On Wednesday evening I awoke from the deepest sleep I'd ever been in. I'd had my first general anaesthetic. It was like I'd been slapped awake and my eyelids ripped open. I was in the midst of a swirling sea of blue, nurses in blue uniforms and blue hats with only their faces discernible against the background of the blue curtains pulled around me in the recovery cubicle. It was as if they were a flock of disembodied heads, floating like gulls around me, circling and zooming in and out, occasionally obscuring the one bright ceiling bulb, making the faces appear dark and sinister in the shadow against the cloud of light behind them. I felt like a baby in a pram, unable to move or communicate to the faces above me, but so wanting to be able to do so. I felt one year old, a hundred years old, no age, yet every age. I felt all the years of womankind upon me all at once.
And I cried. Uncontrollably. All-consuming sobs from deep inside, crying from my heart and my soul. I couldn't stop, my body was possessed by a mournful banshee and overrun by a ferral emotion, which had such a grip it was shaking the air from my lungs and wouldn't let me loose, lurching its pain and sorrow up through me, like the pounding of an earthquake which only I could feel and couldn't ignore.
For I had gone to sleep like I'd turned to stone and was jolted awake what seemed only moments later, but I knew it had been more like an hour and I knew that me being awake again meant that my baby had gone. Those first few shocking seconds I wished I'd never woken up again, but I had done and now I had to deal with reality. In this cold sea of dark blue and unfamiliar faces I marked the death of my baby, my whole body venting the pain. This was the most significant moment in my life so far. And I felt more alone than I have ever felt.
He? She? I'm not sure. I think I'll opt for a male (no sense of direction you see) - he got stuck in a fallopian tube and never found the womb, content to latch on where he could, merrily growing away, unaware of his fatal error. They call it an ectopic pregnancy and it can never survive. It had to be removed, along with the damaged tube. It couldn't be transplanted into the right place, despite all the wonders of modern medicine and all my fervent wishing. I don't believe in God, but I tried to make a connection when I was wheeled down to the operating room, tried to feel him and tried to tune into Mother Nature to ask her for a miracle too. I imagined waking up to the buzz of an amazing event, an ectopic baby which they'd managed to transplant, a blessed child who'd saved himself at the final hour...
The pity in the circling gull faces told me this had just been a fantasy. He had gone. My precious little peanut, who I'd carried around for weeks had become a health risk, a blockage which needed removing. He'd become a challenge to my very life, it was either him or me, and seeing as he would never be "viable" the choice was obvious, there was no contest: he had to go. I was his mother, but I couldn't protect him, I couldn't guide him or help him. All I could do was to sign his life away and hope that he couldn't feel anything. He was just a ball of cells, a thing, an "it", so people kept on saying.
I hadn't known for very long that I was pregnant, not for definite anyway. It only takes a second to feel connected though, motherhood is instinctive and instant. For about three years I've been through the monthly rollercoaster of wondering and waiting, hoping that I was when I felt a bit different to normal. Every moment of sickness and every tired day were possible signs, but I always tended to suppress all hopes as much as I could because it's so painful to be disappointed over and over. I do recall feeling more strange than usual. I got on the wrong train and cried on the conductor, I had moments of abject despair and others of pure elation, all unexplained yet ignored as signs because I didn't dare to hope. I got drunk far too quickly on several occasions, naturally went off smoking, all things which should have been signs, but only if you let yourself see them.
So I'd only known for a few days that I was pregnant, we'd had an appointment at the clinic on the Monday when I'd done a test which came up viciously pregnant. The line virtually jumped out of the little window. But no pregnancy was to be seen in the womb. This was my first scan, and he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was just too small to be detected and he was still in the right place. That was a possibility, at least in my head. I suspect that they were just trying to keep things calm by not saying that they clearly thought it was ectopic. I had to have a blood test that day and then come back on the Wednesday for another one and they compared the two to diagnose it. If it was still growing, but not at the expected rate, then it was still a growing pregnancy, but in the wrong place. That was what they were looking for now, that's what they were testing to confirm. It was what I was hoping wasn't going to be true, but it was.
On the Wednesday it was confirmed, I was taken for a scan to show that it was not in the womb, and then all of a sudden the place went mad. Chaos exploded around me as I had to stay perfectly still, being in the midst of a very compromising position in the scanning room. The top consultant turned up, who was male, so he needed a chaperone (even though my husband was there) and then he couldn't work the machine so someone else came to help him. I couldn't see my husband any more. He'd been shoved back somewhere near the door. The one person who I wanted to see, who I needed, desperately. He was there somewhere I know, I could taste his panic filling the air and I could hear him trying to make himself heard to talk to me. No-one else. Just me. But all I could see was people who I didn't know and my little peanut on screen. Some woman, I didn't care to know who she was, patted me on the shoulder and said she was sorry. Why was she allowed to reach me but my husband was so far away? How could a pat on the shoulder from a stranger be any kind of substitute? They forget you are human and that you have emotions and that you have just been given the worst news they could have given you and might need some support. You are seen as the carrier of the problem, the vessel, but otherwise you are not considered and the poor father might as well not be there at all. You are like an exhibit in a museum, delicate and to be preserved but the property of everybody else.
It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done to stay calm during all that, with a rush of excited people flowing around me whilst I stayed motionless, like I was a stone jutting out of a stream. The room seemed full with people who'd never seen an ectopic pregnancy before wanting to look, arguing over how many weeks old it was, whether there was a yolk sack, whether there was a heartbeat... A HEARTBEAT. How could they say it was a ball of cells one minute and then mention a heartbeat? At this point everything else fell away, the people merged into a swirling lump around me and all I could see was that black ball on the screen, inches from my womb. I strained to try to see a yolk sack and a heartbeat. I stared and tried to commit the picture to memory. I don't know now why I even thought I needed to try, it's burnt onto my memory like I'd looked at an eclipse of the sun. That moment the sun was completely blotted out by this tiny black ball of cells. That moment was drawn out, augmented by its own importance, and a whole lifetime of sorrow was lived in one deep sigh, before the world speeded up around me again as the drama of the emergency situation unfolded at a hundred miles an hour.
The people washed away as quickly as they'd flooded in, leaving to set about the next task and I was left to get dressed again, feeling totally numb, looking imploringly at my husband and him at me, neither of us knowing what to do or say. We were eventually fetched to the consultation room and sat down. I stared out of the window to try to see the sky. Something normal, something tangible and unchanging. It was raining and the sky was uniformly grey. No clouds, or maybe it was completely made up of clouds, I couldn't think any more to be able to answer my own question. Big decisions needed to be made, and I couldn't think, not even enough to try to explain that I couldn't think. Even trying to use my head that much was making me feel like lying on the floor and sleeping. I'd lie in the corridor and people could step over me. I didn't care.
I could take some drugs to break the pregnancy down. I asked how long that would take. They said I would have to come back a few times a week for a few weeks to be monitored to check that it was reducing and dissipating. I could see our misery stretching in front of us, how many times would we have to walk past the wall of smiling baby photos, sit in the waiting room with pregnant ladies and how could I keep on asking the question "How dead is my baby this time?" Maybe he'd be a fighter, maybe he'd refuse to go quietly and there would be weeks of being brave and feeling myself die a little bit more each time inside.
Luckily my husband had more wits about him than me and said he wanted it sorting out as soon as possible (he may have even wagged his finger). He's no taller than me, but suddenly next to the towering consultant (a tall and heavily built Italian) he looked like a giant. I've never felt so vulnerable and so protected at the same time. I wanted him to decide, and even though he didn't want to tell me what to do he said enough in the end for me to follow him and let him decide. I was to have the surgery. He had in mind that an ectopic can burst and cause massive internal bleeding and can be fatal. He wasn't thinking about the baby any more, he was just thinking about me. I needed him to do that for me because I just couldn't think straight. We were sent home to pack a bag and return to the hospital, whilst they arranged the admission. We tearfully rang our parents and our work to pass on the news and I packed my bag, including the new pygamas which we'd bought on the way home. It's a small thing to focus on but I refused to go back without something nice to wear in bed. They were dark blue too.
I didn't really know what the surgery entailed, I didn't really know what they were going to do, but I pretended I did. It needed to happen, so I didn't see what difference it made. I was now floating along on the tide, not even attempting to swim along, just letting everyone else keep me afloat. I'd have plenty of time afterwards to get acquainted with my scars. I was going to stay as upbeat as possible and just go along with whatever I was required to do. I dutifully thought of questions to ask each different nurse and doctor who came to see me, to stick that tube in, to give me this pill, this injection, tell me whatever they thought I needed to know. I tried to be as brave as I could, although apparently I was still in the "nervous" category and given extra medication, despite me being as upbeat as I could muster.
When I woke up after the surgery I couldn't stay upbeat any longer. I had lost all my strength and I couldn't pretend any more. I was devastated and heartbroken. The doctor was lovely, he eventually swirled into view amongst the circling gull faces when I woke up and explained to me that the surgery had been successful - not the wild fantasy dream version of successful when they'd managed to transplant the pregnancy into the right place, but the kind of successful that they'd been aiming for in that the pregnancy and tube were removed. He smiled at me as he carefully said the next sentence, that the other fallopian tube looked healthy and that the womb looked perfectly fine as well. I clasped his hand and thanked him with as strong a voice as I could muster, between shuddering sobs. I will never forget his face, the bringer of hope in such a desolate time. I will picture his kindly smile and the corona of the ceiling light round the top of his head like a halo as he leaned over to speak to me. My guardian angel. He was the only doctor to have treated me as a human being with emotions and deep fears which needed comforting, to have acted like he had all the time in the world to speak to me, and he had told me to think nice thoughts before I went to sleep so I would wake up in the middle of those thoughts. It was a nice gesture, although I wasn't able to do it!
I didn't stay in hospital for long, they keep you until you can stand without falling over and then send you on your way. That suited me fine. I'd not got very much sleep. I'd spent hours staring out of the window at angry dark blue clouds drifting quickly overhead. The wind was howling around the building, screaming my pain for me as I silently cried to myself.
The night was dark blue and in those hours which seemed like weeks in the middle of that first night I pictured myself floating in a midnight sea, cold, alone, but alive. Motionless and expectant, knowing eventually I was going to float back to shore and to the people who would look after me, to whom I wasn't a name on a clipboard and to the one who thought he'd nearly lost me and had nearly gone wild with despair. How ironic that only a week before, in the midst of a pregancy-fuelled depression I'd wondered if there would ever be someone who couldn't live without me. Well now I know he was there all along. I thank my blessed little peanut for this gift which he has given to me.
For any of you who've actually read this far, I thought I'd re-post this poem, which seems rather prophetic now. It was written at a time when I was upset that I'd not managed to fall pregnant and I'd just spent the day with my godchildren and was upset having to leave them and still feeling the weight of the baby in my arms.
THE EARTH MOTHER:
The earth mother awakes and
Snuffles in the dirt for her baby.
She can feel his weight in her arms,
She can smell his honey hair
Touched to her face as she whispered
Her soothing love into his crown.
She remembers staring into him,
Seeing his need mirroring her own
in his wide eyes, rarely blinking.
But he is gone. And she is desperate.
The forest echoes with her cries
Guttural sobs rising from empty womb
Refracting through trunks and branches
Converging into one mournful wail.
With swollen eyes raised to the canopy
She pleads to her god with rasping implore
To return her to her whole again, for
He is gone. And she would go too.
Storm Room - Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller
8 years ago