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Medical issues, Mother and baby stuff, NHS hospital life, Pregnancy and birth

The days before everything changed

It’s small things that make me wonder how we didn’t know what was coming.

Like every time I see the bottle of Samsara eau de parfum Mr bought me last Christmas.

I see how it’s hardly been used despite being a gift I loved; and my thoughts return to last Christmas Day when he gave it to me.

I was swollen with pregnancy; my mother-in-law seemed amazed by the size of my rock-hard bump for just 27 weeks or so. We thought I was just carrying a big bonny healthy baby. ‘He’s a little chubster,’ Mr laughed.

I remember I also wanted a handbag for Christmas last year – something grown up and subtle and mature to match the new identity coming my way, the mother. I didn’t get one, but now I know I wouldn’t have found any use for it or identified with it in the slightest in the end, just as I didn’t get any time or desire to wear perfume. Mr also gave me a beautiful sewing box – the wooden kind that folds out – but it stood empty on the living room floor until last week. Another gift from good friends who came to dinner last New Year’s Eve – several large candles – are still wrapped and sitting by our fireplace where I put them on January 1 this year, planning to start using them later that week.

I remember the train journey back from Christmas up north with my in-laws; we’d finally been given a relative’s CD of photos of our wedding two and a half years before and we lazily looked at them on Mr’s laptop. Little did we know that the ‘us’ in those photos, the same ‘us’ looking at them on the train, was about to change forever, and that we would within months look back on that ‘us’ of the past as an idyllic us of innocence…gone, forever.

I remember getting into a taxi at King’s Cross to take us home and calling my mother and having a normal conversation…oblivious! How could I have been so oblivious of what was about to happen? It’s impossible not to wonder, with hindsight. Just before life changes, how can we not see it coming?

Then it was that lovely time just before New Year and I was watching ‘One Born Every Minute’ on Channel 4, wondering lazily what birth was really like. Again, with no clue that a few weeks later, I’d be too upset to watch this programme for months (I still can’t today), because my experience was so frightening and far out compared to the normal births featured; it would make me feel too alienated.

New Year’s Eve came and went and I wondered blithely what 2011 would be like. We went shopping for an office chair and had lunch with my parents; I was in a bad mood for no reason. I’d look back and wonder how I could have been grumpy when life was so good – what ridiculous behaviour that came to seem.

On Bank Holiday Monday, we went to one of our favourite cafes and made a list of things we needed for the nursery and baby. When I found that list again, a few months later, I could hardly bear to look at it. It was so jokey and innocent. Like, I thought I might want a breast pump to occasionally express. Ha! If only I’d known I’d soon be using the industrial strength hospital one at least six times a day for months. ‘Nappies!!’ Mr had written playfully, unthinkingly. We had no idea we wouldn’t need to buy and use nappies at home for six more months, and that small ordinary things like this that normal parents take for granted would be huge absences in our initial parenting experience.

That winter afternoon, I fell asleep. I woke to hear the doorbell ring. Mr was on the phone to a friend in New York, whose wife was due to give birth in March, like me, and they were comparing how big we were. I went to answer the door, still half -asleep. As I got up, I noticed a bit of an odd stitch-like sensation in my stomach. A teenage boy was there selling overpriced dusters for several pounds and claiming to be homeless. I was completely taken in and bought from him, then Googled the charity he claimed to work for and found it was a fraud. I spent the evening worrying he was going to return and burgle us. As a pregnant woman, I felt quite vulnerable.

On the Tuesday morning, the 4th of January, I was supposed to go back to work. I had a deadline of a feature for the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine for the next day. But the odd feeling in my stomach was still there. I was sure it was just some sort of tummy bug or indigestion, but to put my mind at rest I called the midwives. They told me to come in and get assessed.

It was 10am and I called Mr away from his desk so we could go to the hospital. It’s only a half-hour journey away on public transport and we assumed we’d be home within two hours. I emailed my editor to explain I had to pop to the hospital to be checked but I’d be back to meet the deadline, I was sure.

I will never forget that bus journey to the hospital. Every time we’d been for scans before, we’d been terrified something was wrong (because I’d had a lot of bleeding in the first trimester and had previously miscarried) and we’d gone by tube. This time it was different. We were in the third trimester; I was 29 weeks by now. Everything was going to be OK. So we took the bus, as if to underline to ourselves that we were in a safe new place now.

That was the last innocent bus journey of our lives. The last time we were just ‘us’. The last few minutes. We simply had no idea that we were about to go to hell and back. We could never have dreamed of what lay ahead in our worst nightmares.

Because when we got to the triage area, even though they couldn’t find anything terribly wrong, they decided to keep me in overnight. It was my first ever night in a hospital and it was pretty unpleasant. I emailed my editor again, to say I’d be back the next day. I thought I was scared and lonely. (I didn’t know then what being scared and lonely was.)

And then the next day, the Wednesday, I was told I could go home as soon as they’d scanned me. As we walked down the corridor towards the ultrasound room, I was excited to see our baby again. I felt kind of lucky to get an extra scan at such a late stage. Mr and I held hands.

And then I was lying there being scanned and I saw the baby on the screen and I was all happy and saying ‘Oh wow! He’s moving! Look at those legs!’ And then I noticed the sonographer was very quiet. And then she said something, and then life changed.

‘There’s too much amniotic fluid.’

‘Oh,’ we said. I was sure it was probably not a big deal. But it did explain why I hadn’t felt much movement the last few hours.

Then she continued. ‘These are pleural effusions around the lungs, oh, and it looks like they’re under the scalp.’

‘What does that mean?’ we asked disbelievingly, completely in the dark. ‘Is that serious?’

‘I can’t tell you,’ she said – and her voice was indeed serious. Too serious. There was no smile. ‘You’ll have to see a doctor.’

‘But is it a – a – bad thing?’ I asked, shaken.

‘I’m afraid it’s not great news,’ she replied, poker-faced.

It was from that moment onwards that everything changed.

…To be continued…


About Olivia

The experiences of a 30-something London journalist on maternity leave. My beautiful son, who is six months old (corrected) as I start this blog, became critically ill in the womb with a terrifying condition called hydrops fetalis and underwent fetal surgery. He was born two months premature and spent his first five months in hospital, finally coming home in June 2011. Although he is now doing really well, he still has some health issues. Why ‘A Mother Knows’? Beacuse the one thing I have learned so far is that a mother knows her child best. Better than the health visitor, better than the midwives, better than the breastfeeding counsellors, better than the people selling useless baby products designed to make you feel bad, better than her own mother, better than any other mother.


9 thoughts on “The days before everything changed

  1. Amazing post. Until your 4th Jan day, which is obviously totally shattering, I completely related to how I felt about the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of childbirth. And I can’t watch that show either.

    Posted by Deborah Finding (@deborahfinding) | November 9, 2011, 1:14 am
  2. Just wow x

    Posted by heidiscrim | November 11, 2011, 9:00 am
  3. Just wanted you to know I have been thinking about this post all night (bad night up all night). I know what you mean about the before and after when bad things happen. It makes me realise how fragile life is and I try to live in the present because of it – savouring every good thing while it is happening. I try anyway….
    Looking forward to reading more of your writing. So good to find a blog where you have so much to say AND you write so very well. How very painful it all must have been and how very strong you sound x

    Posted by Deborah and Lisa (@northlondonmums) | November 13, 2011, 10:52 am
  4. Wow, thank you so much. Totally agree about living in the present. I certainly appreciate everyday happiness now like never before. Very happy you like my blog! I just had a look at the North London Mums website – it’s great and looks very helpful! I’d love a mention on your Facebook page anytime – I’ll keep you posted about North London-specific posts!

    Deborah F and Heidi, thank you so much too.

    Posted by amotherknows | November 13, 2011, 2:02 pm
  5. Great, thanks. Here are two great north London mummy blogs: http://www.goodynuffmum.blogspot.com/ and

    Posted by amotherknows | November 14, 2011, 12:24 pm
  6. This is such a moving post. Another avoider of ‘One Born Every Minute’ here too.

    Posted by Chloe | November 15, 2011, 3:50 pm
  7. Very moving post, will be going back to the beginning of your blog and reading……

    H x

    Posted by Helen Dalling | February 10, 2012, 4:07 pm
  8. Hi,

    My son was born 7 weeks prematurely and has had ongoing medical problems since (he’s now four). I too was completely oblivious to labour – even going so far as to leave for a weekend trip to Dorset while I was having contractions! I just didn’t believe that was what it was. I also really relate to what you say about having to know best about your child. My son has had some of the most amazing treatment on the NHS from MRIs and numerous hospital stays and one of the top endocrinologists in the world is on speed dial, but I am still flabbergasted by the times that people forget to give us important results unless we chase them, or prescribe the wrong drug dosage if we don’t check and double check. It’s certainly taught me to be in control of mine and my family’s health.

    Posted by rachellplatt | March 6, 2012, 7:47 pm

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