Guest Post: Gemma's Pregnancy Journey

I can remember the words she said; I remember the tone of her voice. 
It’s as if they were said ten minutes ago – not on the 16th April 2013.
"I’m sorry – there’s a problem with your baby!"
And then she was gone.

It was our 20 week scan with baby #3. One minute we were overjoyed at the prospect of welcoming another baby Girl in to our family; then after being scanned by 3 different sonographers we were being ushered in to the Antenatal Day Unit while the midwife there made the referral calls to a hospital nearly 80 miles away in Liverpool. At this point we had no idea of the severity of this “problem” and how lucky we were that it was picked up at this stage. This was just the beginning. Over the next two weeks we would go through hell and back again.

Our first visit to the Liverpool Women’s Hospital we we’re told our unborn daughter had Common Truncus Arteriosis and Ventricular Septal Defect, but they could operate and following a 4 week stay at Alder Hey she would be ready to come home. But on our second visit she had an Interrupted Aortic Arch, Ventricular Septal Defect as well as a narrow Aorta – with a 50-70% chance of making it to her 5th Birthday, even less of a chance of making it to adulthood. My world came crashing down around me. How could this be? How they be talking about my baby?

The drive home was awful, 2hrs in the back of a car trying to make sense of what we’d been told when the whole time I could feel her kicking me, as if she was begging me not to give up on her; begging me to explore more avenues. This is exactly what we did. 9 days later we were on our way to meet the team at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. For the whole train journey there I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if they gave us an even worse prognosis. Am I setting myself up for more heartache?

I shouldn’t have worried. The moment Dr Sullivan walked in to the scan I knew I was going to like him. He looked like a good old fashioned Doctor, white jacket and stethoscope to boot. But I didn’t look at the screen for the duration of the scan, I just couldn't. We were asked to wait for Dr Sullivan in the counselling room, my stomach was in knots – I just wanted to know what they found. They agreed “broadly” with what Liverpool had said. My heart sank. But they had a plan. They would operate at a few days old to close the interruption and repair the VSD. When I asked if my baby girl would live a normal life afterwards, Dr Sullivan looked disgusted and replied “Well I’d like to think my Surgeons can do that for her.”

We went home with a great weight lifted off our shoulders – we were in safe hands.
As the pregnancy continued I tried not to dwell on what was about to happen and immersed myself in my two older children, spoiling them, taking them on days out – trying to create happy memories for them before our world was potentially changed forever. I had moments of sheer terror when I could only imagine the worst, mainly at night when I was trying to sleep.

We had already decided that this would be our final baby. As selfish as it sounds, I feel like I have been robbed of the pleasure of enjoying my final pregnancy. Instead of enjoying meeting our new baby – I dreaded the day she arrived because I knew she would be taken away from me as soon as she entered the world. There would be no exited phone calls to let our family know she had arrived. Because as soon as we arrived – that is when the worry would start. Towards the end I just wanted it to all be over with. I wanted her to be here. I wanted her to know the outcome. I wanted to be able to look to the future with certainty. Would I have three kids this time next month. Or would I be a mother of two.

At 2am on Wednesday 21st August we received the call from London that there was a bed available for me and that we should make our way down to London to be induced that day.
Saying goodbye to Osh & Isabella, not knowing when we would see them again was soul destroying How I wished things were different and that Martha wasn’t ill;  that I didn’t have to leave 2 kids behind in order to have the third. I don’t remember the train journey.
I don’t remember the walk from the station to the Hospital. I was completely numb. Operating on auto-pilot.

I was given a pessary to induce labour. They would leave me for 24 hours unless I was showing signs of being in Labour. This was to be the best labour & birth I’d had.
The rest of Wednesday was rather uneventful  I walked from my labour room to the cafe and back again countless times for Tea & Cake. Jumping down each step to try to get my waters to pop.  We even managed to laugh and joke, it was as if we were in a bubble; a safe place – the baby whom was on her way was not seriously ill...she was our perfectly healthy baby girl. But nothing happened.

As Thursday morning approached  I started getting a few tightening but nothing to get excited about. However by lunchtime I was on the gas & air, something was happening, I wouldn’t admit that to anyone though. I was so afraid of it all being in my head that I refused to let the midwife examine me; I wanted to give the pessary the benefit of the full 24 hours. I continued with the Gas & Air and played puzzle games with Mark and my Mam.

As 3:30pm rolled around I was really uncomfortable, I prayed she would say there had been some change as I couldn’t imagine being that uncomfortable for nothing.
Hallelujah, I was 2cm dilated. Not much considering I needed to get to 10, but it was enough so she could break my waters.

Then the contractions became stronger and stronger. Although I was coping with the Gas & Air, I didn’t want to – I wanted to enjoy my last ever birth experience. At 5pm I was finally given my epidural, as much as it hurt being put it – once it was done the relief was worth it. I was finally able to sleep. They wanted to start me on Syntocinon to speed up my contractions but the Consultant wasn’t happy with the trace – they made me lie on my side to see if that would help things. Thankfully that worked and 20mins later they were able to start.At 6pm my Mam went to get herself a bite to eat. At 6:15pm the Midwife told Mark he should also go otherwise it would be too late.

Over the next hour I was in and out of sleep, exhausted from all the months of worrying and weeks of no sleep due to being heavily pregnant. Then I started to feel what I can only describe as an Orange between my legs, I convinced myself it was only my catheter. But 10 mins later I could feel it again. I pulled the midwife to one side and said “I think something is happening.” She lifted my blanket and squealed. She then ran out of the room to get the Paediatricians and Consultants and to warn NICU that baby was on her way.

It was 7:35pm, and just over 4 hours since my waters we’re broken – I was ready to push.
With Mark & Mam by my side, with Connie (the midwife) clamping my leg against her hip to support me. I delievered Martha Grace at 7:53pm. She came out screaming and a picture of health. She was the image of her big sister. The paediatricians’ looked her over and wrapped her up. Mark was the first to have a cuddle while I got on with finishing off my delivery. My tiny little bundle was then brought to me. She looked perfect. At 6lbs 1oz she was tiny. But I was in love with her. She was here. The next thing I knew I was being told to give her a kiss and say goodbye. Then she was gone. Whisked out of the room to go to Neonatal Intensive Care.

The next time I got to see her was 3 hours later once they’d stabilised her. She was inside an incubator. The only thing keeping her alive was the hormone “Prostin” which was being administered through a peripheral line. I was taken to the Antenatal Unit just after 1am. I had to leave my baby behind, to sleep in an incubator on her own, no Mammi, no Daddy – just a Doctor and a Nurse. As I slept that night, there was no baby asleep in a Cot next to my bed. I cried myself to sleep out of exhaustion and fear.

As much as I had worried throughout my pregnancy – this was only the beginning. As much as it tortured me not being able to hold my newborn daughter – in a few days I would have to see her through open Heart Surgery.

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