C’est normal de craquer. You can break down, it’s only normal.
When a car breaks down, it’s when it stops working. The same applies to the human body and mind machine. The nurse who was looking after me that night had come into my room in the maternity ward to take Damien and I to the delivery room. Damien looked at me, sleepy eyed, with a mix of exhaustion and disbelief. After three separate hospitalisations prior to this stay and many emergency room visits, we were used to close calls. I wept into his chest with dismay and frustration, my fists scrunching the fabric of his t-shirt; like a lamb to the slaughter.
“Are you sure that it’s now?” my husband asked the nurse. Human beings crave reassurance when, in reality, nothing is for certain. Every single thing we have in this world can be taken away in the blink of an eye.
“Yes,” she said. “This is where your pregnancy path ends. We’ve gone as far as we can with modern medicine to slow down the process. We’ve done everything we can.”
“But it’s good that we’ve made it this far, right? Our baby will be ok?” He liked to pretend that he wasn’t worried, but he couldn’t fool me. He was acting brave. Still, I was comforted by this.
“Yes, each day counts,” she said with empathetic eyes, then touched my arm. “When my shift ends at 7am, I’ll come and see you before I head home.” She was being kind. Still, I was grateful for that.
A pregnancy lasts a full nine months, three full trimesters – for those other women. My baby would only stay in the warm, safe and secure space of my belly for just over two of those trimesters.
A baby is born with rosy cheeks and chubby legs – for those other women. My baby had intrauterine growth restriction. Not only was she to come into this world far too early, she would also arrive far too small.
I sat down on the wheelchair which must have carried innumerable pregnant women before me to the delivery room, with its 1970s white metro tiles and blinding surgical lights, where they would give the gift of life. I closed my eyes while I stroked my belly feeling you kick and stretch, savouring every millisecond; my IV drip rolled alongside me. Magnesium sulfate: it protects the premature baby’s brain during birth and can prevent intraventricular haemorrhages. Can. Maybe. Hopefully.
C’est compréhensible. It’s understandable.
Wiping the tears from my eyes again while the anaesthetist inserted a catheter into my spinal cord for the epidural, I felt groggy and depleted. This was not how I had imagined it to be.
“You must have a very high pain threshold.” the doctor said to me. “You’re 75% dilated; your contractions should hurt.”
But they didn’t. And I don’t have a high pain threshold. It was the ultimate betrayal: my body was rebelling against itself, refusing to do what it was supposed to. Human beings crave control when, in reality, we are simply at the mercy of the organised chaos of the universe which throws events at us without discrimination.
After I had been given the epidural, your dad and I waited in the delivery room for the full dilation milestone.
“Would you like the window closed?” the midwife asked me. It was raining, and I could hear the pitter patter falling sounds outside, leaves rustling, a slight wintry breeze. Inside, the sound of your heartbeat from the monitor. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I had yet to meet you, and all I knew for sure was that I loved you unconditionally already. You and I, we had come so far, and yet our journey together had only just begun.
“No,” I said, “Leave it open, please.”
To the observer, it might have looked as though your dad and I didn’t have a care in the world. We both slept during that waiting period. Me, on that hospital bed, suspended in space and time. Him, on the uncomfortable chair next to me, snoring like it was any other night. We dozed for an hour, maybe two, even three. The clock on the wall ticked forward consistently, both fast and slow simultaneously. Since I had no pain and felt dazed from all the medication, there was a somewhat peaceful feeling of warmth coursing through my veins, making my eyelids heavy and my thoughts fade. Relief, perhaps; like a lamb in the eye of the storm.
After a while, I felt a hand on my arm.
“I just wanted to wish you all the best.” The nurse from before, whose name I did not nor will ever know, had remembered. I thanked her. The world will have us believe that human beings are inherently self-interested, but it’s not the case at all; otherwise, as a species, how could we have ever survived? It’s only the loudest that are heard the most and yet the large majority of them never seem to take any valuable action. It’s the quiet ones, most often, meandering through their ordinariness, who put their heads down and make something of this life. Like the cogs in a Swiss watch, they are the ones that make the human species evolve forward. Kindness, connection and concern for those in need are the bedrock of humanity. When we act any different, all it means is that we have simply lost our way.
Allez, allez, allez! Go, go go!
Two midwives and an intern doctor were teaching me how to push. There had been no time for prenatal classes, and this was my first child. We had been too busy trying to delay your arrival into this world; to save you; to make things easier for you. I tried so hard. We all did.
C’est bien, bravo! Well done, good job!
In my former life, I might have cringed at the thought of having midwives applaud during labour like spectators at a football match, but I desperately needed encouragement. I held on to even the tiniest speck of hope. I was petrified.
After a while, the main midwife left the room and a man in green scrubs alongside two other doctors wearing white surgical masks strutted in authoritatively. I recognised him. He was the head OB GYN of the high-risk pregnancy section. I remember him telling me during one of my hospitalisations that science was still bad at predicting when a woman in premature labour will give birth. We simply do not know.
Votre bébé est en détresse. Your baby is in distress.
Damien and I looked at each other thinking the exact same thing. Despite all the twists and turns we had gone through during this pregnancy, we were still shocked. Another obstacle. Pas encore, not again. How many more would we have to go through? Many more, it turns out.
In an ordinary circumstance, we could have waited for you to take your sweet time down the birth canal. But you were too small, your lungs – too immature. You were getting tired; your heart – slowing down. We had overcome so much; I couldn’t give up now – I wouldn’t.
I remember cold, steel forceps. Your head, then your shoulders. You, being put on my belly face down, covered in sticky amniotic fluid, your fluffy brown hair covering the back of your head, the umbilical cord being severed, blood spewing out – the physical link between us cut.
I’m so sorry I couldn’t hold you right there and then, but you were so fragile and tiny, you could have been hurt. You were only slightly heavier than two blocks of standard butter. And yet, you were here. Here you were.
After what seemed like a lifetime, when in fact it was probably only a few insufferable seconds, you gave one short and determined cry. In that instant, I knew you had a fighting chance. The cry of life. The will to survive.
Then, the neonatal pediatricians took you outside to another room – the physical link between us cut again. My legs and lower back completely numb, I lay on the bed while the placenta came out, while they sewed me back up, while I waited as your dad went to see you in the room outside.
After what seemed like a lifetime, when in fact it was probably only fifteen minutes of emotional agony, I saw Green Scrubs standing beside me.
Je viens de voir les pédiatres et ils m’ont dit que le bébé va bien. I’ve just spoken with the pediatricians and I am told that your baby is fine.
My entire body sank into the hospital bed sheets with relief. ‘Fine’ meant that you were breathing, your heart beating.
They then rolled you in beside me so that I could have a few moments to look at you. A tiny porcelain doll lying in an incubator, respiration mask on your nose which looked as though it almost covered your entire face, harness on your head, multiple electrodes and cables stuck to your thorax and feet, hooked to beeping machines I did not understand.
A baby is cuddled and cradled in its mother’s arms after birth – for those other women. You and I just stared at each other through that plastic box before you were taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the place you would call home for the first one hundred and seven days of your life. You couldn’t see me because your vision wasn’t developed enough. I couldn’t see you because of all the life-saving technology. I couldn’t quite tell what you looked like.
I turned to Damien and saw tears streaming down his face.
Elle est si belle. She’s so beautiful.