Posts Tagged ‘babies’

It Wasn’t Supposed To Be Like This

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

At the age of 19, and mid-way through my degree in Law, I gave birth to my first daughter. It’s fair to say that she wasn’t the most planned baby, but I never regretted it for an instant. The sheer joy and delight she brought immediately to my life made me certain that one day I would want another child. Possibly more than one. I am one of three and experience naturally leads to assumption. However, whilst I may not have been certain about the number of children, what I did know for absolutely sure was that I didn’t want another one any time soon. A delight she may have been, but my eldest daughter was also a terrific shock as a newborn. And as a one year old. And as a two year old. And – you get my drift. It wasn’t until she was four and a half that I felt remotely brave enough to consider a second child. And when I say second ‘child’, I mean that I wanted a second daughter. I desperately wanted another girl. I hadn’t been bothered the first time around, but then I had always known that she was a ‘she’. The scan hadn’t shown anything but I just had a gut instinct. I bought only pink clothes and we didn’t consider any boys names. Or, at least, I didn’t. There was no point. A late scan at 40 weeks showed that I was indeed expecting a girl. How could I have known? I couldn’t. But I did.

There was no such certainty with my second pregnancy. In any sense. From the second I had a positive test I was gripped by an irrational fear that I would miscarry. It consumed me. I spent my days taking pregnancy test after pregnancy test to compare the colour of the lines to check that they were getting darker. I monitored my pregnancy symptoms with the obsession of a lunatic. And much to my absolute distress, this pregnancy developed very differently from my first. There were days where I couldn’t do a thing but lie on the sofa, battling fatigue and nausea, but just as often there were days where I wouldn’t have known that I was pregnant. I was absolutely plagued with fear and doubt.

Each stage came as a relief. At fourteen weeks I developed a slight bump and we heard the heartbeat. At 17 weeks I felt the first flick of a tiny limb inside me. At twenty one weeks I had my anomaly scan which was clear and revealed that we were indeed expecting a little girl; to my great delight. This time round I’d had simply no idea.

By twenty eight weeks my bump was the size of most full term expectant mothers. “It’s all fluid though,” the midwife informed me, prodding my stomach carefully. “Baby seems a normal size.” That was just about the only thing that I could take reassurance from. Plenty of fluid meant a healthy pregnancy, right? At around thirty weeks I began to relax a little, but not so much that I didn’t cry on Christmas Day through sheer fear and misery. However, the wriggling movements of my unborn child were a constant reassurance. As was the fact that the day of the birth was drawing nearer. It was set for 1st March 2007. An elective c-section.

A week before my set date I went for lunch with my mother. And as I hauled my hugely pregnant self out of the car, I was yet again beset by misgivings. Somewhere deep within, a treacherous little voice spoke and whispered “Don’t be too confident yet. Things might not be as you expect.” I literally couldn’t wait to have my baby born – the relief of being able to look at her and know she was alive was a privilege I craved.

The birth was as birth often is. Scary, intrusive and painful. The spinal block made my blood pressure drop through the floor; my hearing went and I thought I was dying. It took eight minutes to deliver my little girl, from knife to skin. When they switched on the machine that drains the amniotic fluid, I saw the surgeon jump back. She looked very young, so young that before they operated I enquired suspiciously whether she had ever done this before – and was roundly laughed at. A tiny, red-faced, wrinkled baby was plucked from somewhere near my bikini line by an arm and a leg and swiftly transferred to a table. An enormous relief swept over me. She was here. She was alive. It took forever to stitch me up and rather appallingly the spinal block began to wear off and it was painful. Towards the end the surgeon came up to my head, pulled aside her mask and said “You had a lot of fluid. Over 3 litres. Your baby is fine, luckily, they aren’t always when there’s that much fluid.” Such was my exhaustion and relief I didn’t really understand what she was saying other than that my baby was fine. The tiny bundle was placed in my arms and we were trundled off to the recovery room.

It was about an hour later when I first registered that she looked odd. She looked odd and I didn’t feel, well, as I should. There was no europhia, as there had been after Molly’s birth, I felt flat. And sad. We were deluged by visitors and my baby just looked around. Quietly. I tried to breastfeed her but she was having none of it. Eventually we were taken upstairs to the antenatal ward. The next thing I remember was my baby being taken off to have her nasal tubes suctioned out. I was shocked; my elder daughter had never had such physical interference in five years of life. My new daughter was less than five hours old!

We slept that night, but she didn’t feed. When the nursing staff and I tried to insist on a feed she vomited moments later.

The following day, it was the same. I was sad and flat. I remember cuddling her and her sleeping on her father. Around twenty-four hours after she was born the doctors arrived to give her the newborn medical. It was then that things started to change, to skew, out of all recognisable, post-baby format. Feeling around in her tiny mouth, the doctor found a cleft palate. There was no fuss, no panic, just a calm explanation of what would happen now and who would come to see us. To my utter shame, I discovered that I had no clear idea of exactly what a cleft palate was. For safety’s sake, I was told, she would be taken down to the neonatal unit to be properly assessed by neonatologist Dr Brennan. They were very sorry, but Dr Brennan was far too busy to come up to the ward to see our baby there. They wheeled her away in her tiny cot.

Half an hour passed. Then another half an hour. I wasn’t overly concerned, I was just post-section, I could barely move. I remember reading a magazine and drinking tea. The sun shone and it was very peaceful. Then suddenly, the ward door opened and a tall man came striding in. Instantly, I knew. I knew who he was and I knew why he was there. I stared in horror as he approached us and thrust out his hand – “Hi, I’m Dr Brennan.” The man who was too busy to come upstairs to our ward to see our baby, had arrived. Upstairs. On our ward. To see us. That was the moment where I learned that the meaning of the phrase “to vomit in shock”. I literally felt like I was going to throw up through shock and my whole body went weak and my head dizzy. This man sat beside us and said that as our baby did not have just one problem, they had found three, he felt that these were due to some overarching condition, rather than occurring in isolation. If I’m honest, it was no surprise. I had ‘known’ from the very moment that I was pregnant, that there was something wrong with my baby. How could I have known? I couldn’t. But I did. All tests and scans were normal. But that mysterious instinct that links mind and child had told me that something wasn’t right. And it wasn’t. But it took a while for anyone to believe me. Shortly after we saw Dr Brennan, we were told by multiple medical staff that they were sure that these abnormalities (cleft palate, receded chin, hoarse cry) had simply occurred in isolation. But I knew. Eventually a consultant geneticist arrived on the neonatal ward to assess my daughter. He examined her and said that he didn’t think there was anything genetically wrong with her, but there was one condition that he was going to test to exclude. It was called 22q11 deletion, or DiGeorge Syndrome as it is usually better known. He told us not to worry, or Google, as he would give her a less than 5% chance of having it.

A week later we learned that she does have it. Our daughter does have the deletion. She is missing a tiny bit of her DNA sequence and it can never be put right. This was why I had worried, this was why I had cried, this was why I felt strange after the birth, this was why I had an abnormal amount of amniotic fluid; it often happens with genetically abnormal babies. It hadn’t been a positive sign in my pregnancy as I had assumed. It was a warning. Instantly, I envied the mothers of tiny, premature babies that had been on the ward – they were normal, just small. My daughter could never be made ‘normal’. She could never be whole. I spent days imagining her little face morphing into the correct version if the missing DNA was inserted. I felt angry, indignant and very hard done by. A friend of mine had six healthy children. Six! Why was it my child that had to be affected?

I feared for her future, I feared for my love for her, I feared that she would never know who I was, that she would never call me Mummy. I looked back and realised exactly how much I had taken for granted with my elder daughter. Things that the younger one would just never have. Even now, I carry a very deep grief buried inside me that there is something wrong with my child. It doesn’t affect me every day, nor can I access it easily. But it is there, a well of grief that is revealed by the most innocuous things and always without warning. But the mind is an amazing thing. Very, very quickly I stopped wishing that the missing DNA would simply turn up. Very quickly I learned that actually, I would not change her for the world. And very quickly I learned that there are a huge number of syndromes where the problems are enormous and life-limiting. In our case, 22q was neither of those. We were lucky. We truly were one of the lucky ones. And just like that I went from being bewildered and angry to feeling extremely grateful, and actually marvelling at the fact that any child is born completely healthy. Looking around me now, I literally cannot believe that there are so many genetically normal children born. Knowing what I know, it seems nothing less than a miracle to me. And I had no idea until Alice was born.

Today, she is a happy, healthy, bright, beautiful, talkative seven and a half year old and you wouldn’t know anything was wrong with her. Unless you know the things to look for. She has a slightly receded chin, she has a very small mouth, she has the classic 22q nose, she has long, tapered fingers and almost prehensile toes. But you wouldn’t see any of that unless you knew. I wouldn’t change her for the world. I adore her from the bottom of my heart. If someone happened along now and offered me the missing DNA, I would refuse in a heartbeat. Alice is perfect; unique and quirky and very, very strong-willed! I didn’t know if I would ever be able to love her because she was ‘wrong’. But it wasn’t her that turned out to be wrong. It was me.


PS. Only one thing made me cry when we brought her home. It was a Babygro that her father and I had selected many months before that had a circle on the front, one half green and the other blue. The slogan read “50% Mummy/50% Daddy”. But of course, Alice wasn’t. Still isn’t. However – I like to think that I know which one of us donated the majority share of DNA in my precious girl 😉

From nappy to nib

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

And lo… is February. How did that happen?! It seems like just yesterday we were leaping around and singing Auld Lang Syne – badly. I suppose it has been a busy month, the girls went back to school which involved an absurd amount of uniform being located, washed and ironed. I mean, why does a nine year old need three different sets of sports kit? The answer is indoors, outdoors and house colours in case you’re wondering. Plus a special white set that I have never seen her wear. In addition to this it was my birthday and a good two weeks were occupied by me being ill; luckily all better now. The birthdays just keep on coming though; it is my mother’s this weekend, which means a jaunt up to Windsor. Before we confirmed that we were coming I asked if she was planning to go out and do anything and she replied “Well I wanted to go out for Sunday lunch, I love that, but no-one else can make it so what’s the point? Me and Steve and the boys can sit and look at each other over the breakfast table, we don’t need to do it in a restaurant.” I felt guilty, but just to clarify, by ‘no-one else can make it’ she meant none of her children. My sister is working, which is a decent excuse, and my two older brothers are at Uni a long way away. They did offer to come back if she paid the train fare but that might feel rather like hiring your own children, no? And I, being the eldest, bowed to pressure and agreed to spend most of the weekend there. This will be after my 8:30am meeting on Saturday (why do I agree to these things? I could have made my apologies but I did that for the last one and it gets suspicious). Plus we then have a four-year-olds birthday party to go to for most of the rest of the day. Because the children are little this means that all parents have to stay as well, you can’t drop-off, which is usually OK because they generally have wine/Bucks Fizz at these things but I fear this won’t be the case on Saturday. Just to give you an idea of the calibre of this party the mother was telling me at the weekend how the Cinderella she had booked to lead the party had let them down because she’d been offered a six-month job singing on a West End stage. And they’ve hired a train to take the children around one of our local country parks. For the four-year-old party circuit this is pretty impressive. I fear my own daughter’s party will not compare well. Mostly because I can’t get through to the place I want to book it.

And when I have not been organising parties (or trying to) I have actually been writing. That’s right, I have imposed some discipline in my life and shut everything out of my mind except getting those tiny, vital words down onto the page. And to my surprise, it has been going superbly well. I’d reached a bit of an impasse with the manuscript – I simply could not progress it from where I had got to. I’d looked at it over and over again and just couldn’t do it. In this situation there are two options for me, either just plough on and write regardless and edit heavily afterwards, or erase ruthlessly back to an easier point and take it from there. I chose the latter because I learnt of the danger of writing yourself into a dead end when I was about fourteen. In this instance I didn’t have to erase too much and then the words flowed, much to my amazement. I know I’ve said this before, but the way that I write is by watching what is going on in my imagination and simply writing it down. Obviously I’m creating it at the same time but I’m not really aware of that bit. It does take a lot of concentration and, for me, peace and quiet, I’ve never been one of those people who can work with the radio on. Or cBeebies. And it isn’t foolproof either, sometimes my characters just aren’t doing the things I think they should be and then we fall out and I stop writing their story. But when it works, it’s magical. The people, the places that I’m writing about feel so real – even though I made them up. I’m aware this makes me sound slightly delusional, I don’t actually think they are real, but they exist, I can see them all so clearly in my mind’s eye. And if all goes well I can see the scenes created on the page in front of me with my real eye. As well as that, this time I have a more complete sense of the manuscript. I can clearly see the emotions that need to run through it and the ebb and flow of their fortunes in line with these emotions. I feel a bit sorry for my characters because they have to go through an awful lot before they get to where they want to in life, but they will be better people when they get there. So yes, writing is taking up a lot of my time, which is lovely.

Also this week I will be going to Cari Rosen’s book launch, which is tremendously exciting; we have exchanged a plethora of emails over the last few months, but never actually met. She is a very lovely, clever lady and her book, ‘The Secret Diary of a New Mum (aged 43 ¼)’ is published on Thursday 3rd February by Vermilion. Or it is is available online here: From knowing a bit of Cari and her – at times – self-deprecating sense of humour it promises to be an entertaining read, and possibly emotive too – from the subject matter there are issues it could raise. However, I shall reserve judgement and comments because I haven’t read it yet. I do find the question of older mothers particularly fascinating though because I am at the other end of the scale. I had my eldest daughter when I was nineteen, which technically made me a teenage mother for two months, yet I am so far from the stereotypical teen mother it’s laughable. It was a contentious thing to do certainly, especially because I was in my first year at University studying Law. But I was determined and, somehow, it worked. I completed my first year, had my daughter at the beginning of what would have been my second year, took a year out to be with her at home and then went back to Uni full-time, completing my degree and graduating one year later than planned. My then very young daughter went to the nursery on campus so I was never far from her and the whole thing worked very well, I was lucky. And whilst I have never regretted my decision for a second, having a baby at nineteen whilst in your first year at Uni is not something I would necessarily recommend to my own daughter, which is an interesting juxtaposition. Just to complete ‘The Short History of Sarah Haynes’: I never went into Law – I decided to write instead. But it is definitely a good thing to have that degree safety-net.

But if there are accusations to be levelled at older mothers for choosing to have children late in life (whether a preferred option or not), therefore surely there are accusations to be levelled at very young mothers too and surely I would be in line to be accused of these? I’m sticking a tentative toe into the water here, I’m aware that this is a hotly-debated subject. But really – can there be any such thing as a perfect time to have children? And if there were, it would surely be determined by factors which are true of women at different times in their lives, financial stability for example, so you could certainly never arrive at a perfect age. Unless you were doing it on grounds of physical ability alone and who would ever have a baby if they were not emotionally or practically ready just because now was the right time for their body? It’s an interesting subject and I suspect those people at extremes of the baby-carrying scale will always come in for some criticism, deserved or not. I think I am right in saying that Cari is on Women’s Hour tomorrow, Wednesday 2nd February, where perhaps some of these issues will be discussed.

Right, it’s all very well to eulogise about having these children and how it was definitely the best thing to do but I have now reached a moment in time where I must actually go and care for them; feed and dress and wash their clothes, etc. Oh and organise parties to celebrate the day of their contentious birth…….that sort of thing, the list goes on, as ANY mother will know, even if they are 43 ¼…….