DOVE IN THE WIND
Normally when you find out you’re pregnant, you’re elated. You practice your hand-on-bump maternal goddess poses in the mirror and guiltlessly gorge yourself because you’re now eating for two.
Yeah, not me.
I was in my last semester of university, in an existential post graduation life crisis. I had no clue what my future looked like but I knew at that moment a child was not what I wanted. I felt like those two lines on that stupid purple and white stick drew a line in my life. It sealed my fate. Due to previous health complications that had ruled out any chance of my partner having children, euphoric was an understatement to how he felt. This was not supposed to happen. Being the responsible young adult who enjoyed her young adult life, I had a copper IUD in place which has a 99.9% effective rate. I repeat, this was not supposed to happen. I spent weeks after hoping it would kind of disappear but later accepted that is not how science works so I dragged myself to an ultrasound.
After niceties were exchanged, the technician proceeded to place blue jelly on my stomach and from the first contact, I heard a loud fast paced drum like sound leaping from the speakers. In the dimly lit room, my boyfriend peered anxiously at the monitor where we both first noticed this child’s huge head (yeah it was zoomed up but the kid had a huge head).
“Pretty buzzy eh” the technician commented.
“Yeah” I scoured at him.
Who the hell even says buzzy anymore? I thought to myself.
This was a plot twist too early in our lives for me to appreciate. I left dazed.
You don’t have to be a doctor to know that a copper IUD floating around a growing human in a sac of fluid is a bad idea. One night, I was getting ready for bed when I felt a sucker punch to my uterus and a large gush of blood forced it’s way out. Knowing this child was not large enough to be doing Taekwondo in my uterus, we rushed to the emergency room. After what felt like forever, I was finally admitted into Middlemore hospital in the wee hours of the morning. The doctors thought that the bleeding and cramping were just my body’s emergency response to the IUD on the account of its proximity to the womb. Obviously, poking around up there with another set of metal tools would not have been the brightest idea either, so they told me all we could do was wait. For two weeks, I bled profusely while confined to a single patient room on the 5th floor. I’m not talking about trickles of ruby red, I am talking gushes of blood accompanied by period pain kicks to the uterus, forcing me to fold in half and stay in a foetal position for comfort. I was pregnant. One of the perks of pregnancy is that you get to dodge shark week for 9 months. But not me, no I got Jaws.
Being stuck in hospital for two weeks whilst you’re pregnant with no medical remedy is shit. Being stuck there when you don’t want to be pregnant is even more shit. However, when you’re restricted to a small space, you’re bound to bond with the life growing in you. Every morning we got to hear his heartbeat. Du-gun, du-gun, du-gun. And with that heartbeat, my feelings grew gradually from resentment to hey I could actually do this Mum thing and I’d do my best to love this kid.
So just like that with a $3 journal from Kmart, we got to planning.
We chose his name. We created a list of things to buy - bassinet, clothes, that giant sheet you wrap around yourself so you can carry the baby Yoda-style. We started to share the news with family and close friends that I was in fact pregnant and not in hospital for “iron deficiency”. We even created a 10 week spending plan to redeem ourselves from bad spending choices (we’re still working on that). We talked to the kid more. It became a pre-work ritual for my boyfriend to kiss my stomach. I decided to go all in and boy did we go all in. We were going to love the shit out of that child and give him everything we had and more. All I had to do was stop bleeding.
In the first week of our series of hospital admissions, the IUD actually came out. Hallelujah. I just had to stop bleeding. Although the threat of perforation by a small pointy copper IUD was out of the window, bleeding is not exactly harmless. From the doctors, I learnt bleeding risks further separation between the sac and the uterus wall and can also irritate the waters surrounding the child resulting in premature birth or miscarriage. The initial dread of having this baby turned into the dread of losing him. The days went on and the bleeding did not subside.
At the start of the second week, the worst happened - my waters broke. In movies they usually depict how fast it happens, the liquid trickles down her leg then the actress immediately makes guttural groaning sounds marking the sound of labour. What they don't depict in the movies, is the smell. Lying in bed, I felt a strange release. Did I just pee myself? I embarrassingly thought. Curiously checking in the bathroom, the first thing my senses noticed was how sweet this strange liquid smelt. The only time I had ever heard of sweet liquids is in the case of diabetes. I wished it was diabetes. I tried to convince myself not to freak out but my heart sank because it knew otherwise.
Shortly after I was taken for a scan, instead of the clear outline of the baby usually provided by the black backdrop that the waters create, I saw an almost indistinguishable grainy white and black picture of a baby hunched in a foetal position. The gynaecologist solemnly confirmed that my waters had prematurely broken. She told me he would be unable to grow normally due to the reliance on the waters to stretch his limbs or practice breathing by swallowing the fluids. She gave me the damning statistic of a one percent chance of survival. More importantly, she gave me the shittiest ultimatum an expectant mother could receive. Because I was only 17 weeks in she gave me two choices - have an induced pregnancy resulting in a miscarriage, which could technically be ruled as an abortion OR go home and wait for labour to come naturally as an infection could develop which would result in an induction anyway. My mother sat beside me weeping as I choked back my tears unsuccessfully. I refused to believe that this was real. I refused to think that after I had decided that yeah I was gonna be here for this and go the whole way, it was going to be ripped away from me. So I did what any good millennial would do - I googled the shit out of what had happened to us.
After a few hours of intense googling and more conversations with gynaecologists, I found my enemy - Preterm Pre-labour Rupture of the Membranes (PPROM). PPROM affects 2-4% pregnancies in NZ. In NZ before 24 weeks, doctors will not administer steroids which help boost the growth of your child because viability is practically zero in their eyes. No surgery, no medication - nothing despite all this 21st century science shit could cause the sac to reform around the baby. So for five days, we sat conflicted with this ultimatum. We felt cheated because in their eyes, our child was inviable. I felt cheated because I had arrived at the point of acceptance already. For five days we sat conflicted. Our inner circle poured in, prayers in tow. Like Rory Gilmore, I made a pro-con list which did not help at all.
After two weeks of being bed ridden, staring out at Middlemore train station, I just wanted to go home. I had found miracle stories of children who survived against all odds. I joined a FB support group for women in NZ and Australia who understood the unique situation we were in. Heck, I even used the uni databases to look up studies done all over the world just to see what the projections were like (I know, dork). I was naively hopeful. If I fell pregnant against all odds, I was confident that this child would be able to survive against all odds. All we needed was a bit of divine intervention. So with hope and so much as a good luck from the doctors, we went home. One of the key components behind your waters is that it protects both mother and child against infection in the womb. The third day after being at home, that morning I felt a smooth hose like thing dangling between my legs. Not a good sign at all. My mum rushed me back to the hospital. There in the resus room doctors told me the umbilical cord around the baby had started to prolapse, cutting off oxygen to him, that an infection had been contracted and if I wasn't induced the chance of my survival was now in danger.
I was instantly crushed. Crushed because I now had to choose my life over the life of my child. This was it, this was the end. The gods did not see it fit for their intervention, it was over. I was whisked back to my confined room on the fifth floor and after six hours of labour like induced pain, it was over. I don't have a complete memory of that day, they are more like fragments. I remember my big brother dropping whatever he had going on, coming straight to the hospital. I remember my 4 year old niece taking selfies on my phone, completely oblivious to what was going on around her. I remember my boyfriend looking sheepishly at me with a broken heart because it was out of our hands. I remember being jacked up with every pain medication known to man and it still not working. When it came down to the push, I remember the nurse rubbing my lower back singing comfort into my ears. The worst memory from that day was the silence. Usually, after labour you anticipate the piercing cry of a newborn, not us, no he came out with a quiet plop, followed by nothing but sick, harrowing, soul-sucking silence. That silence broke me.
If you’ve seen Nakashima’s Confessions, you’ll know the line, “Happiness is as fragile and fleeting as a soap bubble”, ready to burst at any given second, all it takes is a single plop. That’s how it felt, my entire being in a split second was obliterated. I couldn’t bear to look at him. Looking at him would have validated it all, looking at him would have made it real. I just wanted to go sleep. After the crying ceased and the room restored to its sterile state, they brought him to us. He was perfect. Long and slender, everything accounted for, he was simply too small to continue. In that very moment my anguish was replaced with amazement.
How dare I feel sorry for myself, when here before me lies a perfect human, free from fault and free from this shitty world. After what felt like hours spent staring in awe at the little human we’d had made with very inappropriate grins plastered across our faces, my partner and I tried to sleep. My partner snoring on the cramped lazy boy protectively at my side and I clutched my phone listening to Christian worship music I had neglected for years. The light of course kept on. I manage two hours of solid sleep that night and woke up oddly energised and even more eerily at peace. Shift swap was about to happen and the attending night nurse made me a cup of tea and wished me well before she went home. Boy, did I need that to the face the storm of emotions that would follow us in the days to come.