No day should start at 3am with the onset of labour and end twenty-two hours later with you being wheeled down a corridor to say goodbye to your newborn daughter, who is being transferred by ambulance to an intensive care unit at another hospital. But last Monday did, for me. It feels like a decade ago.
After the birth, and the separation, Paul and I waited. Several midwives and doctors came in at various points, expressed surprise that we hadn’t been told to come to special care to see Elodie, disappeared to find out what was going on and never returned. Paul was worried, but he’s always worried. I didn’t suspect that anything was terribly wrong; perhaps I wasn’t quite back to myself after giving birth. I had a long shower and a short nap, and we waited some more.
At some point in the middle of the afternoon, a nurse came to take us to the special care unit. On the way, she explained some of the things that were happening, to prepare us. Elodie was in a ventilator, she told us. There were a lot of tubes. Oh, and she looked like she was shaking, but it was just the type of ventilator they were using. We went in and sat beside her, and a doctor explained that he’d been called over from Leicester’s other, bigger hospital to look after Elodie. He said that she’d been coughing up blood and he didn’t know why. He said that she might have to go on blood pressure medication and explained that that only happens with babies who are ‘very sick’. He said that she couldn’t be given the care she needed at that hospital, and that she would have to be transferred, but they were currently struggling to find an intensive care cot for her.
Paul and I cried and held hands, and then we went back to the room where I’d delivered her. Paul went home to see Joseph and my mum and Rachel and Scott arrived to visit. I was a mess, but I still didn’t quite grasp how serious it all was. If it was really bad, I kept telling myself, they would encourage us to stay with her, to sit beside her cot.
A little later, a midwife discovered that I had high blood pressure. During my first pregnancy, I had high blood pressure before and after delivery, and Joseph and I stayed in hospital for eight days after his birth while the doctors found the right balance of medication to get it under control. This time, things had been fine throughout the pregnancy, so I was a bit surprised by the high reading, but not too concerned. I felt fine. Paul brought his mum and my dad to the hospital to meet Elodie, and I sat on my bed, a blood pressure cuff on my arm that went off automatically every five minutes. We were finally told that a cot had been secured for Elodie in Sheffield, and that she would be transported that night.
Soon after everyone left, I started to feel cold. I turned off the fan the midwife had put on. But within a few minutes, I was shivering uncontrollably, and I had sharp pains just under my ribs. I got into bed, pulled the covers over me. But I couldn’t stop shaking, so I buzzed for a midwife. Kara was looking after me that night. I had a temperature, so she stripped off my blankets, turned the fan on and pointed it at me. She put me on a paracetamol drip. Very quickly, I started to feel a bit more comfortable. A doctor came in to see me and explained that they were worried I might be developing pre-eclampsia, which can happen shortly after the birth as well as before it.
It was past midnight, and I was exhausted. I was just drifting off to sleep when Kara came in and said that Elodie was about to leave. I got in a wheelchair and she pushed me to the special care unit, where I talked to the doctor and nurse who were travelling with her. I looked at her through the glass. In addition to all the tubes and wires, she was wearing a tiny harness for the journey. I said goodbye to her and let Kara push me back to my room, too shattered and sad to speak.
Paul drove up to Sheffield early to be with Elodie. The news from up there was that her blood pressure was still a major concern and they were planning to do scans on her heart, brain and kidneys. I spent the morning in bed. Because of my blood pressure readings the night before, I’d been checked every half an hour through the night, so I was still exhausted.
At one point, the obstetrician who had taken such good care of us throughout my pregnancy came to see me. She told me that she doesn’t normally get so involved with her patients, but that she’d spent the whole previous day feeling sad about our situation. When she got home, she said, she had phoned her family and friends and asked them to pray for Elodie. I was so moved by her sincerity. She asked me to keep her updated and to send photos once we were all back home.
In the afternoon, my mum and Paul’s mum brought Joseph to visit me. I showed him how to move my hospital bed up and down and we walked hand in hand up and down the corridor, and my heart felt a little lighter. When it was time to go, I walked them to the door and said goodbye. ‘Come home,’ Joseph said. ‘You come home.’ And later that evening, I did. Rachel picked me up and I made it home just before Joseph went to bed. Paul’s dad had spent the day in Sheffield and had brought back some printed photos of Elodie, so we gave one to Joseph. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘That’s the baby sister.’ And he kissed it, and then we put it on top of his wardrobe, so that he could see it from his bed.
Wednesday was a fairly good day for Elodie. Some of her medications were reduced and she responded well. Paul’s parents went up to Sheffield to see her. I’d been advised not to travel up there until my blood pressure was more under control; I was monitoring it at home. Paul was allowed to kiss her and change her nappy. She was finally allowed to start eating, and I was delighted that Sheffield had agreed to her being given donor breast milk.
In the afternoon, Mum drove me to the private hospital where I’m going to have my chemotherapy. I had blood taken and a nurse and my oncologist explained some of the side effects the treatment would likely have. I realised that, although I’d thought about the fact that I’d lose my hair, I hadn’t looked into getting a wig or a headscarf. Suddenly, it all felt very real and imminent. I’d been so caught up with Elodie’s struggles that I’d forgotten about my own. Side by side, they felt like a lot to deal with.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my blood pressure was very high again that evening. I called the hospital and they asked me to come in and bring an overnight bag. I’d been hoping to go to Sheffield the next day and I was crushed. I hadn’t unpacked my bag since coming home the previous day, so I just went through it and took out all of Elodie’s things, and when I put them in her room, and saw all the clothes and the cot waiting there for her, my heart broke a little. My parents drove me to the hospital and we spent a couple of hours there, until long past midnight, but eventually I was told I could go home. The community midwife would visit me at home the next day.
My mum and Paul’s dad went up to Sheffield to see Elodie and Paul. I hadn’t seen either of them since Monday, and I ached for my little girl. It’s common to feel low on the third day after the birth, and I did. I felt like a terrible mum. Because I still wasn’t very well, Paul’s mum was looking after Joseph with very little input from me, and Elodie was miles away, only days old and having a tough time of it. My milk came in, and I didn’t have a baby to feed, and I felt sore and uncomfortable, especially when I cuddled Joseph.
The midwife came round and, in consultation with a midwife at the hospital, doubled my blood pressure medication. I decided that I would go up to Sheffield the following day if it was under control in the morning.
I took five blood pressure readings, and one of them was under the threshold I’d been given, and so I decided I was finally going to visit my baby girl. If anything was going to calm me down, I thought, that would do it. The journey takes about an hour and a half, and my parents drove me up there. They dropped me by the hospital entrance and went off to find parking, and Paul met me and took me to the intensive care unit. It was just as wonderful to see Elodie again as I’d expected. She looked a little better than she had on Monday, although there were still wires and tubes everywhere.
That day, she was taken off the ventilator and started breathing on her own, which was a big step forward. But it was also the first day that someone explicitly told me that Elodie had been in critical condition on Monday. I think by that point I’d realised that, but it was still a shock to hear a nurse say it out loud.
I went up to Sheffield again, this time with Paul’s mum and dad and Joseph. I was worried that Joseph would find the intensive care unit scary and intimidating, but if it bothered him, he didn’t show it. He looked in at Elodie, asked where her eyes and her tummy were. I’d thought a lot about the two of them meeting, and I hadn’t expected it to be like this, through glass. But they’ll have a lifetime to get to know one another, I reminded myself. To bicker and touch and push and love one another. Things won’t always be this way.
Because she was no longer ventilated and she’d been quite settled since that change was made, she was allowed to come out for a cuddle. Before the nurse passed her to me, I asked Paul whether he wanted to hold her first. He’d been there all week, and I felt like I was swooping in and snatching this incredible moment from him. But he said he didn’t mind. And the nurse said that mums always get to have the first cuddles. As she placed Elodie in my arms, she said ‘They say you’re given a daughter because you need a best friend.’ For an hour, I held her while she snuffled and slept, and I thought about how I’d taken all this for granted with Joseph, and how I probably would with Elodie, in time. I hoped that I would get the chance to become complacent about the magic of holding her in my arms.
I did another trip up the M1 with my parents. Elodie had had a bit of a setback. She’d stopped tolerating her tube feeds and, as a result, they’d stopped feeding her for a while. She was grumpy and unsettled, but I was allowed to hold her again and she settled down almost immediately in my arms. Late this afternoon, she was taken down the road in an ambulance to the children’s hospital for an x-ray to check her digestive system. Things looked good, so she was taken straight back and will hopefully start feeding again shortly.
I start chemotherapy tomorrow, so I’m not sure when I’ll see her again, but I know that Paul and the medical staff are taking wonderful care of her. The nurses and doctors we’ve met up there have been incredible. Patient, kind, compassionate. It’s possible that she’ll be transferred back to Leicester at some point this week, but it’s all an unknown. And my reaction to the chemo is an unknown too, so I’m trying not to think too much about how the week will go.
As always, Joseph has been keeping my spirits up at the hardest times. Old habits die hard, and he still spends a lot of time with his head up my top, talking to his baby sister. When I tell him she’s not in there any more, he asks where she is. ‘She’s in the hospital,’ I tell him. ‘Daddy’s looking after her until she’s ready to come home.’ He nods. ‘She is,’ he says, seriously. ‘Do you know how much I love you?’ I ask him. ‘More than anything,’ he says. It’s something Paul started. ‘And how much do we love your baby sister?’ I ask. ‘More than anything too.’
And it’s true.