Yesterday was a strange anniversary for me. It was my daughter’s birthday. A time of huge celebration, obviously. But the anniversary of one of the hardest days of my life.
A few days before my daughter was born, I was rushed into hospital with really high blood pressure. An overnight stay later, and I was sent home again, after being told that my baby would definitely need to be delivered early because I had signs of pre-eclampsia. I’d had injections to get her lungs ready for an early arrival. I remember the shock and my reaction. One of guilt. I spent my entire time there saying I was sorry. I’m sorry to cause you so much trouble. I’m sorry that I’m upset. I’m sorry that I’m not very good at being pregnant. I’m so very sorry …
The day after I went home, I woke with a pain in my upper abdomen. I thought it was really bad indigestion. An hour later and I couldn’t stand up. I called my parents who came to collect me and took me back to hospital where I was rushed into a bed, taken for stabilising and then for an emergency caesarean section. That abdominal pain was my liver ceasing to work and red blood cells rupturing as my pre-eclampsia had been complicated by HELLP syndrome. The only way to save me was to deliver the baby straight away. Eve, who was delivered at only 30 weeks’ gestation (and weighed in at 2lb 11oz) was resuscitated at her birth and immediately taken away to Neo-natal Intensive Care. As she spent her first weeks of life in an incubator, I began my recovery,first in hospital and then–a fortnight later– at home. My ongoing fluctuating blood pressure means that it’s a recovery that continues to this day.
And so this anniversary of her birth has always been a day that I’ve struggled with. Every year, I find myself needing to find somewhere quiet for little secret crying times. I remember how much I struggled. And my horrible guilt resurfaces. The guilt that I wasn’t able to keep her safe. That I couldn’t carry her to term. That my body broke and they had to deliver her so early, so tiny. And then make her breathe. That, despite setting an alarm for every two hours, 24 hours a day to try with a damn breast-pump (genuinely one of the hardest things to try and do at 2am,when your baby is miles away) my poor broken body wasn’t able to create enough milk to keep her alive, even though she was only having a teaspoon’s worth of milk down a nasogastric tube (after several weeks of being fed by an IV line). I distinctly remember the bus journey to the hospital during which I got a phone call from them. There’s no more milk left, will you allow us to use formula? The combination of feeling like a total failure and the relief that I’d finally accepted the inevitable was overwhelming and I sobbed openly on the bus. I’ve carried that feeling around with me for a really long time. I’m so, so sorry …
But, yesterday she was nine. Nine years old. Taller than her classmates, nearly as tall as me. Top of her class. A gymnast and an athlete. She’s bright, beautiful and as annoying, complicated and challenging as any other nine year old girl can be and–along with her brother–the love of my life. It seems that perhaps I didn’t let her down after all. I think, after all these years, that it really is time for me to let that guilt go. Lift this weight that I’ve just had with me for such a long time now. I mean, it’ll be replaced with plenty of other guilt–the life of a working single mum pretty much guarantees that–but at least it’ll be guilt about homework, or whether she’s eating enough vegetables. Not whether I was good enough at being pregnant. Whether I failed before I’d even started being her mum. I need to practice a bit of self-forgiveness now. I did my best and that’s all I can ask of myself.
And, in focusing on that baby, that tiny scrap of person surrounded by wires and tubes, in a room with no windows and a cacophony of bleeping, buzzing machines, I’m in danger of losing sight of the girl standing in front of me. The one who is pretty bloody amazing. The one who I promise to parent with everything I’ve got, learning from my many mistakes as I go. The one who I will fight tooth and nail to keep safe for the rest of our lives.
The one who wants my attention right now. This very second.
Mostly to ask impossible-to-answer questions about Minecraft, if I’m honest, but nothing’s perfect … Time to go.
Huge thanks to the bloody incredible NHS for keeping us alive, and making us heathy. I will always be your greatest supporter. After Eve’s birth, I also got lots of help from Bliss, the premature baby charity.
And, because I cannot imagine what it must feel like not to be able to keep your child safe, perhaps you could take a look here and see if you might be able to help. I’m sure this is the kind of thing you do already, because my readers are awesome but you might not have had chance yet. Ta. x