By KIRSTY BADCOCK
“I’m so sorry this has happened to you,” the doctor says. She has come into the cold hospital room to provide a second opinion. I nod. I already know it’s bad news.
I’m 30 weeks pregnant and I’ve just been told that my baby will probably not survive. Thank goodness my mother is with me. After we receive the news, it’s suggested that we have some lunch and call my husband. Like obedient children, we do as we’re told. We’re so shocked we don’t know what else to do and, somehow, it is easier to follow instructions than to think for ourselves.
My precious, much longed for baby has a right-sided congential diagphramatic hernia – a large hole in the muscle that sits below the lungs. It has no known cause and is extremely rare. His liver and bowel have pushed up through the hole into his chest leaving little room for his lungs to grow. His right lung is almost non-existent and his left lung is small. We are told to expect the worst. His tiny lungs will probably not be able to sustain him.
Nestled within my body, my baby is fine – he doesn’t need his lungs until he is born. I can protect him now and want to keep him safe inside my womb forever. But, like any mother, I also want to meet my baby, to see his face and to hold him. It feels like wanting him to be born is somehow wishing for his death.
We are counselled by the doctors about how his death will be managed. That they will not let him suffer. That, if they need to, they will let him go. We need to pack some clothes in which to dress him in case he dies. The irony that I’ll only need clothes for my baby if he dies strikes me like a whip. It’s sharp and cruel and it stings.
We are told that he probably won’t live for long so we organise for a priest to baptise our baby as soon as he is born. To be preparing for my baby’s death before he’s even born feels like an act of betrayal. I stroke my belly and whisper to my baby, “I’m sorry”.
Buying clothes for a baby should be fun and joyous, but I wander around the shop in a fog of sorrow. I make small talk with shop assistants and smile politely at other pregnant women. I buy two beautiful outfits. Images of burying my baby in these clothes invade my mind and tears stream down my face as I walk out of the shop.
“When are you due?” asks the cashier at the supermarket with a grin. “Do you know what you’re having?” smiles the drycleaner. “How are you doing?” asks a concerned friend. Every well-meaning question leaves me smarting. Each one seems to chip away at my very being. I fear there will soon be nothing left. I am shutting down, hollowing out. I have less and less to give. I don’t want to go anywhere or see anyone.
After 10 weeks of hospital visits, tests, monitoring and appointments, the day finally comes to have my baby. I am keen to meet him and, in a way, am relieved that the waiting will be over. I’m surprised by the calm that descends over me. What will be will be.