In January of 2005 my wife (the Lovely Melanie), 30, and myself (Stu), 33, found that after five years of marriage we were going to become parents.
Both sides of our family were terribly excited, since we were the first of our generation to start a family (but we figured 30-odd years of just messing about, getting drunk and having a good time was probably about enough!)
The baby was due at the very start of October, so although we were nervous we thought we had plenty of time, and we even managed to sell our one-bedroom flat in south-east London and buy another one with more room and a garden – all ready for the new arrival.
As it turned out things weren’t to go anywhere nearly as smoothly as we’d expected – and we expected things to be a bit difficult, just because of all the things we’d heard from other people about pregnancy and parenting being quite stressful; rewarding, but quite stressful.
The Lovely Melanie woke me up at just after midnight on Tuesday 14th June. She had quite a lot of “water” leaking out and running down her leg. We both of us knew this wasn’t a good sign so we jumped into a taxi (thank you, Crofton Park Cars, for arriving so quickly that night!) and went to our local hospital, University Hospital Lewisham, where we sat, blinking and yawning and very scared, in an empty waiting room for about an hour before we were seen by a midwife and doctor.
When we were were finally seen the news was about as serious as it’s possible to get: Mel’s waters had broken.
Now, normally this means that you’ll be giving birth within the next 48 hours, but, as the doctor explained, since the Lovely Melanie was barely 24 weeks into her pregnancy we were at pretty much the outer limits of survivability for a baby. He explained the that the survival rates for 24-week gestation babies was significantly less than 50%, and that even if the baby did survive there was a very real possibility of “other problems” later on.
I can’t even begin to get across to you how we felt that night. All I can really say is that that was one hell of a long, dark night.
The brightest glimmer of hope we had was that the baby might not actually be born yet. Babies can survive in the womb without all the amniotic fluid to cushion them. It’s a far from ideal situation but they can and have done so. And every day the baby stayed inside Mel its chances of survival increased quite significantly – at roughly 1% every day. If, the doctor told us, the baby could hang on until 26 weeks then the survival rates were above 50%, if it stayed in until 30 weeks then survival rates were over 90%. The bad news was that in roughly 8/10 cases of the waters breaking this prematurely labour would begin within 48 hours and the baby would be born.
And so began A Very Bad Time for us.
The Lovely Melanie was stuck in hospital, sat in bed all day like a ticking time bomb, with nothing to really do but wait for labour to start. Imagine that: to put it very very starkly, she was sat around waiting for our child to pop out – which could happen at any moment – and probably (statistically speaking) die, or at least be terrifyingly poorly. What made things even worse was that the Lovely Melanie had never ever spent any time in hospital before for anything, so this was all new and bewildering for her. And I couldn’t stay with her – I had to go back to work and sit there with my mobile in front of me, dreading what it could mean every time it rang, racing down to the hospital as soon as I could every evening. But the first 48 hours passed without incident. Then the next, then the next. We made it to the crucial 26-week point, and we began to hope we might be one of those fortunate few whose waters break early but still make it to a decent number of weeks gestation…
Well, our luck eventually ran out after two and a half weeks.
Fortunately I’d been so tired on the morning of Thursday the 30th that for the first time in ages I slept in for about 45 minutes; so at 7.50am I was literally about to leave the house for work – my bag was on my shoulder, my coat on – when my mobile rang.
It was the Lovely Melanie, very upset but perfectly coherent – the baby was in distress, it had done a poo in the womb and the doctors were talking about emergency intervention. Well, I was at the hospital within 20 minutes, just barely in time, because they rushed the Lovely Melanie into surgery almost as soon as I arrived. If I’d been five minutes later (because, say, I was already on my way to work) I wouldn’t have gotten to speak to her or the doctors.
She was rushed, terrified, into the operating room and I was sent out to wait on my own in the room she’d spent so much time in. And, do you know, I surprised myself with how calm and philosophical I was about everything. I thought about the worst that could happen – losing both my wife and my child – I faced that possibility and…ignored it. Simply put it to one side and refused to even contemplate such an outcome. It was a nice day, I was on the third floor and I remember looking out over the rooftops of Lewisham, and feeling frightened but detached. I read my book for a bit, phoned family to tell them what was happening and drank some Diet Coke. It was very strange – a real “eye of the hurricane” type situation.
After roughly an hour (it felt like a longer, but not much longer) the surgeon came in.
I don’t remember what his expression was, although I recall not being particularly frightened or relieved when I saw his face. He went on for about a minute about the practicalities of the situation before we got to the point: the Lovely Melanie and our child were both alive.
I don’t remember being terribly surprised, oddly. The surgeon didn’t volunteer any information about our baby other than that it was alive.
“Erm, is it a boy or a girl?” I asked.
And here’s where it finally hit me.
“It’s a girl,” he replied.
And that thought lit up my brain, like a great shaft of sunlight breaking through the clouds. That’s really what it felt like: a beautiful, radiant beam shining into my skull, a fierce, all-encompassing joy.
I smiled rather weakly, as I recall, thanked him and he left.
This “blog” began merely as a means to keep friends and family updated of Millie’s
progress without me having to answer endless well-meaning but enormously time consuming telephone calls.
I’d had the website going for about three years, mainly archiving my science fiction book reviews, but also giving me a bit of space to get a few things off my chest now and again.
Little did I know it was going to be so vital to us in 2005.
And that, pretty much, is where our story begins. What follows is the original, unaltered Millie blog:
Thursday 30th June 2005…
Delivered by caesarean section to the Lovely Melanie and myself at Lewisham Hospital at 8.47am on Thursday 30th June 2005 – Millie Harriet Carter.
At the moment we’re just glad Millie is holding her own. She’s got a long fight ahead of her with absolutely no guarantee that she’ll make it, so fingers crossed for her, eh?
What with all the panic and haste of the last couple of days I’ve been almost too busy to think, however, it suddenly struck me on Friday – ‘I’m a dad‘ – and I nearly (I kid you not) fell over. I suspect this is why so many old people walk with a stick – the sheer amazement of seeing that their so tiny and defenceless children have miraculously grown up into enormous, beautiful adults might hit them again at any second and knock them to the floor.