The pregnancy test box bore an image of crossed fingers. Were they hoping for one line or two? And what did I want...?
In just minutes I had my answer. It was positive; I was pregnant. I burst into tears.
Strange, considering I was 35, married, and a mother-of-two. Three kids had been the plan, so why the tears?
In 2004 my father was diagnosed with Myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow cancer. Symptoms were initially mild, but worsening. Much as I wanted a third, things felt wrong. If Dad deteriorated would I regret falling pregnant?
Regret never came into it, but this is the story of how I let go of one life while nurturing another inside me.
Dad and I were close. He was a good listener who helped me through many a rough patch. Yet he was also very headstrong and liked a good argument. Things changed when Benji was born. My fiery father morphed into a loveable grandpa, showering Benji with affection and gifts.
When my second came along, Dad was equally thrilled though by now his sickness was more apparent. Nevertheless, he still regularly went toy shopping with the boys, despite my disapproval. 'I won't see them grow up, so I'm spoiling them now,' he'd say. I'd dismiss his explanation as nonsense, but sadly he was right.
Dad received some devastating news soon after I found out I was pregnant. His consultant had given him months to live. The contrast was painfully stark. In months he could be dead; in months I would give birth.
All was well at my first scan, but my excitement was muted. Two weeks later Dad also had an ultrasound. Doctors suspected an internal bleed and admitted him immediately. While we awaited results, I sat alone with Dad, holding his hand. Choked, he said: 'Don't let the kids forget me. Tell them they had a grandpa who adored them.'
I fell apart and so did he. His emotional torment made his suffering even more heartbreaking. His life expectancy turned to weeks, and then days. We maintained a bedside vigil, hoping for the best fearing the worst.
Then gradually Dad emerged from the morphine haze. The situation remained serious, but not critical. Reviewing their prognosis, the doctors discharged him and discussed the possibility of a new drug trial.
Dad came home, clinging to that tiny ray of hope. As time passed, the trial was repeatedly deferred. I got fatter... Dad got thinner. I became breathless and anaemic... like him. I took iron tablets... he had blood transfusions. My condition was temporary... his progressive.
Dad barely acknowledged my pregnancy. I understood, but never stopped trying to involve him. Then as my due date approached, Dad started to ask about the baby, which made me so happy.
My beautiful boy arrived 12 days late. Coincidentally, after the birth we were transferred to the same bed on the postnatal ward where I had been with my first. But what a difference.
Late that evening Dad shuffled in, pale and exhausted. Struggling to catch his breath, he reluctantly posed for a picture, before handing Nathan back and leaving.
Weeks later Dad was hospitalised again. Still breastfeeding, Nathan accompanied me on every visit. While he slept in his pushchair, Dad lay there uncomfortably, hooked up to oxygen and a bag of blood. I looked from buggy to bed, bed to buggy. My past and future, side by side. I had no idea who to turn to first.
Once again, Dad defied everyone, left hospital and our lives returned to a warped normality. Then one day he fell, hurt his arm and ended up in casualty. The plan was to patch him up, give him more blood and discharge him.
However back on the ward he rapidly deteriorated, becoming as helpless as my baby. Though as Nathan grew more independent, Dad ebbed away. He stopped eating solids, drinking only water and milkshakes. The toilet was off limits and even turning in bed was impossible. Unable to speak, he communicated with his eyes – like Nathan.
And then he died.
Through my grief I again noticed startling parallels. Once I was pregnant and then there was life. Once there was a strong, brave, funny man, and then he was gone.
Devastated, we had no choice but to rush through the formalities of death. Jewish law dictates that funerals are held almost immediately, and this was complicated by the fact that Dad wanted to be buried abroad. Our flights were booked for the next day – he would be buried soon after.
Then hours before take-off, Nathan was hospitalised with bronchiolitis. The last thing I expected was to be back in hospital the following day, cradling my pale and listless son. I had a flight to catch, but how could I leave? I could almost hear Dad telling me to stay with my son, but I chose to go.
Though difficult to make, it was the right decision. Nathan was ill, but not seriously. In the capable hands of the doctors and my husband, he recovered – and I got to say goodbye.
Telling my sons about Grandpa was tough, but children accept things in a way adults cannot. I have kept my promise and Dad remains at the heart of our family. We have loads of photos and the children and I talk about him a lot.
If only he could see the bright, handsome boys they have become and had the chance to know their cheeky little brother. He would be so proud.
Have you had to cope with grief while nurturing your unborn baby?
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