As a recurrent miscarrier, it can be hard to be around pregnant women and babies. Emotions swing between jealousy, self-hatred (I never used to be so nasty) and sadness for what I've lost. Self-preservation has a lot to do with it. That and the abject humiliation of having to leave a 2 year old's birthday party because you can't stop crying (got the t-shirt).
The reality is that you're going to have to face pregnant women (and all their worries and complaints about their aches and pains) at some point; whether at work or out and about, they're everywhere (are they breeding?!). You can either get on with it, or let in ruin your day.
When my sister told me that she was pregnant again, I was pleased, but also envious (and guilty because of feeling the envy). I wouldn't be able to avoid her for 7 months, and I wouldn't want to have to try; I love my family, and there's no way I'd want to make things difficult or awkward. You'd have to ask them if I've managed it!
When I fell pregnant again myself a couple of months later, we discussed the baby things we could share. I had a few scares with bleeding etc. and I am sure that my sister's heart was in her mouth every time I went for a reassurance scan, being pregnant and emotional as she undoubtedly was. She was having the most dreadful morning (all the time) sickness and had a demanding toddler already, so was exhausted. Everyone was tired and emotional, all the time.
Then I found out that my baby had died at the 13 week scan. No need for hand-me-downs anymore. And yet, I could not have predicted then that the sisterly bonding over babies I had imagined would be more powerful and visceral than any amount of hand-me-downs and baby talk could ever have facilitated.
Three months after my third miscarriage and two weeks before my sisters due date, she texted me to say that her waters had broken. I decided to go over to her place and have a cup of tea while we waited for her husband to come home from work. No problem. My niece was with our parents, we could have a natter in peace.
When I arrived, everything was fine. The things for the overnight bag were laid on the bed, her notes were in a file by the 'phone. I thought she seemed uncomfortable. She said she was fine. I suggested she ring the midwife who said that, if we were worried, we should drive down to the hospital and her husband could meet us there. I have a very tiny little sports car, and was slightly concerned about my sister's ability to get in to or out of it. "No, you can't have an ambulance, it's not appropriate," came the midwife's reply. Fair enough; if you don't ask, you don't get.
I packed the overnight bag and put it in the car. My sister went to use the loo. I heard her shout to me from upstairs that she couldn't move. I know a contraction when I see it; by the time I got upstairs, she could hardly speak. I fetched the overnight bag back into the house and phoned 999.
The operators on the 999 switchboard keep the coolest heads in the country. The lady talked to me calmly, but with extreme authority as I helped (forced) my sister on to the bathroom floor (she wanted to stay on the loo - "absolutely not allowed," said the operator. "Get her on to the floor. Now.") Could I see the baby's head? "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to look." I'll take that scream of agony as a 'yes', then, shall I? "No, I can't see the head, yet."
"Help's on its way. Can you hear the sirens? Don't worry. Help's on its way." I rubbed her back as she knelt on the floor. Contractions were about two minutes apart.
"Have you got clean towels?" said the operator. "They don't think they're going to make it," I thought, but didn't say.
No-one tells you this, so I'll tell you now; if you have had to call an ambulance because you are having to deliver a baby at short notice at home, take a moment to go and open the front door. It's a small, yet essential detail. I dashed downstairs to answer the banging at the front door. I have never been more relieved to see a paramedic in my life. My sister, by this stage, didn't care. She'd gone primal. Her labour cries came from the earth itself.
The bathroom was too narrow for me to get to my sister to hold her hand, so I held her knee instead. My nephew was born less than 10 minutes after the ambulance arrived. It was extraordinary. My sister's husband arrived about 15 minutes later, and did manage to find a space to stand, cradling his new-born son in the shower cubicle. Paramedics tended to my sister, one from in the gap between the toilet and the sink, another crouching in the bathtub. Midwives ran up and down the stairs. I made a few phone calls. Mum, dad and new baby were taken off to hospital in the ambulance. I followed on in the car, with the now overlooked overnight bag. "Don't let that baby out of your sight," texted my mum.
It wasn't exactly the circumstances I would have imagined for my first visit to a maternity ward, but I had one job to do, and that was to look after my nephew. My sister needed surgery, and her husband went with her. I was left, alone, in a side room, literally holding the baby. A nurse made a comment that made it clear that she thought I was my sister's mother. I'd had a stressful morning, but had it aged me that much?!
Was it better for me, and for her, that I have coped in so many crises before that I could keep a cool head in that one? I will say this; someone's got a wicked sense of humour.
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