, the relief is almost overwhelming. This wasn’t a case of nerves any more, more like facing a real, powerful danger we were powerless to halt or even control. Everything is great now, but it was all so tiring – physically and emotionally – that it’s taken the best part of a week to wind down from it all and start to enjoy being parents again. The story here may induce a similar reaction – consider yourself warned.
I suppose the trouble started in August. Normally the second trimester is supposed to be the comfortable bit, but V was barely able to sleep from pain and discomfort. One night we were almost certain that the baby was going to arrive – this would’ve been more than two months before term – and had to have a trip (by bus!) to the terrible hospital we’d initially chosen. Fortunately this false alarm showed us why we needed to change hospital -the nurses were aggressive to the point of being openly contemptuous of their patients, the doctors were seemingly never there, and the minor research we’d done on the internet was enough to reveal that we knew significantly more about V’s condition than they did. As is always the case, we had to reach out to everyone we could think of – friends, neighbours, colleagues, students at my school – in order to find an expert we could halfway trust to take things seriously. I shudder to think of what could’ve happenned if we’d failed to find someone.
For most of August and September V was supposed to be on “bed rest” – this meant I had to nag her to lie down in the morning and evening, and I trained M to do it in the afternoon – “mummy, lie down!” And all the time the condition failed to go away. (I’m trying to avoid going into exactly what it was, but suffice it to say it can be very serious indeed.) On our visits to the new hospital – a very large place, insanely busy – the news was generally good, though – or at least the doctors waving a hand and saying “oh, it’s fine” outnumbered the ones saying “this is very serious” – even when those same doctors were scheduling MRI scans of the womb, not a normal thing to do in a pregnancy. When it got to week 37 and we decided we had to check in for good (by this time V was barely sleeping) the news wasn’t so good. Our expert doctor – a towering man with huge shoulders and a painted-on sneer – did nothing but mutter darkly about “very difficult” and “very dangerous” and complained about being given such a difficult case just before the national holiday. We thought he might be angling for a “tip”, but the nurses all backed him up. He also said that they would need a lot of blood, and we’d need to give some back, so the following afternoon I had to go down to the blood bank and give them a pint.
I’m not going to advertise the hospital, but here’s the building we were in, on the top floor.
The smaller rooms were all full, so we had to settle for a room with six beds, in the maternity ward rather than obstetrics. The curtains were constantly drawn around the beds, and it looked like the health-spa in a discount shop afterlife.
We checked in on Thursday, and the operation was scheduled for Sunday. I attempted to sleep on one of those foldout chairs in the night-time and tried to be useful in the daytime. Mostly we just talked. The nurses tried to be friendly with us (this would change later) but it was obvious they knew there was something wrong. Eventually we cornered a young doctor and interrogated her as much as possible about how much danger V and the baby were in. She said that she didn’t know exactly how great the danger was because she’d never seen a case as advanced or as serious as this before. Which didn’t exactly put our minds at rest.
On Saturday night neither of us really slept. Things weren’t helped by the baby across from us, who woke up every half an hour and spent ten minutes screaming like a cross between an angry goose and a pig stuck in a hole (honestly I have never heard anything like it – we couldn’t believe a human was actually making that noise.) I was cold and borrowed a blanket from the unoccupied bed next to ours, then half an hour later the bed became occupied. “Where’s the bedding!” I pretended to sleep. The nurse ran to get another sheet.
We each got an hour or two of sleep in the end, and woke up to an uncharacteristically grey morning which quickly turned into yet another sunny day. This was it, there was no turning back, and we just had to get on with it.