A year ago today, I was lying on mine and your father’s bed. Your brother lay next to me, flicking through his iPad, not possibly knowing what was on my mind. We had just finished our bedroom, and your crib lay waiting for you. I could still smell fresh paint. My body was aching from the chores I’d been doing. The nesting, the finishing touches. My belly was huge and swollen.
I didn’t even know you yet.
Your brother asked if we could go for a meal that night. It was uncharacteristically warm, and I happily agreed, and we checked with your dad, just in case. It was a plan. And so we met him from work, outside the Italian restaurant everyone loves.
We sat and ate outside in the sunshine. Your brother switched from mouthfuls of food, to playing with the ants he could see, walking in a line, on the cobbled floor. This was normal for us. We’d been a three for a long time. It was fluid and as easy as breathing.
We didn’t even know you yet.
That night, after your brother was tucked into bed, a belly full of pizza and face warm from the sun, I lay next to your dad and we watched One Born Every Minute, because that’s what I’ve always done when I’ve been pregnant. It’s recording on our telly at the moment, as I write this. I’m not pregnant. But it’s habit.
I said goodnight to your dad. I was very tired. I hadn’t been that hungry earlier. And I guessed that it must have just been the busy day I’d had. Carrying you. Preparing for you. Something told me to stop in the hallway and stand in front of the full-length mirror there. I barely use that mirror anymore, because your pram now lives in front of it. I stood and I took a photograph of us together, as one.
It was the last photograph I ever took as your pregnant mother.
I woke, not long after, the earliest hour of the morning. And I was uncomfortable. I reasoned that my belly was sore from the spicy pizza I had eaten. I didn’t think you were coming. It’s funny, it should have been my first thought. But I was so used to being overdue, after your brother, that it didn’t occur to me that this labour would start on its own.
I whispered to your dad that I didn’t feel too good and I was going to the bathroom. He didn’t rouse much. Just smiled and rolled over. I pottered back and forth from bathroom to bed for a while. And eventually gave in and ran a bath. I lit candles. And I lay there in the darkness. I whispered to you. And felt you in my tight and swollen stomach. And it was then that I realised I was going to meet you soon. The pain was coming in waves. My belly tight with the effort of moving you down. And I lay there and did my best to be patient and breathe through.
I held tightly to my phone and realised that, with every wave, there was a sense of rhythm and reason. I timed the length and the distance and realised that this was the point that everyone says to call the hospital. So I did. I was shaking in the warm water. Part excitement. Part shock that you were coming.
I hadn’t slept much and I was worried I would struggle to get you here. I worried it would be hard. But I knew I wanted to hold you. And as the phone call connected, the midwife checked my notes and told me to come in as quick as I can, because of how fast your brother arrived. She said, if at any time, you should make your way into the world, in the car, I should call for an ambulance. I said goodbye and I heaved my body from the bath, like a ship, wrecked at see. The water poured off me in waves, and I was unsteady on my feet as another wave of pain took me by surprise.
I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around myself. It didn’t meet in the middle, where you lived. I walked, tenderly, from the bathroom to our bedroom to wake your dad. My footprints wet and heavy on the floor beneath me. I dripped and I shivered.
“She’s coming, Mark,” I said. “I’m in labour.”
He didn’t wake at first. I had to repeat myself. And then he sprang into action. Like someone had pressed play and he suddenly worked again. He threw on his clothes, a nervous grin. I stood and moaned. It was hurting a lot now. I couldn’t move.
Your daddy woke your brother and explained to him that you were coming. He was so excited for you. He said it was like waking in the night to go on holiday. I could hear them talking as I sat on the toilet. The only comfortable place. And I began to cry.
My sweet boy came to me. And he said: “Don’t worry Mama. It’s going to be okay.” And I wept into his hair, with the pain and the sense of loss I was feeling. I didn’t know who you were yet. I didn’t know what it would feel like to love you. I wasn’t prepared for how incredible it was going to be.
I didn’t realise that this would be the last time I would hold my son properly for a while. I was glad, in hindsight, that it was a special goodbye.
I tried my best to dress myself. I tried my best to remember things. Important things like hospital notes and cameras. The notes left forever on the shoe-box in the hallway. It didn’t matter in the end.
We took your brother to your grandparents in the dark. I found it funny that such a big thing was happening and yet the world didn’t even know you were coming as they slept. The moon was full, and I told your dad that it was a sign.
By the time we arrived at the hospital it was 3:00am in the morning. It was so quiet. And I think it was only us, and another mother waiting for her labour to start as induction began. I wonder sometimes when her baby arrived. Would they share the same birthday as you?
I could barely make the walk down from the security doors to the labour ward. I think my midwife realised that it was real when she saw me. I cried in apology for my forgotten notes. She shushed me and led me to a bed.
I was only 3cm she said, as I heard the slap of a glove being removed. I didn’t feel deterred. I knew what was happening. I remembered this from last time. And I knew it wouldn’t be long.
The pool was being filled. I fantasised about the water as I waited. I longed for it. For that relief. I wanted it so much. In the end, your dad had to go and ask if I could get in. And she said yes, it was quiet, as I may as well have some relief. I stripped off, and I hid in the toilet in the dark. I felt urges, but wasn’t sure. I thought maybe it was nature doing it’s own thing. I think, looking back, I was already ready to birth you. I just didn’t know what to expect.
As the warm water flowed over my skin, with each step into the pool, I felt myself calm. I retreated. Breathing. Using techniques I had read and learnt.
Every contraction was just a wave over my body to get me closer to you. That’s what I told myself. I didn’t fight it. And I told your dad, I want to push. You need to get the midwife. Go. Go and get her. I reached down, and felt your head. The very tip of it. And I knew.
The room suddenly became very busy. And I was checked and told I clearly knew what I was doing and to push when I felt ready. So I did.
You were monitored and checked as your made your way down. And at one point, just like your brother before you, your heart rate dipped with the speed of it all, and so I heaved myself from the water again. I couldn’t walk. I was joyous. I laughed. I waddled. Your dad held onto me and we were high on the joy of knowing we would meet you soon.
A few pushes later. I was told this was it. One last push, and you would be here.
I would finally get to know you. I would have a daughter. I would hold you. And I would kiss you. And tell you I loved you for the first time.
Soon, you were born. And placed on my chest and my body sobbed with happiness. I shook with adrenalin. I shook with tears. And I shook with love.
I will never forget seeing your face. I will never forget the way your father’s lips felt as he kissed me hard. And looked at me. Blue eyes, wet with love.
I will never forget the short time we had, where everything seemed okay.
I will never forget the love and happiness I felt at meeting you.
I will hold onto those moments forever.
It didn’t take long for everything to change. It didn’t take long for the midwife to notice your cleft palate. For the machine to be brought. For our introduction to the special care team next door. For us to be told to press the alarm. For my tears to set in. For the guilt that followed. For the sad tone, amongst the congratulations. For me to try and be brave.
I was so frightened. You were taken from me eventually. Placed, alone, in an incubator. And I cried and howled silently. I bit my fist. The curtain pulled around me. The nightmare I lived inside hospital walls.
I loved you so much. As I love you now. We did everything we could to get you home. We fought medical teams. We proved our worth. We learnt how to care for you beyond the requirements of any parent. We were medically trained. We knew more than some doctors did about you. About your syndrome. About our syndrome.
The weeks that followed were long and slow and painful. I didn’t understand how to interact with the outside world. All I knew were hospital walls, car journeys and home. I cried every day. I ached for you.
I woke every night to pump milk. And I called at 3:00am just to ask after you. I couldn’t even hear your voice, your cry. I couldn’t see you. But I wanted you to know I cared from the village next door.
I wanted to feel like your mother.
This all happened a year ago.
So much has changed. You came home. You did. And it was beautiful. You defied odds. You proved people wrong. You got rid of tubes and aids like they were nothing at all. You did it baby girl. You did it.
We don’t know what we would do without our sunshine girl. We are a four. We need you. Our jigsaw puzzle. Our glue. Related to us all. We are bound through you.
You are on my lap as I type this. Your hair is tickling my nose. I can smell your gorgeous smell that only you have. Intoxicting. Home. You are trying to type with me. It’s impossible. But I need you close today. A year ago I sat with you in this same spot, except you sat inside. I need you to feel close today, I need to know that, tomorrow, no one is going to take you from me. I need to know that, now, our love is all you need.
A year ago we didn’t know you.
A year ago we didn’t know how lucky we’d be to know you.
A year ago, on the 21st April 2016, you arrived. You changed us for the better. You were 8lb 12oz.
We named you Daisy Nelle.
And we loved you more than life itself.
And we still do.
To our brave, tiny fighter. Our whirlwind of a girl.