Two months ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl by caesarean section.
This is her story.
The loss of Angelica, her older sister, devastated me beyond measure.
I was finished.
I was a mother yet not a mother.
I had a baby yet could hold none.
My heart was full of the most bitter pain. Sometimes it was hard to breathe.
As I slowly managed to emerge from the fog of my loss, I felt a desperate need to have another baby; hopefully one I could take home.
We found out we were pregnant on Christmas eve. Mr C was standing in a South African shop when I called him. I was still in the toilet; hands shaking and tears welling, I made the call and he nust melted in tears of joy.
Thus began a journey that would test us and force us to face our worst fears, our guilt and our nerves.
Pregnancy after loss is a minefield of complex emotions and is no easy feat.
Every twinge is catastrophic, every silence spells doom.
And that's on top of all the fears about what may go wrong in labour or after baby comes and things like will I be able to bond or will it be too hard. Will she look too much like her sister or not enough, plus all the normal inadequacy fears of parenting that crop up out of nowhere.
We became pseudo-celebrities and regular fixtures at our antenatal ward and were recognised by a&e staff, who, by the way, were incredible, compassionate and professional.
We had specialised ultrasound scans every other week and I was admitted twice; the first time, I was in for four days and was given steroid injections which hurt like hell! (and I know what I am talking about - after you've had a 1cm diameter kidney stone and lower back surgery, you know what serious pain feels like. And yes a kidney stone can be worse than a contraction). The second time was right at the end, for 6 days.
Our vigilance paid of and our paranoia was appeased because despite my constant pain and fears of reduced movement, our little rainbow baby was born healthy.
This time around, my morning sickness was not nearly as severe as with my first and, thankfully, I did not get a super boost to my sense of smell. I did get anaemia, heartburn, constant belly and ligament pain, tiredness, the most terrible stretch marks ( they coveredmy entire belly), a serious sweet tooth, late stage swelling, but no awesome hair and nails (which I was rather looking forward to). I tracked all of these in a symptom diary, which I eventually stopped.using when all the entries started saying the same thing.
Some people have lovely happy pregnancies.
Mine was scary and stressful. Every day, if I couldn't feel her, I was convinced that my precious little baby was dead.
Despite my anaemia, scans always showed a healthy little girl, and anterior placenta and slightly elevated fluid levels. She was scanned as having an abdominal cicumference in the 95th percentile, which towards the end, made them give me a second glucose tolerance test. I tested positive for late onset gestational diabetes. I was regulating through diet for a week and going in to hospital for daily monitoring. What a way to spend you last week of pregnancy.
Eventually I was admitted - for the final three days as my pain was getting unreasonable.
I really wanted a natural birth and a fought hard to get it. But, in the end caution won the day.
You see, I am not an easy patient. At 39 weeks, my lovely little one was head down but not engaged; my cervix was unfavourable and I had developed polyhydraminos at the end of my pregnancy. This means that my fluid levels were abnormally high. The risk is that if waters break, the cord could sneak out first and place baby's life at risk, which would require an emergency c-section.
This is where it gets tricky. Usually they give you an epidural (for pain relief in normal or section delivery). In my case, they can't. I have titanium screws in my spine from a previous back surgery and my anatomy is distorted so they can't feel gaps where thwy need to insert the needle.
No worries... Worst case, they can give me a general anaesthetic. Wait, no they can't - the anaesthetic given in such circumstances contains an enzyme that my sister is allergic to. I could not get tested because results are distorted due to pregnancy hormones.
So basically, when it comes to a anaesthetics, I have special needs.
Scans and doctors predicted that I would have a gigantor baby of at least 4.5 kg. That, combined with the diabetes meant they would induce a week early.
With induction comes a certain degree of risk. In my case, a higher degree. Induction isn't always smooth sailing and doctors were concerned that if my waters broke in the middle of the night and the cord came out first, there would be trouble and an emergency section was risky. I needed a spinal and they can be tricky (night staff is junior) and my consultant said it would be safer to have a senior consultant do the spinal in a calm, relaxed, planned section.
So eventually, I relented. My heart was sore over it, but my body was not overly phased.
There are pros and cons to each labour experience and to the aftermath of each, but I made my peace with it and got a perfect, healthy daughter who, I might add, turned out to be normal sized at 3.5kg and has remained at the 50th percentile ever since. In fact, Mothercare newborn size was too big. We had to buy tiny baby. We did this when she was a week old cos none of her clothes fit.
Everyone always says buy a bigger size because it lasts longer. It doesn't. It just stays in the cupboard longer. Bigger clothes meant she was uncomfortable and she kept getting her little legs trapped in the body section of her sleep suits. Get clothes that fit and that your baby won't disappear in. Plus when they grow, you will be able to accurately remember how truly tiny they were.
After a couple of days, we got to go home and so began this amazing and sleepless adventure of love and madness.
We, Mr C and I, are basically alone here in the UK, and even if we weren't, there are not many people who would understand our journey. My lifeline was my secret Facebook group. All its members had lost and were either pregnant or had babies. We shared fears and syptoms, jokes and stories and while we had never met, we had this amazing bond of fear and hope. I do not believe I would have coped without them. They made me feel validated and normal. They picked ne up when I was low and I hope I was able to do the same for them.
Pregnancy after loss is unimaginably hard, but so worth it. I love my little rainbow. She has brough love and light back into my heart.
I miss Angelica every day and still light her candles, but her sister is helping my heart mend just a little.