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by Janine Dunlop
I’m lying in a hospital passageway, wondering whether I’ll be able to love my baby. I am unspeakably nervous and it must be evident, because everyone who appears next to my bed tries to placate me.
After what seems an eternity, I’m wheeled in by a jolly nurse who shouts that we should get this show on the road. The “show” is that I’m about to have a baby.
Flash to a week previously. I’m sitting at work after twisting my ankle, waiting for the painless contractions that started soon after the fall to go away. When I mention this casually to a colleague, the news spreads like wildfire: Janine is in labour. I’m whisked away to the clinic by our health and safety officer. I comply because I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but secretly I’m thinking that this is a waste of my doctor’s time.
When I’m strapped to the monitor, it’s established that I’m in labour. I’m 33 weeks pregnant. A drip containing a drug that will stop the contractions is administered. I’m given an injection to mature the baby’s lungs and within an hour, I’m admitted and wheeled in to the antenatal ward, where pregnant women languish in beds all around me.
Still in denial, I telephone my husband to ask him to arrange to fetch my car, as I’m planning on being home by the evening. I notice my roommate smiling. “No one leaves this ward,” she laughs.
A few days later and she’s being proved right. Despite the drugs, I keep going into labour. I begin to realise that I’ll probably spend the rest of my pregnancy here.
I spend a week railing against the unfairness of it all. I had planned to spend three weeks at home with my son, preparing him for the birth of his sibling. Instead, I wheel a drip in front of me every time I go to the bathroom and suffer the indignity of urine samples each morning and suppositories every four hours.
Exactly a week after my fall I experience painful contractions late in the afternoon. I am told that the best thing to do is have an emergency caesarean section. I am aware that I have little choice in the matter. To refuse seems like selfishness on my part. When I tell my husband that we’re about to have a baby, he springs into action, arranging for our son to be looked after. I can think of nothing so practical. I feel afraid and out of my depth. I spend the three hours leading up to the event crying, worried that I’m not prepared, that the baby won’t survive and that I won’t be able to love him or her.
Back in the operating theatre now, and there is activity all around me. The conversation among the staff is about how busy they were today and how keen they are to get home. It’s after 9pm and they are tired. I wonder briefly whether this means they will be less cautious with me.
I clasp my husband’s hand and squeeze harder and harder as the epidural takes effect. The doctors start without telling me, but I am aware of an enormous force pushing and pulling on my belly. My fear is making me sweat. No dimmed lights and calm atmosphere this time around, the lights above me burn my eyes and I recall a line from my son’s storybook: “All the better to see you with.” My husband prays next to me and tells me how well I’m doing. A few minutes later, my baby is born and she is crying.
Earlier, my doctor had blithely told me that the baby would be fine, although she would probably need assistance with breathing and feeding initially. I am appalled at his glibness – he is telling me she will need help to live. As the paediatrician looks her over and pronounces her ok, I weep with happiness. She weighs 2.1kg and seems older than her 34 weeks gestation. She astounds everyone the next day by being ready to come out of incubation and sucking vigorously on my breast.
We emerge from the maternity ward one week later. I don’t look back as we make our way gingerly to the car park. I’m amazed now that I thought I couldn’t love her. She is my daughter and she’s perfect. A lifetime of love has begun.