I squint my eyes open and look around the room, my alarm buzzing on my bedside table. Placing my hand on my tummy, a thousand thoughts rush into my mind. It wasn’t a nightmare – I’m not pregnant anymore, I gave birth…but I haven’t got my baby. I’m in pain but I need to pump. I hadn’t been dreaming, this my was cold hard reality.
As I get out of bed my husband Ian reaches out to me, refusing his offer of help I shuffle out of the room. I know he’s itching to get to the hospital to be with our new baby. I miserably accept the tea and toast he’s made me after yet another pumping session resulting in no milk. Maybe my plan of breastfeeding is down the drain too.
I think of our new son Oli, I wonder how he is…should I call and ask? The nurse insisted we call if we have any queries. No…I would be interfering.
I cry uncontrollably as Ian hugs me, reassuring me that everything will be okay. How could things be okay? This is the most unnatural thing in the world, I need my baby. The feeling is indescribable…I don’t want Oli here, every part of me needs him here. To hold him, cuddle him, protect him and to protect me too.
I lay in bed staring at pictures of my new baby. I sob as Ian leaves, he promises to send a photo as soon as he gets to the intensive care unit. I put an update on Facebook announcing Oli’s birth, messages of congratulations flood in. For a moment I forget how complicated and traumatic the situation is and soak up the joy. Reality hits hard as my phone beeps with a picture of Oli. I start howling as soon as I see him.
From early in my pregnancy I felt something wasn’t quite right, motherly instinct perhaps? At 28 weeks my fears were confirmed, Oli was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. The doctors reassured me that this wouldn’t affect my pregnancy or birth. Turns out that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Yesterday I gave birth 6 weeks early, Oli’s bowel had ruptured as a complication of cystic fibrosis. I held him for just a few seconds before he was taken into surgery, an attempt to save his life.
My parents arrive to take me to the hospital. I reluctantly tell them the truth, I just want to stay in my bed and hide. I don’t feel like Oli is my baby, strangers know more about him than I do. This makes me feel so guilty, what a terrible mother not wanting to see her newborn. Mum encourages me to shower so we can leave. I spend so long under the water that she comes to check on me. Two nights ago I was standing here in early labour, I would give anything to be back there now. My baby safe inside me, oblivious to the fact my world was about to come crashing down.
I make my way up to the neonatal unit, as fast as my sutured peri will let me. What a different person I was years ago bursting through these doors as a nurse. Fit, healthy, happy, loving my job and life. Why did I get pregnant and put myself in this mess? I shuffle out of the lift, keep my head down and nervously walk towards my baby.
Ian jumps to his feet as he sees me approaching Oli’s cot. I burst into tears as I see my tiny baby. He looks a far cry from the newborn I had dreamt about, unconscious, ventilated, and covered in cords and tubes. I can’t even hold his hands because of things inserted and attached to each. Yet I can see him under there…all of his hair, his little limbs. To me he’s perfect.
The surgeon arrives to talk about Oli’s surgery. I feel sick as he discusses the extensive damage to my baby’s bowel. Thankfully Oli is now stable, but will require surgery again in a month. I feel deflated, I’m grateful that he is doing well, but struggling with the prospect of being separated for months on end. I’m a new mum but I feet so empty. A piece of me is missing.
Five weeks later Oli is discharged. I can’t wipe the smile off my face as I finally carry him out the hospital doors. I hurry to the car, feeling as if someone is going to catch me.
I had thought bringing Oli home would make things perfect, stop me feeling so miserable. But being separated for such a long time had a profound impact on our relationship. I loved him, of course. Yet, I was having issues feeding; every day he was loosing weight. In the midst of exhaustion and stress, I begin to wish he was back in hospital, it felt easier than this new life.
Late one night, we were awake for yet another feed. I start reflecting on my birth, Oli being taken from me, leaving the hospital every day without him. All I had wanted was this very moment, to be holding my baby. I look into Oli’s face, his tiny eyes look up at me. There is a long road ahead but we are finally together, reunited. I have my baby back, I am complete.