I am lying in bed at 5am brushing away waves of tears because the adrenaline has finally worn off. What a day Friday 5th October 2012 turned out to be. So much happened that is almost impossible to recount. It felt like we had entered some kind of interactive episode of ER and they had a limitless budget for extras.
It is no secret that Jo has had a history of 3 early miscarriages in the past 2 years and medical science tested us thoroughly and pronounced this to a severe case of bad luck. Thats good news we proclaimed because Jo is pregnant again, ”Congratulations” came the reply, all was well with the world.
My previous experiences with Bolton hospitals’ maternity unit had been, lets say underwhelming, so I was not particularly looking forward to having more children there. This was to be a rare episode of serious misjudgement on my part.
Jo was scanned within a week and whilst undergoing the scan we were told to prepare for a shock. In a proper TV moment, the sonographer flicked the screen round and proclaimed “2 healthy heart beats!”,at this point we all broke into spontaneous laughter a klaxon went off, balloons and confetti descended from the ceiling and doctors and midwives did a near perpetual congo through the sonography room whilst cheesy 80’s celebration music played through the tanoy. Bonus ball!
After a month of shock we began to warm to the idea and apart from a bleeding scare in July, which was put down to a romantic episode in Venice, all seemed to be well. Jo was generally knackered but that was to be expected.
We had traded in our battered Alfa romeo for a 6 seater Honda FRV, ordered the bunk cots and put a down payment on the ludicrously expensive pram. More importantly, living in a 2 bedroom house, and with the prospect of our family growing to 4 children imminently, we began the scary process of looking for a new home. This thought was curtailed when our neighbours kindly decided to sell theirs and in a now typical ridiculous gesture, we made an offer and began proceedings to procure it with an eye to eventually knocking through to extend Browntowers®.
“Ian, come here quick”, of course I didn’t. I was warm and cozy in bed, listening to the radio on the Sonos and cuddling our 4 year old, Lilly. As usual Jo was scant on detail so I assumed it was just one of life’s little issues such as a lack of forward planning with regards to toilet roll. She kept on mithering so I ascended to the mezzanine wet-room to find that when Jo attempted a poo, what felt like a babies head was coming out of her vagina. In near textbook non-panic we rang my mum and dad, dressed the kids and got out of the house as quick as possible. Jo rang school on the way, as always they were wonderful. I am lucky enough to be editing under the magnificent Ruth Gray, texts were exchanged and I was assured in no uncertain terms that what was transcending was far more important than writing catty remarks about interior furnishings. (Insert sfx)
After fumbling for the outrageous £2 now required to park up for a medical emergency, we were in maternity triage shortly after 8. Jo was almost immediately put into a bed and seen to by the nurse. Within an hour the doctor had examined her and confirmed Jo’s gut feeling.”They’re coming but don’t worry you are 24 weeks+5, we can cope with that here.”
On Tuesday evening we had attended our multiple births parent craft at Bolton hospital. This had turned out to be a piece of outrageous timing as all the same people were on shift and all the information provided was ringing fresh in our ears. Delivery room D6, our new temporary home, was cavernously vast. Equipment was wheeled in and readied, heaters primed and a steady stream of people came and went dispensing information in waves. We talked statistics with the neo natal team. We discovered that our babies had legal status, that if things went wrong this was beyond being a miscarriage. We were fully informed as to what lay ahead and then in the blink of an eye it was just us, our midwife Lindsay, a trainee midwive and an anxious wait.
And so the day progressed. Special toughening up steroids and antibiotics were pumped into the babies via Jo and in an inverse of regular childbirth she was urged to hold back as long as possible as every second, minute, hour in the womb was precious and extended their survival chances by a fraction of a percent in their favour. I found a notepad in Jo’s bag and in between contractions we whittled down our shortlist of names in readiness
At around 3, Jo’s waters burst in an extravagant comedic explosion drenching the midwife. The student midwife grabbed a plastic bag ready to keep baby warm then struck the emergency button. What happened next was simply indescribable but lets just say if you found Danny Boyles’ kids bouncing on giant beds vision of the NHS impressive then you’d have had an orgasm at what we witnessed. Within seconds a positive league of nations of medical specialists descended into D6. At one point I counted 22 and then some more people came in. Everyone knew what they were doing, despite the fear and the emotion of Jo and myself, this over crowded room was a sea of tranquil professionalism. One long last push from Jo and Thomas was born at approx 3.05. As his cord was cut, I received a blood splatter which stained my jeans, I didn’t much mind. We caught a glimpse but he was speedily whipped over to the ‘keep baby alive’® machine and the specialists got to work. There was a sea of beeping, bleeping and boinging. “Is that good beeping?” we asked. “It’s just bleeping”, came the reply, “all medical equipment just beeps”. We assumed they knew their stuff so we got on with the feeling relieved and emotional bit as the midwife team steadily prepared for phase 2.
Now Mia, it turns out, could have stayed in to cook for a bit longer. She had moved from being in a put-you-up to a kingsize double bed and was stretching and somersaulting as though all her ships had come in but the nasty doctors murmured stuff about infection and risk so she was to find her new found spacious executive apartment womb to be a remarkably short lived experience. Jo was introduced to more drugs to kick off her second labour, blood and fluids were hastily mopped up and Thomas, the doctors having done their things, was wheeled off to NNICU.
This time round the room was still half packed. Mia’s waters had to be broken. We warned the doctor about the exploding membrane so she did this procedure at arms length through gritted teeth. In an outrageously unscripted moment, the waters burst sideways and drenched the legs of the same midwife who Thomas’s waters had soaked. I may have giggled just a little. She was a little stronger than Thomas but underwent the same procedure but with a slight pause for a bedside visit to Jo. Then she was gone, both our babies were gone and we were alone and in tears. When I say alone, there was still a team of people mopping and tidying up Jo but when you have spent the best part of the afternoon at the best party at Bolton hospital, we were now in the phase of scrabbling around for that dusty bottle of holiday spirit (ouzo?) you get out just before your last guests finally leave.
I got on with the important business of updating all the social networks, phone calls were made and texts were sent. We stopped short of telegraphing the queen STOP
People came, people went. With visiting covered, I nipped home for Jo’s stuff and a lightening quick shower with just enough time for a double bill of The Hollies on the Sonos© *
I called round at my mums to see Lilly who seemed disinterested as she was busy playing with Charlotte and Jack. The rest of my wonderful family cuddled and congratulated me. I whipped back to the hospital and whilst considering depositing another £2 in the parking meter I decided to stick the mornings ticket back on windscreen. I had after all lost a days pay through his palaver. This despite the entrance fee proving to be remarkable value for money.
Jo was now on a ward full of mothers with newborns. A little insensitive perhaps but the hospital was busting. Jo’s dad & Vinessa were keeping Jo sane. They soon left. News filtered through that Mia was doing well but Thomas was struggling a little bit and needed a transfusion. Bloods were taken from Jo and she was urged to express as they would need drips of milk to wet our babies lips. we wanted to see our poorly babies as soon as. Jo got showered and into her own pyjamas and then we waited. And waited, and waited…
By the time the doctors signed Jo off it had been 7 hours since we had seen Thomas and 6 since we had last seen Mia. If you have been lucky enough never to have visited a Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NNICU) then like us you wouldn’t really know what to expect. It was simultaneously the best and worst thing I have ever witnessed, Wonderful, precise medical machines keeping tiny fragile babies alive. Jo was in bits, she was able to touch both Thomas and Mia. Thomas was being vented so his little bony body was resonating to the beat of the machine. I just walked around in wonder looking at all the other babies in various states of development like an allotment owner perusing his yet to be award winning produce.
After more cuddling and crying, Jo was taken to the ward and as the adrenaline has long since been depleted, had a long weep. I stayed as long as possible and last orders having been called went home via MacDonalds to fall asleep on the sofa whist attempting to watch QI (Poor panel- BBC!)
So here we are. I am yet again struck by how fundamentally good and nice people are. The outpourings of support via phone, text, email, Facebook & Twitter has been simply overwhelming. I love you all but most of all I love my wife Jo. Possibly the most wonderful woman who has ever lived as I view the world through my eyes this morning.
I am thankful for the wonder of immigration that allow so many fantastic doctors to come over and help keep our babies alive whilst simultaneously feeling guilty for the people in the countries and hospitals they left behind.
I am staggered at the amount of precision machinery and sophisticated drugs that allow our premature babies to be viable. I like to think that altruistic inventors knock these things up in sheds but I suspect it has far more to do with capitalism than I care to consider.
And I thank Lord God Almighty (It is a phrase – I am a devout Atheist) that we don’t live in America. I can only begin to estimate that the costs of the care Jo,Thomas and Mia have received will run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds by the time we get them home, yet the bill that will presented to us will be just to pay our NI each and every month.
Yes in a capitalist medical system we might get a slightly more modern or effective drug. We might also get access to a slightly more cutting edge machine. That is all bollocks, I cannot fault the NHS. We are not consumers who need choice, we are parents who needed care and bloody hell did we get it!
We have a long journey ahead and things may take any number of turns. We have to return to a version of normal life knowing that our babies will be in hospital for at least the next 3 months undergoing pretty intensive medical supervision. Kids, school,work all march on regardless of what has just occurred in D6. All being well, we will be in hospital on Christmas day visiting Thomas and Mia as we won’t be bring our babies home until mid January 2013. As I lie here now that seems so far far away…
Many thanks to Bolton hospital and the maternity unit, all their staff and all who sail in her. You were and are magnificent.
* Hollies double bill
The Air That I Breath – played for Mia (1lb 8.5 oz / 690g)
He Ain’t heavy he’s my brother – played for Thomas (1lb 9.5oz/730g)
(Apologies in advance for any typos, spelling mistakes or punctuation deviations just in case Lynn Truss ever reads this.)