Today my 4-year-old daughter came home from nursery with her coat peg picture and I cried. Two days from the end of nursery and teachers are returning such items to parents as mementos of a precious change in their child’s life. These items in part signal the end of the baby stage and the beginning of a formal education.To me this picture symbolises much more.
Over the course of my pregnancy I was taken into the dreaded relative’s room on more than one occasion. A small, stuffy recess to sit on a tired couch which had no doubt borne witness to many a heartbreak. I was kindly offered tea (with plenty of sugar), and most importantly a hug, from many a compassionate nurse. I gratefully took all of them whilst doctors reluctantly, (and I am sure sadly), attempted to prepare us for the worst.
My baby was not growing, and the doctors couldn’t tell us why. Those whom as patients we always assume will have all the answers, sometimes do not. There were many discussions around ‘viability’, a term I had previously considered innocuous, but now one suddenly laden with a deeper and ultimately terrifying significance.
Then followed scan after scan. These regular ultrasounds, once a time of great excitement and wonder, were henceforth met with dread on account of what they may uncover.
When subsequently admitted I was classified by one excited consultant as ‘an enigma’. Next came the inevitable stream of interested students and juniors who crowded round my bedside enthusiastically to take endless notes on this ‘unusual presentation’. I welcomed their attention, hopeful that their collective brilliance may result in an answer that seemed to baffle most.
I was treated to a prognosis of hope and despair in almost equal measure – depending on the approach of the doctor. In the end it was down to me to make my own mind up and, with one hand on my belly, to ‘listen’ to what those lively movements were telling me. My daughter remained an enigma until her birth and defied the expectations of Oxford University professors at the John Radcliffe Hospital.
She was born, and she lived, the Special Care Baby Unit team at Swindon Hospital made sure of that. They nursed her with care, and with love when I could not find it within me, when I was too broken to feel anything. On more than one occasion I arrived on the unit to see her tiny body being gently rocked and cooed over, wires trailing. I had no concerns about the quality of her care, despite the pressures they were under.
When one of the nurses placed the baby in her nervous mother’s arms for the first time I was numb. I was frightened. I thought I may break her. I flinched at each beep of the monitor – convinced its every sound signalled something awful was going to happen. In the end miraculously, nothing did. My 3lb 4oz baby came home a month later with only minor issues. That experience will never leave me and, although there will be and are difficult days, I will never take her hard-earned life for granted.
So, to the NHS itself and all its staff at John Radcliffe and Great Western Hospitals who have supported my little one and I to get this far, I want to reiterate my appreciation, (and to say it’s okay sometimes not to have all the answers, and to admit that to a frightened patient; it’s okay to be human). Thanks to you we are a family of 4 instead of 3, thanks to you we are able to watch our beautiful daughter blossom into the stubborn, funny, wonderful person she will become, and because of you I hold this picture in my hand when it could be empty. Because of all of you – nurses, HCAs, doctors, surgeons, sonographers and students – she is here.