It’s been a while, hasn’t it? The last number of months have been a difficult few for me and my little family as my second pregnancy took an unsettling turn, and niggling worry turned into something more sinister and concrete.
When the fella and I went for our 22 week scan we had a massive scrap. It was one of those tension-filled, silent arguments that blow up in places like maternity hospitals. As a result, when we went into our scan room, I was crying ugly hormonal tears, and the fella was trying to be supportive to me – even though he thought I was behaving like a total bint.
You see, I had a sense of forboding throughout my second pregnancy, that I couldn’t shake. At our twelve week scan I felt sure that they would tell us that there was no baby there, and when there was, I fell so hopelessly in love with my second child that I spent the next month or two hating myself for ever doubting his existence. When it came to the big scan I was fully prepared for something catastrophic. I hadn’t voiced the inside of my brain to anyone – it was too awful – but I bolstered myself for bad news, and in doing so, created a giant row with the Fella so he wouldn’t have any idea what was going on.
So, back to the scan. Everything looked great; brain, heart, lungs, WILLY – our baby was perfect. Then the scan lady went a bit quiet, and started looking around his tummy area for AGES. I was sweating at this point. Then she went out to get a doctor to come and have a look. I was crying now. Enter super slick consultant guy, who took my hand and said “hi there Ciara, let’s have a look at your baby, will we?” As far as I was concerned now it was game over. But, it wasn’t. There looked as though there was a problem with the baby’s bowel, but once he had a good look he was quite sure that all was fine.
I was a wreck afterwards. I spent the whole Luas journey home crying silently behind a magazine, sure that he had missed something and my poor baby was suffering inside. I tried to go on as normal; after all, we had the Little Fella to think of. He was a most gorgeous distraction over the next ten weeks, as I grew even more giant than I thought possible.
The old pains of my first pregnancy returned, and from around week 28 onwards, I seemed to be in perpetual braxton hicks. One Monday, after a weekend from hell where I rolled around, complaining about my fanny and the rest, I decided I would head into the Coombe to see if there was anything going on.
Nope. After an hour of investigation, the doctor on duty decided that I was carrying a giant baby and wrote on my chart that I “just wanted to get checked out”. I went home with my tail between my legs, feeling like I had wasted everyone’s time and basically the world’s crappest pregnant woman.
At this point, I was so sure that I was mental that I tried to keep myself to myself as much as I could. At 35 weeks, I had an appointment with my consultant, who is a total rock star. She took one look at me and was like “you’re very big, aren’t you?”. A quick ultrasound later and I was hotfooting it down to the scanning department for a more indepth look.
This time they found something. The same super slick doctor came in and took my hand and told me that our darling baby was sick. He explained that there were blockages in his bowel, and had a condition called Duodenal Atresia. Then he told me that there was a big chance that the baby would have Down Syndrome. Two minutes later, and I was out in the carpark of the Coombe dry heaving and trying to calm myself. I called The Fella and my Mum, totally hysterical. I went back and met my consultant who told me that our son would be taken straight to Crumlin at birth, where he would have an operation to repair his bowel. She set up a meeting with the neonatal team who would go into detail about what to expect and told me that I would probably go into labour early, and that they would try to ‘manage’ the birth as much as possible, so that the team in Crumlin would be ready for him when he arrived. Manage the birth. Such a clinical expression for such a mammoth event.
From that day on our world changed. The focus of our entire family was on getting the baby here in as safe an environment as possible. Our lives stopped, and entered an eery purgatory, where we waited for the unimaginable, going through scenarios in our head to try to prepare ourselves for every possibility.
Emotionally, I shut down. It was the only way I could cope with what was going on. I was so terrified of what to expect; spending every moment wondering if our child would survive what was ahead of him, and if there was anything I could have done to prevent this from happening.
Three weeks later I was brought in to have my waters broken. It had to be done in theatre because of the huge amount of water I was carrying – the baby couldn’t swallow, so the amniotic fluid kept building up, with nowhere to go. As I lay on an operating table, three midwives held me down as my consultant broke my waters. Litres and litres and litres of water burst out; and the pain was unexplainable. I went into labour immediately and was brought three floors downstairs to delivery suite with orders for an early epidural.
Things got very serious from then on. I was in delivery suite for less than twenty minutes when the baby’s heart rate started decelerating. A decision was made at 1pm to go for an emergency caeserean, so I was pushed with the speed of light upstairs and our son Michael was born at 1.16pm, looking as perfect as any baby could. There wasn’t even time to put up a screen. He was taken straight to the nicu while I was being stitched up. It was an out of body experience.
I felt completely separate from what was going on, I guess I had to remove myself in order to cope with the absolute horror of the situation. In the middle of all the craziness, a midwife saw me about to descend into uncontrollable panic. She grabbed my hand and whispered into my ear “Ciara, you need to pull it together now; this is about getting your baby here as safely and quickly as possible.” She was right. It wasn’t about me – it was about our son, and ensuring his safe passage into this world.
After recovery I was told that Michael would be going straight to Crumlin, and that I might not get to see him. Obviously there was no way in hell that was happening, so I demanded a wheelchair and myself, the fella and our two mums headed up to the neonatal intensive care unit.
He was so… tiny. Lying there, in an incubator with nothing but a nappy and a wooly hat that the nurses gave him, he looked so vulnerable, and so devastatingly helpless. I was allowed hold him, and we four, a band of utter grief and devastation, sobbed as we looked at this perfect man, this gorgeous baby, and tried to transmute the fear we were feeling into nothing but love.
I wasn’t allowed go with him to Crumlin. The Fella and his Mum followed the ambulance up the road and sat vigil with him as the nurses explained as best they could that they would have to drain his tummy and deliver fluids to prepare him for his operation. We didn’t want him to spend any moment on his own, so that night my mother in law sat with him while the fella went home to our little fella – it was important to keep things as normal as possible for him.
That night, I don’t think any of us slept. Each individual lay awake, wondering how Michael was, and what was going on. My mother in law had the worst task, as she acquainted herself with the endless alarms and tubes that were helping Michael stay on an even keel; I am so grateful to her for sitting with him that first night, it was balm to the soul to know that he was in safe hands.
The following morning, I went to Crumlin to see him, accompanied by a nurse. It was more terrifying than anything I could have ever imagined. Walking down the corridor of St Peters ward, seeing all the sick babies in their glass rooms, and their parents, doubled over with grief, as they watched over their little ones, willing them to get better. I knew then, that the road ahead would be more life changing than any of us could have predicted.