A landlord; broken with the plight of recurring tenants that would leave before I gave them sufficient notice. I carried around those discarded tenancies like Dickensian ghosts. That being said, it meant that by the time my daughter inhabited the ‘room to let’ in my sacral chamber I was already somewhat au fais with my body.
I knew I had a heart shaped uterus. Bicornuate something? I’m no gynaecologist but I could have told you that’s where my love lay.
I knew that I hyperovulate.
I knew I could fall pregnant with the implant in.
I knew that I had a battered fallopian tube; the who’s, why’s & wherefores unfortunate & tragic – deserving of their own space.
I know now that I have endometriosis, I knew then it was something fucking like it. It’s a tricky one to just ‘diagnose’ but the point being – in my late 20s, for good or bad, I wasn’t caring about the same things as my peers, I was dictated by these losses & was plagued, with no doubt that my flesh tank was the problem.
To say aloud that I had tried many a variable to reach one set goal would have sent me into a helter skelter but, in hindsight it was true. From as early as I could; in amidst badly playing it cool, singing songs about heartbreak & lying through my teeth about my inner workings; I was nigh on obsessed with making peace with my own childhood through rewriting one for someone else. I wanted to be a Mother.
Fast forward to a time where I was making actively adult decisions that weren’t coming ‘to fruition,’ now weighted with defiant grief, stumbled across a problem – there wasn’t a part of me that believed I would ever procreate successfully.
So, here we are – it’s July 2015, I’ve woken from an anaesthetised operation. A laproscopy for the endometriosis to remove some tissue (I always thought it sounded like a magician’s trick gone very wrong)
My last loss was a missed miscarriage I’d spent New Year’s eve passing, in a bathroom with carpet – white carpet. Laurence Llewellyn Bowen eat your fucking heart out.
I remember my then figuratively new boyfriend asking me if it looked like him as I wrapped it in tissue, distinctly thinking “you DO look a bit like a nineties alien egg, yeah” – desensitised. Not my first rodeo.
I was in Sainsbury’s on my own within the hour buying pads, saying I was self sufficient anyway so it shouldn’t have mattered that he said he couldn’t be seen buying ‘those things’
It did. I don’t think I ever forgave him.
But, I digress.
I’m tissue less & shagging.
Same boyfriend. Lessons in deep seated misogyny had commenced.
September comes. It’s another positive test.
That year we’d been more hell bent on conceiving than ever.
I had a complicated relationship with sex as it is but, regimented sessions with pillow propping, eating nothing but yams really takes the joy out of it.
It was long. This child was longed for.
We. Told. No one.
The heartbreak of infant loss & miscarriage seeps through families like a contagion & chronically at that point I cared more about other people going through the rigamarole than me.
6 weeks comes. Small bleed. I’m on first name terms with the EPU & know to get there at least an hour before the doors open. It’s like a ticketed event to heartbreak & even if you leave the consultant room with good news, you know distinctly to measure your reaction – traipsing back through the tears, helpless cuddles & pained moans of those transitioning from ‘with child’ to ‘without’ in the waiting room.
“There was two eggs, both fertilised, only one implanted.”
But there’s one… and at 6 weeks, this bag of cells was thump, thump, thumping.
Even at the end. Waddling. Almost due. Delightfully rotund.
“You must be so excited!”
As time goes on. My baby shower booked & planned.
“No, I’m not. I’m going to have another baby robbed from me.”
Minimal intervention beyond answering the same futile question at each appointment, “Is this your first pregnancy?”
Open my notes & look. Every time making the same suggestion to have a sticker or something on my folder.
I couldn’t perceive a day that I would actually have them home.
I could stay pregnant forever.
Of course, as safe as I wanted to keep my child & as attached I had become to the state of gestation – I was truly ready come D-Day & would be uploading videos of me dancing to Rihanna on social media in a bid to ‘rotate to dilate’ for the coming week – I was desperate to birth as naturally as possible, taking the whole process holistically.
Baby was engaged.
Battery operated candles, clary sage in a spritzer bottle, don’t ever be on your back. They’re called ‘surges’… Diagrams of how to angle a nipple for optimum feeding. Skin to skin. Encapsulation. Donating cord blood.
I pestered a friend from school who had begun training as a midwife.
Followed all the necessary accounts.
I bought a feeding pillow.
I was fucking made for this.
My baby was about to arrive, and with that surge – so would I.
9 days beyond my due date, after one ‘false’ alarm 2 days prior.
I’m strapped to machines & making noises akin to a bovine about to reach motherhood, not a struggling songstress from SE15.
My tightenings are intense, the monitor is showing what it should but I’m not any more dilated than I was on my previous visit.
It’s the May bank holiday, I’d only gone in for a general appointment & I feel like I’m putting people out by just existing never mind squatting on the floor, mooing like a lost stray from Old McDonald’s farm.
Much of the same on repeat.
They decide not to send me home this time.
I didn’t want any intervention.
But, I guessed they’re in the business of meeting babies & just really wanted to meet mine when they said they would help me along with a sweep.
Go for a walk.
It’s nighttime now. Silence in place of the usual hustle & bustle outside the hospital. One lone smoker outside the automatic doors, stood by a ‘No Smoking’ sign. I’d usually balk at his entitlement, tell him we’re in a place of health but I’m digging the rebellion. I gave up 2 years ago but the timely breeze as the doors open is gratefully received.
We got here at 10am.
Really happy with my new comfortable sandals.
Less so when drenched with the entirety of my amniotic fluid.
Clean up on Aisle Phee.
I hurry back. I say, ‘hurry’ but you know…
No reason to.
I’m still not having a baby.
New shift pattern.
A face between my legs but I’m not crowning, nor is it my birthday.
Everything I asked for. All my longing. Was nigh on ignored after a few more hours of what felt like empty, achey, in & out breaths.
With my partner asleep on a bed fashioned from a crash mat found in a school hall in 1987, they decided they were going to induce me & with that, the likelihood of my med-free birth nigh on evaporated.
The pain was about to be amp’ed up to oxytocin highs.
Of course, a surprise to no one but myself, an anaesthetist was soon on hand – having me curled over my bump, to administer an epidural.
Birth plan put to bed – I’m firmly on the bed.
It’s getting late.
Another shift is drawing in.
I spent the day not really knowing what’s happening beyond talking to a midwife about Poland, Islam and the fact that I’m in competition with a woman in the adjacent room who’s also been in for the entirety of the bank holiday weekend.
I kept being told to too, but despite the absence of physical pain – I was raging.
I remember it distinctly, every part of my body felt like it was running on 300%.
Like I had been plugged into the wrong mains outlet, like every fear and anxiety I’d ever had was surging through my veins.
But still, no baby.
Spilling; in spite of myself, in the face of another new professional that was not a professional of my body – in anticipation of at least grasping that one last, pressured hope – to birth this child vaginally.
But; trying to hold a cup that’s overflowing, I could feel my grip was weakening.
I was introduced to the next midwife.
This kid wanted out but my body wasn’t permitting it.
No more evictions.
They prepped him for surgery.
I can feel my eyes glaze & my ability to actually breathe rhythmically gets forgotten as I recall the next part.
How an experience so drawn out, so marathon & dizzying in its ability to see day into night twice; can all of a sudden be sped up in what I can only describe as a measured frenzy.
Reflections of staff members, the Viking beard of the man who rewrote my motherhood ricocheted off of the shiny apparatus.
Facial features everywhere.
A kaleidoscope of dreams awakened & nightmares realised.
They told me I had one more chance.
My legs in stirrups.
Push now. Push to the wall.
I don’t know how many times I’ve said, ‘episiotomy ventouse delivery’ or ‘cephalic haematoma’ in the weeks & months following that moment.
A raven haired baby girl, with almond shaped eyes of pure black, like an infant seal.
I knew that is what she looked like because I caught a glance as she was taken upstairs to special care and I was taken to the postnatal ward with zero explanation.
I couldn’t walk from the epidural.
They advised me to take off my gown so that she could smell me & to get some sleep.
By the time we met; with her encased in an incubator with wires and tubes & me catheterised, expressing colostrum into syringes – she had already been put on medication for high lactic acid in her blood, the whole labour had been an ordeal for her too, half of the back of her head was completely blackened with a growing blood blister that they initially thought was her brain outside of her skull (hence the imperative nature of her removal from the delivery room) & she was about to have a blood transfusion as the blood that was meant to be going to her vital organs was pooling in the hematoma on her head.
I couldn’t do anything but sit with my nose pressed to the thick plastic.
The alternative was to sit amongst the sound of a ward of new parents being congratulated on their new arrival.
My curtain was always passed by unless I was being told I needed to try & relieve my bowels which had been shocked into retirement.
“I have a baby too!” I would have screamed if I had the energy.
I felt nothing but regret. Somewhere between being pregnant & being a mother. Yet again, I was a childless mother, but this time – she was breathing in my midst, yearning to be close to me. Obscure, confused & without her trusted environ – my heart was breaking in ways I thought it couldn’t; loaded with the baby-less burden of times past.
After a few days & steadying improvements with her bloods, she moved down the corridor. The process was the closer the baby got to the door, the closer they were to going home.
A week in, and she was on the ward with me where her observations could continue.
She was utterly divine & the staff were so helpful in helping me try to get out of the clinical, scared phase that had left a huge mark on the start of my daughter’s life ‘outside’ but I don’t know whether it was because she was evidently still ‘not right’ or that significant chunk of early, craved for time was marred but I just felt like we were playing catch up constantly. I was just really confused by the whole ordeal. Utterly baffled that I hadn’t got this perfect, unscathed baby. I couldn’t have even been 100% sure that the baby I had with me was the one that I’d given birth to what with the immediate placement elsewhere. I felt like I’d paid my dues. I wanted the joke to end and for us to just be the family I’d constructed in my head. This wasn’t the one I ordered.
For a while I tried to find someone or something to pin the blame on. Especially once it transpired she had a congenital torticollis & neck flexion too. No doubt from pushing against a cervix that wasn’t dilating. Most days, of course I blamed myself. Some days it was the constraints in which midwives are made to work, that seems that they were approaching this all encompassing, affirming situation like that of a conveyor belt. Whoever decided that epidurals were a good idea? They should come with a trigger warning.
I honestly think I would have been less traumatised if I’d been able to actually feel my own genitals. In many ways, my body had been exempt from its own consent for as long as I could remember. A weapon & a tool – this was just another example of my pleas not being met. Assertive in every other area beyond my vagina. I clocked it up to experience.
Chasing after the perfect pregnancy & birth was quite possibly one of the most damaging decisions I ever made.
There is no optimum.
Giving birth is insane with so many variables. I honestly think the idea that there’s one ‘good’ or ‘right’ type of birth is a recipe for disaster. If one of the ingredients is just slightly off it can leave you deflated, or burnt to a crisp and most definitely gives you a soggy bottom.
The fallout of having a truly traumatic birth is such a bizarre sense of separation from your own body & baby, it’s like you’re prepared from day dot in your life for something that actually, often doesn’t happen like that. And until you say, “oh that isn’t how it happened for me” you genuinely think that you’ve done something wrong or that you’re inherently broken. I’m not broken, I’m fit for purpose, I did it didn’t I? We’re just all different. If I’d gone into it with less pressure on myself and perhaps opened up more of an open narrative with the caregivers, maybe I would have felt like giving birth was something I was an active participant in rather than something that was done TO me. My birth was so far from my plan, but for a long time I didn’t even think I’d get that far.
My daughter is a living, breathing personification of what happens when you chase an ideology grown from fear and a need to be perfect.
She landed like a loud lesson in rewiring my own sense of identity and imperfections. She is all my apologies and all my shame obliterated in one fell swoop. She is my happiness and the answer to every question that my soul could ever dare to ask.
I can’t say that everyday mends all the pain that took place on my travels to meet her but she is the destination I could only dream of. My postcard from a universe afar and I will always be her home.
Follow Phoebe on Instagram @twopheesinapod