This story is a work of fiction. It was inspired by a news story about a child born in Australia to a mother who was told her child was dead, but who insisted on nursing him on her chest. After a time, the child was found to be alive and is now a happy, healthy toddler. I coupled this with my own experiences to write what follows…
I held my tiny daughter in my hands. Her face was pure and angelic, her body limp and lifeless.
I don’t know how long I sat there. I couldn’t speak; in fact I couldn’t utter a single sound. I didn’t cry out loud, although in my breast I was screaming and wailing for the life of the child I had just borne into the world.
Her skin was pale and thinner than paper. I could see every organ, every blood vessel, her tiny, still, heart. I wept at last, sobbing so loudly that it woke Sam from his sleep in the bedroom across the landing.
‘Glo?’ He looked at me sat there on the side of the bath. ‘Glo, what’s happened?’
I could only look at him and weep. Sam came and sat down, reaching his broad capable arm around me. He placed a tender finger under my chin and turned my face to his.
I could not relinquish my hold on our daughter, not even to show Sam. I pulled away and continued to pour out my grief in the only way I knew how. I may have cried for hours on that night, I don’t know. When the weeping died down, I fell into Sam’s waiting arms. He held me, without question. He was used to the vagaries of the emotions of his hormonally charged, pregnant wife; this being our third child. Only then, could I open my arms and show him the source of my sorrow.
‘But Glo? When? How?’
‘I got up to go to the loo, went for a wee and then suddenly I needed to push. I pushed, just once Sam, only once, I couldn’t hold back.’ I began to sob uncontrollably.
‘It’s ok, it’ll be ok. I’ll go call the doctor.’ He sounded panic-stricken.
‘He can’t help her Sam!’
‘I’m calling the doctor Glo; you need to see a doctor.’
He bolted out of the bathroom and down the stairs to the phone in the living room. Calling the surgery, he got a voicemail message telling him to ring the out-of-hours service. He dialled quickly but efficiently.
‘Yes, I’d like a doctor to come and see my wife please … Yes, this IS an emergency … she just gave birth to our baby, the baby isn’t breathing … YES of course I’m sure!… twenty-nine weeks … thank you.’
I heard his footsteps as he came back upstairs, slower and heavier now. He came and sat beside me again. This time he leaned on me as much as I leaned on him.
‘He’s on the way honey, won’t be long now.’
‘Do you think they will take her away? I don’t want them to take her away Sam.’
‘I don’t know Glo, best to wait and see what the Doc says eh.’
We sat there, on the cold, hard edge of the bath for what felt like an eternity until we heard a knock on the door. Sam went down and let the doctor in. It was Doctor Margaret Harris, my own GP. I’d never been so glad to see a familiar face as I was then.
She took one look at me, ‘Hello Gloria, I’m so sorry love.’
I smiled weakly at her. ‘I didn’t know she was coming Doctor, I had no idea. I didn’t have any contractions; I just got up to go to the loo.’ I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes again and fought to hold them back.
‘I can’t say anything that will make you feel better right now Gloria, but I would like to check you out if that’s ok? We need to see if you are alright, down below, and so on.’
She was gentle but firm, helping me to get up and holding on to me as we walked back across the landing to the bedroom. She beckoned to Sam to place a big towel on the bed for me to lie on. He looked so lost. I wanted to reach out and comfort him, but I didn’t have any comfort left in me. At that moment, all I had was sorrow.
I lay down on the bed, still holding my little naked bundle, afraid to let her go. Perhaps there was still some hope for her. Maybe the doctor could revive her. At times like that, we can have the most bizarre thoughts. Even though there is a part of you knowing the truth of the situation, it doesn’t stop you trying to make a pact with the devil for your baby’s life. It doesn’t stop you praying like you never prayed before in your life.
‘Can I take the baby now Gloria?’ the doctor asked.
‘Please don’t,’ I begged.
‘I need to take a look at her love. You can have her back when I’ve done that, I promise.’
I looked at Sam, who was now also welling up with tears. ‘Let Doctor Margaret have her Glo, its ok.’
She reached out and took my daughter. I was too weak to resist her although every part of me wanted to hold on to my child. As I let go, I felt the griping cramps of the afterbirth coming away inside me. I clutched my belly and gasped aloud. The doctor quickly passed the baby to Sam. It was more than he could take and he wept too.
‘Lift your knees up for me Gloria; let’s see what’s going on in there shall we.’
She was gentle again, and thorough, as she examined me and helped me to expel that last connection of the baby.
‘I think we need to get you to hospital Gloria, I’d like them to check you out.’
‘But Sam? The other kids?’
‘Don’t worry about us honey; I can sort the kids out in a while. They are still asleep for now, and it’s best if they stay that way I think.’ Suddenly he had gone all ‘alpha-male’ and the weeping stopped short. He was in charge again.
‘I’ll just go and call an ambulance Sam,’ the doctor murmured to him as she left the room.
Left alone with our daughter again, we looked at one another. The pain in his eyes was more than I could bear. I reached out for the baby. He handed her to me, tears not far from breaching the dam of his eyelids again. We laid there on our bed, the baby on my belly, waiting. Our hands were locked together, but neither of us could speak.
Doctor Margaret came back upstairs to us. ‘The ambulance will be here in five minutes Gloria. Not long to wait. I’ve rung ahead to the Delivery Suite and they are expecting you.’
‘The baby?’ I looked askance at her.
‘You can take her with you to the hospital in the ambulance, but they will need to take her then love.’
‘What will they do to her?’
‘We need to try to understand why she came so early Gloria.’ She turned to Sam, ‘Does she have a name?’
‘Her name is Skye, Skye Jane Massey.’
‘Skye suits her, a lovely name for your little angel,’ she said. ‘Sam, can you find something to wrap Skye in please?’
He shuffled through a couple of drawers before finding the shawl that I had finished knitting a few days before. I’d wrapped it in tissue paper, waiting to pack it in the bag to take into hospital with me.
‘Is this ok Glo?’ He looked at me for reassurance.
‘Yes, that’s the one I made for her.’
He opened the wrappers and gave the shawl to the doctor. I lifted our daughter and handed her over. Doctor Margaret held her so carefully and wrapped her up in the cotton shawl. When she passed her back to me, I burst into more tears. It was just that when I saw her, wrapped that way, she looked so peaceful, as though she was sleeping. She looked so beautiful; it broke my heart in two. As I held her close to me, I could feel the stirrings of my body starting to react to her proximity. My breasts were beginning to ache, my nipples hard and waiting to be put to work. I didn’t tell the others, I just held my baby and closed my eyes, wishing the world would melt away and leave us alone.
When the ambulance arrived, the ambulance-men were quiet and apologetic. I felt sorry for them. It must have been hard, not knowing what to say to me. I imagine that no amount of training can compensate for the overwhelming sadness that enshrouds all who come into contact with a situation like ours. They didn’t take Skye away from me on the short journey to the local hospital. They let me keep her on my chest, swaddled close to my heart. When we arrived, a midwife was waiting for us.
‘Hello there Gloria, let’s get the two of you inside.’ she hugged me and bent to look at the baby, pushing the folds of the shawl back to see her face. ‘She is beautiful,’ she said looking as though she too might have a tear or two in her eyes. ‘Will you let me carry her in?’
‘Can I please?’ I said, wanting to prolong the moments that I might have left with her.
‘Of course you can dear, there’s no hurry.’
The ward was silent as they wheeled us in.
‘Room 3 please chaps.’
‘Right-o Sister. Here you are then Gloria; you get some rest while you’re here.’
I thanked them. They had been so calm and composed on the journey and it had helped me to hold it together too.
‘Doctor will be down to see you soon dear,’ the midwife said as she wheeled a cot into the room. ‘Shall we put the little one in here for now?’ It was more of a statement than a question – she reached over and took her from me.
As she lifted Skye, something peculiar happened. The baby opened her mouth!
‘WAIT’ I screamed at her. Wait, she moved!’
‘It was probably the way I lifted her dear, the eyes can play awful tricks when you are tired and upset.’
‘No, I’m sure she opened her mouth!’
‘I don’t think so dear, look – she isn….’ Suddenly the woman turned ghostly white and ran out of the door, Skye still in her arms, shouting ‘Get an incubator NOW.’
At that point, I must have lost consciousness because I have no idea what happened. The next thing I was aware of was being moved. I came round, opened my eyes and saw the lights in the ceiling rushing past overhead like lamps on the motorway on a misty night. I was being pushed along on a trolley, down a corridor. Still shocked, I tried to speak, but no words came out. I raised my hand off the bed. The nurse walking beside me saw me move.
‘It’s ok Gloria, you’ve been sleeping. You will feel fine in a minute or two. Just lie still for now, we are almost there.’
I still could not verbalise without getting my tongue caught in my mouth. It was so dry; I felt as though I had been chewing on a bale of cotton wool. As my level of consciousness rose, I remembered the baby. I felt on my chest, she wasn’t there. I felt on my belly, again no sign. The nurse walking along with the trolley saw the panic starting to rise in my face and put a hand on mine.
‘The baby has been moved Gloria, try not to worry.’
Why do people say that – ‘try not to worry’? If there is one thing guaranteed to make me worry it’s someone telling me not to. I couldn’t fight the tidal wave of panic now flooding my entire being. I began to shake uncontrollably with fear. Eventually, with all the volume I could dredge from the depths of my body, I screamed, ‘Where the hell is my baby, what have you done with her?’
‘Calm down Gloria.’
There she was, telling me what to do again. One more comment like that and I might just have exploded, had we not at that moment passed through a set of doors into another ward. In the background I could hear the sound of crying babies. My mind was whirring with questions. Why had they brought me here? Where was Skye? Why had they taken her from me? Then, I remembered. Skye had moved. I was sure she had. The midwife had run from the room carrying her. Then nothing more. I had collapsed. I gathered myself together.
‘Where is my baby… please?’ I pleaded to one of the nurses close by.
She bent down beside me, ‘Just over there Gloria – look.’
I turned my head to the direction in which she had pointed. I was in a room with six or so incubators around it. The one on my left had wires and tubes coming out of it, monitors were flashing, wavy lines and numbers and noises were coming from them.
‘In there? But… how?’
‘You were right Gloria, she did move in your arms. When you handed Skye over to Sister Bell in the ward, she gasped for breath. It was a tiny, wheezy gasp, but an attempt to breathe none the less. Poor Sister Bell ran all the way up here with your daughter in her arms and screamed to the staff to get her into an incubator. That was three hours ago. Exhaustion must have taken over. You were sleeping so soundly, we decided to leave you for a while and to concentrate on getting Skye more comfortable. When you showed signs of waking, Sister called and we came to get you. That brings you up to the present.’
‘So my baby…?
‘Yes, your baby is alive. She’s very poorly, but she is alive.’
‘Well, it is a testament to your refusal to let her go Gloria. It seems that when a baby this small and premature is kept close to the mothers body, even when there are no outward signs of life, she can survive and spontaneously revive, even hours after being born.’ The serious tone of her voice showed her own disbelief and amazement at my daughter’s miracle.
‘Does Sam know? Has anyone rung him?’ A hundred other questions were running through my mind, but most of all I wanted my darling husband to know that his daughter was alive.
‘Yes Glo, they did.’
The voice came from the other side of the incubator. Sam stood up. He had the biggest grin on his face. He looked besotted, with Skye, with me, with life itself perhaps, but most of all, he looked happy.
The nurses helped me to get off the trolley and into a wheelchair. I was uncoordinated and clumsy, but I made it.
Sam wrapped his broad capable arm around me. He placed a tender finger under my chin and turned my face to his.
‘You did good Glo.’
He kissed me tenderly and held me tight while we sat, and watched our daughter sleeping.
© Ruth Raymer 2011 No part of this story may be copied by any means without the express permission of the author.