The fun fact about life is that it is so completely unpredictable. You never know what might happen from one moment to the next. It's edgy. Exciting. But it's also cruel at times. Sometimes it is even a quality that can make one feel quite fearful, given the time to sit and ponder it for long enough.
Unpredictable is a word I would use to describe what happened with us just after George arrived. Then again, given my track record for topsy turvy events happening in life, I'm surprised I don't actually find it more predictable instead.
As I wrote in Part 1, I came into hospital to be induced as baby was 11 days overdue. I've had to write things in Parts as to combine everything in one post would have been way too ambitious! But anyway, after 3 days of waiting, baby George arrived at 1.34am on March 24th and, as he took to the breast and fed happily and PB snoozed next to me in a chair, I dared to believe that we were home and dry. I even mentally hi five'd myself and started to plan what I would do first once we got home. Then, things took a bit of a turn....
PB has a complex congenital heart condition. So much so, that medical staff either react with excitement at meeting such a rare case, or completely shit themselves at the fact that they are facing such an unpredictable (there's our word again!) challenge to nature. And as a result of this history, our baby George was taken to be checked over as a precautionary measure.
I was so confident that all would be well with the checks, that I sent a sleepy PB to take him for them whilst I grabbed a bit of rest in bed as by then I had been awake for 36 hours and laboured for 32 of them so sleep was so close I could taste it!
But then PB appeared and said our well known phrase of 'We've got a problem....' and it was revealed that George's oxygen saturations in his blood weren't stabilising and that he was being checked out for possible heart defects such as a murmur and holes in the heart.
Out of bed and round to special care baby we went. The whole time I noticed how pale and tired PB looked. He was shaking and coughing as well as emotional, blaming himself for all of George's potential problems. Anxiety was all over his face, and this is a man who usually deals with stress as a duck deals with water. Calm on every surface, even if he is paddling like mad underneath.
I laid him down to rest in the family room and made my way to see George. I was briefed on all that had happened, that was happening and that was being planned to happen. In my head I was wondering how I was suddenly on a special care baby unit again (BB1, Teddy, was in special care for 8 days after being born 5 weeks early... his birth story is here) and it was also telling me to keep calm and just go with things.
Assured George was comfortable and on the nurses orders, I went back to the family room to have some food and drink to help me stay awake, only to find PB in an even worse state than when I had left him half hour before. Pale, clammy to the touch, shivering and barely awake, I let him sleep on me whilst debating what to do. I figured sleep may be all that was needed so it made sense to not talk and let him snooze.
After some toast and a drink, I went back to George and was speaking with the nurses about renewed questions in my mind, when PB suddenly came into the room babbling questions about George and looking really unsteady on his feet. The nurses urged him to sit down and looked concerned as he fell down into a chair. I decided then and there that he should be taken to A&E for assessment. Of course, the man himself tried to assure us he was fine, but enough was enough and it was time to face facts. So off he went on a wheel chair to A&E, wheeled off by two special care baby nurses who looked quite worried, whilst I was held back by maternal instinct for George, surrounded by even more worried staff.
As if by magic, my mind told me to get a grip and go with PB just as the nurses told me to go with him and not feel guilty for leaving George. After all, who else better to watch your baby for you than special care nurses?! They are like superwoman and Mary Poppins all rolled into one! So off I shuffled, down to A&E, pushing my tiredness, aching body, bleeding and after pains to the back of my mind along with my worries that two of my three boys in my life were suddenly quite poorly.
As I arrived on the ward, there were a crowd of staff taking notes and standing rubbing their chins thoughtfully and exchanging serious looks so I knew exactly where PB was. I could hear him coughing with his congested chest and as he came into view, I realised he was having rigours out of system shock and anxiety. The baby unit nurses were briefing the A&E staff and as I got to them, I was met with 'Here she is, here's Mum, here's his wife' (I'm not yet but it was nice to hear.. we are working on it.... children can't be divorced and we wanted to have them sooner rather than later. One day it will happen!) and before long I was filling in forms, giving information and briefing everyone on who his consultants are, his heart condition and health history and then the current symptoms that had actually been building up slowly for a few weeks. A chair was brought to me, along with apple juice and biscuits and everyone kept checking and double checking 'You just had a baby? You had a baby this morning? As in... this morning... just hours ago... right??'. By this time it was 7.30am. It all seemed pretty unbelievable to me too, to be honest.
Before long, PB was much more stable. IV fluids, paracetamol and antibiotics were hooked up, bloods taken and oxygen mask applied. I held his hand, reassured him and cheered him on through the needles and procedures. I wrapped him in blankets when he was cold and gave him water to drink. All the while trying to make sense of the fact that hours ago it was me in the bed and him at the bedside playing cheerleader. Surreal doesn't come close.
We knew something was bad. He was getting pains down one side in his arm and shoulder, his colour had drained and the fact that the doctor tending to him had stayed despite actually being in his coat ready to leave his shift when we had arrived, all pointed to warning signs and alarm bells ringing. Still, what can you do in a situation like that? Panic? Run? No way. It was a case of staying strong, keeping calm and crossing each bridge as we came to it.
By the time they had stabilised PB with an oxygen mask, fluid drip and painkillers it was almost 10.30am. I was starting to get faint from tiredness and was aware that I was probably losing more blood from the birth than I should have been. I'd tried to sit down at PB's bedside but he's so tall and the beds are so high, I had to stand. But it was getting quite difficult.
After holding his hand through a nasty blood gas aspiration; we both agreed that it was time for him to rest whilst he waited to be transferred to a different ward from A&E and also for me to go back to the maternity ward and sleep. I kissed him goodbye, trying not to panic at leaving him.
I started to walk back through the corridors of the hospital and just as I reached the lift I felt my maternity pad become completely redundant. My pyjama bottoms became saturated but I was so tired I didn't even care. I stood in the lift with two other women who clocked my predicament and when I smiled at them and said not to worry, one of them asked if I was having a miscarriage. I explained that I was fine and had just had my baby which was why I was bleeding and they kindly walked me back to the maternity ward door.
I was in a daze. My head was racing and I was on complete autopilot. One minute I had been cradling my newborn and taking in all of his beauty with PB next to me asleep. The next I was alone, bleeding and crawling into a hospital bed on a ward surrounded by other new mums and their babies. And their partners. They had their husbands, fiances and boyfriends. I was alone and I missed both of them terribly. To the point where I was numb really. Too many feelings to cope with at once just made me feel nothing. Except exhausted. I passed out on the bed in my bloody pyjamas. And I stayed there for 3 hours.
When I woke up I immediately checked my phone. I scrolled through all the messages from friends and family, some who knew the situation and were looking for information and updates, others who were congratulating me on George's arrival. But there weren't any from PB. Was he sleeping? Was he alright? Where was he? Had they transferred him somewhere else? So many questions but I had to get myself cleaned up.
I limped to the toilet, my pelvis was screaming at me in protest after the exertions it had been through earlier that morning... and for 9 months prior. Bleeding after pregnancy is not abnormal. Your placenta leaves a wound inside that has to clot and heal, plus it is shedding the lining that it has held onto for so long. It's like a period on steroids. Exertion makes the bleeding worse, as I had found out earlier, and it also causes clots. Mine were almost on the unsafe side. Somewhere between a golf ball and a cue ball in size. After calling in and showing the midwife, she confirmed what I knew; that I had to rest more. But I had to get going and check on poor baby George who hadn't seen me for nearly 8 hours. And I had to find Paul, make sure he was ok.
But as I came out of the bathroom, another midwife I recognised from my labour, a real no nonsense type, went rushing past me with all my bags. I remember trying to keep up with her and addressing her bouncy blonde ponytail that was leaping about at each stride:
"Er... erm... excuse me... excuse me... um, those are my things? My bed is back there..."
I motioned behind me whilst still trying to keep up with her pace. Without even slowing down or looking at me she replied:
"Not any more it's not. I've had a word, you're in a room of your own. You've been through e-bloody-nough my lovely'.
I felt like breaking down with relief. No more being on the ward with other mums. Happy mums. Mums with their perfect, healthy babies. No more avoiding eye contact or wishing I were deaf so I couldn't hear all the happy coo's and oo's of relatives. No more seeing proud Dads pacing around in awe of their partner and child. No more.
But the room wasn't home. It was sanctuary of a sort, but there was a difficult factor to consider. And that was the empty cot in the corner of the room. That hurt a lot. I just stared at it for a while. Picturing how it should have worked out instead.
Then I realised I was being a complete goose and that my baby was perfectly happy just around the corner of the ward. I knew PB would be telling me not to be so silly, to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. So thats what I did. I got practical and formed an idea of what I would do for the rest of the day. I needed food, a shower, time to try to pump my boobs to help my milk flow, time for cuddles with George, to answer all the messages and get childcare for Teddy.
The day passed by in a blur. I found out that PB was on a ward directly below mine, in a room of his own. I was visited by a paediatric consultant who specialises in heart problems and he gave me a run down of what was happening with George. Thickening of the inner wall lining of the heart and hypotension of the lungs. A self correcting problem that usually occurs in only 2-3 babies a year. A year! I couldn't help but snort at my luck. Never a dull moment.
I went to see PB and George simultaneously through the day and my mother in law visited briefly to check on us and bring us a care package of clothes and food. PB was even worse than when I had left him. He was barely awake, hooked up to monitors, drips and oxygen. I remembered him telling me that where you are in relation to the nurse's station on a ward depicts how ill you are. The furthest away, the better. He was in a room of his own directly behind the nurse's station. My heart was in my throat the whole time.
Before I knew it we were waving goodbye to George's birthday and I sat holding him with all his wires attached as midnight came and went. And I hoped that tomorrow was going to be much better.
It was and it wasn't. I had family visit and finally got to see Teddy. I kept things as light hearted as I could and luckily he was happy and completely unaffected by everything that was going on. He was happy to see me, excited too. And we played and cuddled. But then he had to go and it was hard all over again. I kept my tears at bay. He disappeared around the corner to the lift with my Mum and sister and then I made my way back to my room. But as I looked out of my window I realised that it looked out upon the glass corridor that leads out of the hospital to the car park and there I could make out his little head of bouncy blonde curls as he made his way out. Then I broke.
That evening we found out PB's diagnosis. Strep A invasive infection. Sepsis. All who had been in contact with him and in our house for a prolonged period had to be notified. And he was put into quarantine. No visitation allowed. No baby cuddles. No keeping each other company. No together. Just him in his room, scared for his heart and missing his family. And me in a room, missing him and with an empty womb feeling like Dumbo's mum yet again every time I had to leave my babies.
It was so hard. Over the next few days I was allowed to go home. Our friends were amazing and we created a tag team system where I would be at home with Teddy all day then they would come home after work and watch him whilst I went to the hospital and dropped off things for PB and took expressed milk for George. I was like a Mummy Milk Deliveroo haha! And I soaked up the time I had with the little trooper that is our George. He barely raised an eyebrow at being in Special Care. The staff were amazing. I love them. All of them. They were there for me as a sort of surrogate partner if that makes sense? They listened to me. They comforted me. They hugged me when it all got too much and they made me laugh through the tears. As a cruel twist of fate, two days after George arrived was Mother's Day. It was almost unbearable. I hid in my room a lot of the day and only came out to see George a few times. There were cards and balloons and so many happy faces. I was happy for them but I only had a little bit of grace to give before envy took over. And thats when I received a card on behalf of George from the special care team. The night staff had stayed up to make it for me and on the front was a flower who's petals were made up of teeny footprints. George's footprints. It is a precious thing to own and just shows how far the staff went to help support me. It was hard not to love them.
All had a happy ending though. Both PB and George are superheroes and began to recover steadily as the week went on. As soon as PB was no longer deemed as contagious, he made his way up to special care and was finally allowed to see his son. Up until then he had spent barely more than half an hour with him and it had been torture for him to have to stay away. I let them have time together and took myself off for a tea break. It was the happiest feeling, seeing them bond together.
And we were then able to have Teddy come up and finally meet his little brother. The special care unit has little apartment type rooms where families can go for privacy and we were offered one so we could let the two of them meet in comfort. George was almost ready to come home and was due to be discharged the following day so he had no wires or monitors left anymore. Paul held him whilst I explained to Teddy that he was about to meet someone very important and that he was going to love him so very much. It was almost like he already knew too because he eagerly entered the room and was all over George with cuddles and kisses. The joy on his face was priceless. And George was so calm and contented too.
Before we knew it, we were all home together in our Bear Cave again. Albeit a bit worse for wear than when we had last all been together, but the main things were that the baby who had been on the inside was now on the outside and his Daddy was with me.
I took a long time to write these posts for George's Birth story. If you're reading this in the future George, my apologies for seeming like I was avoiding writing it all down because of you. It wasn't that. You are my Growly Gorgeous George. I'm so thankful for the day you came to be and that you are ours to keep forever, with your dark curls and chocolate button eyes.
It's simply that myself and your Daddy live with a fear. A fear that one day all of this happiness will end. A fear that one day your Daddy's heart just won't want to work anymore and the story will go back to just three bears. What happened after you were born was just life's way of giving us a reminder. A tip off that time is precious and hope, love and our little family is everything.