The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face…

To get to where we are now, I’ve got to go back to the start. You know, to coin a phrase, to know where you’re going you’ve got to know where you’re coming from. A lot of this has taken nearly two years to write because only now it’s become history, something that I’m not spending every waking minute trying to understand the medical jargon. It’s been googled, settled in my mind, been revisited and chewed over. Only then can I allow myself to openly talk about it. It’s not as painful, sometimes it’s funny, ridiculous. It’s not going to disappear, and I open that can of worms frequently, cry and try to move on.

So Rufus had arrived, I was on the ward. On the way we’d passed the surgeon, how are you Mrs D?, shocked. We got him out just in time. Just in time? For what? It doesn’t feel like the right time. Brave face, if I act fine everyone else won’t panic. Wolf will be able to go home and sleep. But why do I keep being called Mrs D? Can nobody see that I’m a very frightened 30 year old girl?

My ‘brave’ face.

Try to sleep Mrs D, it’s been a long and stressful day. I will try, but I’m on a ward with two other women in the early stages of labour and one fighting to go home. She didn’t want to leave her premature baby, but english wasn’t her first language and she was scared. She needed to go home where she would be understood. I’m itchy from the morphine, it’s my first ever night in hospital, I have anti thrombolic inflatable thingies going on and off on my legs and not in any kind of rhythm that I can ignore them. Bed bath, that’s better. But I’m still shit scared, act brave, be nice to the nurses, maybe they’ll tell me more. Also, better act sane, I need them to know I can cope with a baby, get him home sooner. There’s something really niggling my thigh but I don’t want to go anywhere near where they operated. Eventually I pick up the nerve, a wrapper for a maternity pad stuck to my leg. But don’t worry, I’ll try to sleep.

How will I tell anyone? I have to rally good thoughts, I don’t want to be judged for not being able to carry a healthy child. Wolf and I should be able to have a child. Somehow ITV has just come on and its Daybreak, or its incarnation at that time. Have I slept? Who knows, I’ve been in a self induced mind coma, going round and round, trying to dissect what’s happened, how to be, worry, worry, worry. Midwives outside the curtains, I don’t want to shout and draw attention to myself but I’m desperate to find out how Rufus is. Why don’t they want to tell me? Some plastic toast served by a well meaning auxiliary. Tea. Who knows how long I lie there for tears pricking behind my eyes, desperate to cry for my mum. Wolf rings, he’s got some things to sort out in the house- we’d literally dropped everything, he’ll be in later. Don’t rush, I’m fine. I’m not. But I don’t want anything bad to happen to him, I need him to believe it’s OK.

The midwives are in. How’s Rufus? We’ll call up to the unit soon, but we need to get you up and ready to see him. The thought of moving seems an enormous task. My lovely pregnant tummy has gone, replaced by gas that squirms and kicks in my tummy more than Rufus ever did. And I imagine a horrible, bloody, red scar, because he was ripped away from me too soon. It’s going to be akin to something out of Chainsaw Massacre down there. I’d be happy to lay still, wheeled to go and see him. But no, the best way to recover from a caesarian is to be up and moving Mrs D. There it is again, Mrs D. Have I still got enough make up on that I’m fooling them?

To the shower it is, I’ll do anything to seem OK. I’m alone with them all, can’t let the facade slip. I get up, it’s not too bad, it’s all pretty numb down there. Something runs down my legs. Yuck. Don’t look. My arse hangs out the gown, they peel the maternity pad off my leg. It is this gross, sorry. I walk, sort of, to the shower. The nurses bring the lovely new things my Mum and Dad got in the Trafford Centre last night- toiletries, nightie, slippers, underwear. My eyes sting again, I want my mum. But I’m a mum now, time to pretend. They sit me on the seat, take off my gown, I’m naked. It should bother me that I’m in a room with two strangers in this state but it’s the least of my worries. I look down at the dressing, so that’s what my heart skipping a beat feels like. Look back up straight away, smile at the nurses. Will you be alright to take that off Mrs D? We think it’ll be good for you to do it yourself. OK, it’ll be good for me. I’ll be fine, thank you.

They go. I’m all alone. Deep breath, look again. Pull at a corner. Look straight back up, the room is starting to fuzz, a ringing noise in my ears. Breathe. Nope. Got to do this, it’ll be good for me. Try again, this time the plastic toast starts to make its way back up. Pull the red cord, I’m going down, I don’t remember. The push of an oxygen mask onto my face, shouting that seems like someone running up a corridor to me. Getting louder. How did all these people get in to the room. Shit, I’m naked, the door’s open. The tears come, I’m embarrassed. Sobbing, get this mask off me, is wolf here? Scooped up in a towel, covered in god knows what, dressing still half on, put in a wheelchair and wheeled back to my bed. No wolf yet. Suck it up, act normal. Laugh at fainting, have a drink. They’ll be back in five to take off the dressing and get me clothed.

Wolf arrives, I can’t help it, I cry. But I’m fine, how are you? How did you sleep? Did you park the car alright? Meaningless guff. I’m dressed, I’ve showered with assistance, tell wolf about the fainting. Make him laugh about it. We’ll be alright. Midwife, ah you’re here Mr D. When can we see Rufus? You need to recover a bit more Mrs D- don’t want you fainting on the way. I don’t give a shit. I want to see him. But that’s not what I say, OK, I’m feeling a bit better. Have some lunch, we’ll arrange a porter for early this afternoon. How is he? We haven’t had a chance to phone yet, but they’ve not called us so everything must be fine.

So the title, the Roberta Flack song. It should be the most amazing moment for a mother, meeting her baby. Gazing down at this helpless, squishy bundle, all popping noises and reflexes, eyes opening, gazing back at you. Labour produces some marvellous results- you don’t get nothing for hard graft you know! When Rufus had been flashed in front of my eyes, I saw something. My heart beat in my throat. Did anyone see my reaction, shock, a little bit of disgust, that’s not right. I couldn’t see his lower jaw, was it there? Did anyone else notice? Nobody acted like it. Wolf, Mum and Dad had been to see Rufus for five minutes. Dad told me he was perfect. What about his jaw? Well, he was lying on his front, but everything looked perfect. That’s fine then. But is wasn’t, I knew.

My Dad’s photo of Rufus looking perfect.

Our time had come, Mr and Mrs D were going to meet tiny D. We held hands as I was wheeled along. We were excited. I was trying to forget my misgivings. Outside the ICU we were met by an Argentinian doctor, we looked at him with hope in our eyes, how’s our boy? He’s doing well, breathing on his own, he’s under the blue light for jaundice, nothing unusual. Defcon 5. But we want you to look at him, tell us what you think looks a bit unusual, then we can explain further. Defcon 4. He was very early and very small for his dates, and we’ve run a gross chromosome anomaly scan. They’ve come back normal, but we need to run some minor abnormality scans which take longer. Defcon 3. Right, OK, let me see him.

There he lay, my hairy Smurf. Blue with the lights. No gazing into each others eyes, he had a mask on. Spider monkey, all skinny limbs and fuzzy. Long fingers, big feet. Feet flat against his shins though, turned right up. Arms curled like he’d been cracked out of an egg. Still, not moving. A tummy that looked like a pumpkin, taut, round and ribbed. The ribs, prominent, bird like. The face, I’d not looked at it straight away, scared. He had a lower jaw, it was just set very far back. Huge ears. They lifted the mask. Well, it looked like a face. An upturned broad nose, but I still fell in love. There he was, my boy. The rush is indescribable. For those precious moments this was our boy. He didn’t look like what I thought a premature baby would look like, and I was proud of that. He looked special, beautiful. Nothing else mattered.

We were ready to leave. So Mrs D, what did you notice? His feet. Yes, he was breech and because of the lack of fluid they have been restricted. His tummy. Yes, he’s on IV fluids just now until it becomes less distended. We’ll run some scans and X-rays on it. Are you expressing? For about half an hour. Keep going, we’ll hopefully be able to feed him in a few days. I was avoiding it. Spit it out. His jaw. Well, his face does look dysmorphic. What does that mean? He doesn’t look like we’d expect. That’s the reason for the tests, plus his muscle tone is poor, we need to look at some syndromes. Defcon 2. What syndromes? It’s too vast to say. Defcon 1. The bubble burst. It took a long time for me to be able to look past the features they brought up. That’s not how it should be. Still, I pick up a photo. How do his ears look? His jaw? That’s not how it should be.

It should be the  way I get to look at him now, when all that becomes background noise, for the most part. And I capture him like this.

Are you looking at me?

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