…and a little bit of emotion came out

I’ve been thinking about things. The real-life reality is finally beginning to dawn on me that in about 11 or so week, a baby is coming to live in the house with us. I know, I catch on quick. Being pregnant, it seems, is one thing; I’m enjoying the lovely kicks and rolls (even in the middle of the night), I feel like my lungs are the size of a postage stamp, I no longer bend in the middle, I get a back ache whenever I try to do any work (apparently not sufficiently an excuse to actually not do any work), and, thanks to the placenta praevia, I’m not allowed to lift or shift anything except my own body, which is becoming increasingly difficult. Yesterday, it took me two attempts to stand up from a sofa. Yes, I had an audience. This is the day to day grind, and it’s fine, albeit uncomfortable.

I was reading a pregnancy book today and the chapter on week 25 provided a helpful list of baby clothes to buy (the essential ones, not the cute ones that make you make a high pitched noise when you see them). I suppose it is something to think about. I need to clear out a drawer for them, first. Perhaps I’ll leave it a bit longer. 10 more weeks, perhaps…? At the start of this pregnancy (actually since the first loss), I have been quite wary of reading ahead to the next developmental section of the book. I felt that, it was a bit fraudulent to think about what was happening whilst waiting for the next scan which may well confirm the worst. I used to read them retrospectively to find out what had happened, once we knew what was what on the inside. The kicks have eased this anxiety, and now I sometimes read a week ahead. But today’s ‘buy the baby some clothes’ shocker in the cheeky sneak peek at week 25 has accelerated my mind much farther into the future than I was anticipating.

Then, later, something even weirder happened. A very brave lady I know has just had her baby today (she has a similar story of recurrent miscarriage to me), and I have just seen a picture of her, and her new baby boy, on facebook. Amazing, gorgeous boy and proud, exhausted Mum. I’ve usually avoided this kind of thing because it was just too painful to see what I was missing out on (I never promised to have rational emotions), but I was very pleased to see this new arrival. And, something else, new, too. A strange realisation that, soon, that will be us. My nose has gone a bit tingly just thinking about it. My eyes might follow. What is this feeling? Emotional ice, melting. Barriers, softening.

Guess what… I’ve just realised… a baby is coming to live at our house… really soon… our baby.

A look inside

This week has been a week of scans.The letter that invites us to the routine 20 week anomaly scan is really quite a scary read. It lists a range of unpleasant things that could be missing or damaged with your baby, and the percentage chance of them being detected. (If they are present is what the letter doesn’t say). The wording is alarmingly ambiguous, making you wonder, on first reading, what the chances are that your baby might have all of the unfortunate conditions listed. An addition of the sentence ‘These conditions are rare, however, if present, these are the percentage chances of your sonographer being able to visually detect them’ would make it read slightly better.

My nerves for this scan had been building for some days, but the reassuring kicks helped me to think that things would probably be OK; nothing that wriggles about this much could be poorly. If this optimism sounds like the prelude to the revelation of some terribly sad news, don’t worry. It turns out there’s a little person in there, with two arms and two legs (with reassuringly average length thigh bones). Parts of the developing brain are picked out and measured; all present and correct, head looks normal, as does the face, and it all seems to be proportional, size wise. Abdomen, also fine, with stomach and bladder clearly visible. All four chambers of the heart are busily pumping away and eventually a good enough still image is taken for our records. But, for all it’s wiggling and kicking, this baby doesn’t want to turn around. I am sent to go for a wee in the hope that my moving will encourage baby to move, but it doesn’t. So, whilst we’ve seen the spine, the image wasn’t sufficiently clear to complete the scan report, and the kidneys also need a closer look, so we’re back in 2 weeks for another scan. The placenta also seems to be lying a little low, and although it will probably correct itself, we are also going to need to be re-scanned at 32 weeks just to make sure it’s moved. If it hasn’t we’ll be looking at a sun roof delivery. But that’s ages away.

The extra scan isn’t a problem; I’ll be on half term so no need to ask for more time off work (which isn’t a problem in itself; work are being great), and we were due back in to see the consultant on that day, anyway. The administrative dis-communication with appointments this week and last has been quite special. Last week I was offered an appointment at High Wycombe hospital to see the obstetrics consultant. This would have been the day before the scan, which was going to be at Stoke Mandeville. I was able to make the swap between hospitals to see a different obstetrics consultant, but for 2 weeks time, and now we have been able to organise the repeat scan for the same day as the consultant appointment, too, so it all seems to have worked out.

The other bit of me that’s needed to be scanned this week is my armpit. One of my boobs (which which are going for some sort of world record) has grown into my left armpit, and is a bit lumpy and sore. It’s been like it for years, but it’s got worse since I’ve been pregnant, so I’ve been sent along to the Wycombe breast clinic to get it checked out. The appointment I was allocated? Within 10 minutes of the scan appointment at Stoke Madeville on the same day. They were happy to change it, but I do think that some kind of patient records information system would have been useful here. The breast clinic is excellent, and I was scanned, seen and reassured in one afternoon. They were running late, and I was there for a few hours, but it was OK. Better that than some other kind of bad news.

So, happy mummy, happy (stubborn) baby. And we get two bonus sneak peeks. Meanwhile, I’m still getting kicked, and, since most of the kicks are on the left hand side, I’m guessing baby is still pretty comfortable where he or she is.

Telling people

Written 20th December, 2014.

We’ve finally reached the part of this journey where society says we can let people know what’s going on. Thanks for the green light, world! On Tuesday we had our 12 week scan, and baby is literally alive and kicking (fidgeting, he says). It’s growing fast, too, and we’re now 12.6 when we thought we were 12.4 (which was advanced from being 11.4 when we thought we were 11.1). The NT measurement is 1.4 and, whilst we still await the blood test results, we are beginning to consider starting to think about possibly relaxing. A little bit. Maybe. PHEW! I have a photo, but I won’t post it here. I’m still in such a state that I find it hard to see other people’s photos, and given my ‘readership’, I just don’t think it’s appropriate to post such an image here. We’ve even booked a 20 week scan, which seems extraordinarily confident. I’ve been asked what we call it. No pet names just yet. We call it “assuming all is…”, “if everything…”. We’ll have to do better than that, but not until we’re ready.

There are lots of reasons why I really disagree with this socially mandated tradition of waiting to 12 weeks before telling people you’re pregnant. It’s a way avoiding embarrassing conversations in which you have to ‘un-tell’ people you’re pregnant because your baby has died (miscarriage makes people so uncomfortable – poor them), but I do understand that these are horrible conversations, and women may genuinely want to grieve in private. But, and this is my main objection, the people who are affected my miscarriage are grieving. This is a legitimate human emotional process and it does people damage to bury it. Grieving means that sometimes people experiencing it get emotional angry and withdrawn (and a whole range of other perfectly normal grief responses), and they need support and understanding They don’t need socially imposed secrecy and shame. This, if they’re keeping the pregnancy and then miscarriage a secret, is support they don’t always get. I think this a cruel and wrong. I’ve been lucky to have so many wonderful friends and family around me to give support, but I know lots of women who have kept everything secret and suffered alone. And this says nothing of the partners who’s emotional needs are often even more neglected. Still, at least no-one’s made a social faux pas.

That said, people do say some really weird things to women who have miscarried and some of those are down right offensive (it wasn’t really a baby yet etc.). On balance, however, I think that this is a consequence of people not really knowing what to say. Maybe if everyone was more open, people would get better at not putting their foot in it. So I stand by my original point.

I want to write, however, about another delicate problem, the weight of which I feel very acutely, and to which I don’t really have a solution. This is the problem of telling people who will be upset by the news. Having been on this road for over 3 years, I know lots of people who are in similar situations. I know (because I’ve been there – and if you follow my blog, you’ll have seen the messy outpourings of grief that follow other people’s pregnancy announcements) how devastating Other People’s News can be. It’s not selfishness, it’s self preservation mixed with varying degrees of Post Traumatic Shock and (guess what?!) stifled grief (from all of that not-telling you did to stop people from being uncomfortable when you had your miscarriage). That’s really damaging, and it makes me feel really sad that friends of mine are going though it. It makes me even sadder that, now, I am the cause of this kind of upset to these friends. I’m sorry.

I want to show these friends of mine that I have enough respect for them that I don’t announce in public places where they can’t get away from a social situation, but it also feels like such a breach of trust to call or email someone and bring such upset and anguish into their home, their safe space. It’s such an intrusion. Even writing these blogs caused me to really think about who might see and be upset by them. All I can really say is that I am sorry, and I do get it. I used to feel the same. I hope it will happen for them soon, too.

Risk

Written 13th December, 2014.

Last Tuesday we had what Professor Brosens described as a ‘highly reassuring’ scan. We are now over 11.4 weeks and the baby was leaping and dancing about, kicking and hiccoughing. As I commented to the consultant who scanned me, we’ve never seen one that big before. Every good scan means that it is just a little bit more likely to happen this time. The odds are, as you might say, increasingly are in our favour. But can we relax? Of course not.

Next Tuesday afternoon is The Scan. The Big One. 12 weeks. And we’ve been there before, and it was not a happy experience. Although we’re beginning to turn our minds to the possibility of there being a chicken, we’re still not quite ready to actually count it.

The 12 week scan comes with tests (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/screening-amniocentesis-downs-syndrome.aspx#close) which we both (think we) want (great if the results are good) and don’t want (what if they’re bad?). The consultant gave us a bit of a talking to to ensure the implications of getting those test results. We have been through so much already. Have we considered what the possibility of high risk results might mean for us? She hastily assured us that she had not noticed anything on the scan that made her mention it, in particular, but that she felt that too many people have the standard tests without really thinking carefully about the implications of the results. The first thing to do is to realise that risk is not diagnosis. Lots of people, apparently, don’t understand the difference. So a risk of 1:150 is considered ‘high’, but, of that, it means that 1 baby in 150 with those results would have a condition such as Down’s Syndrome. 149 babies would be fine. It’s still pretty scary, though. We’ve been through so much to get to this point. Would we make a choice to end it? No. I don’t believe that I would even consent to further invasive tests like amniocentesis because of the 1% risk of miscarriage. But I think that knowledge is better than no knowledge, so we plan to go ahead with the screenig next week.

The odds are in our favour (mostly – they were more in our favour three years ago when we set out on this journey, but what can you do about time?). How much more can we take? Could we ever do it again, even if it works out? We always thought we’d have more than one child, but it’s been such a a struggle to get to this point, and I’m not getting any younger, and the risks will only increase.

And I know too many stories. My own sad ones, and the sad heartbreak of other women whom have been kind enough to support me on this journey. You think what I’ve been through is bad? I know stories of recurrent miscarriage that break my heart and chill my blood. No-one can keep their innocence about pregnancy after this.

At the end of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (the film, sorry, not got my literary hat on this morning!), Frodo says: “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.” We did go back and are in the midst of having another go, but how many times can anyone do this? What has happened to us will stay with us forever. It has made us, in a really fundamental way, different than we would otherwise have been. What’s the cost? ££££ on counselling and cognitive hypnotherapy to try to repair the damage done by post traumatic medical shock. I still can’t look at other people’s 12 week scans on facebook. I think I could be The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, with so many children I didn’t know what to do, and a babybomb scan photo would still turn my blood to ice. This is a terrible learned behavour. I feel sad that I seem to be stuck with it.

What else can I say? Wish us all luck for Tuesday.

Time and money: just one of those things?

Written 15th November, 2014

After another week with very occasional light spotting, my nerves could take it no longer. The two weeks between the 6 week and the 8 week scan, given that babies #1 and #2 went between 6-7 weeks after seeing a heartbeat (normally regarded as a sign that all is on track and well) was making me anxious enough; the spotting was pushing me over the edge. I phoned the EPU and left a message asking for advice. They offered me an extra reassurance scan yesterday. I must say, for all my reservations about going back there, they have been very good to me so far. (Although my husband hates the car park with a passion because the card reader is out of order and the notes feeder doesn’t give change. It’s been like this for 3 years…).

Despite instigating this extra scan myself, I was filled with feelings of dread and doom from the moment it was booked. One of my current problems is that I get tired very early in the evening and end up going to bed at about 9-9:30, but I also get very hungry, so hungry I can’t ignore it, which wakes me up in the middle of the night (I’m a secret night-time yogurt eater). As a result of this combination of symptoms and the stress of the anticipation of the scan, I was laying away at 3 am the two night preceding the appointment wondering how the hell I was going to cope if it all went wrong again. How would I manage work? I am supposed to be leading a school trip next week, who will take the kids? How will I get everything sorted? How will I get the right care sorted for my ERPC, should I need one? Will I trust local services to do it, or will I run away to another hospital? Too many thoughts, driving me mad. I am not enjoying the psychological legacy of three missed miscarriages.

As it turns out, we have actually made time since last week’s scan. We’ve gone from 6.1 weeks (where I thought I was 6.3, and hence assumed all kinds of disasters) to 8.0 on the button, which is about 3 days ahead of where I expected to be. Of course, it’s a matter of fractions of millimeters at this stage, so no-one is concerned. The little heart is fluttering away (and so is the big one!), and we can say that another milestone has been reached. Phew! We were in and out in under 10 minutes today, and even managed to have a tummy scan rather than the undignified internal one (is it weird that I felt slightly cheated? I’m used to getting a closer look…). Although we are not even close to the edge of the woods yet, we are past ‘danger point #1’, and I am feeling encouraged (for now).

What’s the difference? I’m putting it down to the ‘magical’ combination of progesterone (400mg, twice daily) and heparin (those dreaded daily pricks – my husband does them – I can’t seem to find the nerve). I am so grateful to the team at Coventry for putting me on this course of treatment (http://www.uhcw.nhs.uk/our-services/a-z-of-services/consultants?cID=341). I believe that, without it, I would not have got past 7 weeks again. I am more convinced than ever that have not experienced bad luck, but suffered from a failure to properly investigate, diagnose and treat an underlying medical problem. Whilst I realise that funding is a serious issue, I also wonder, on balance, how much has been spent on the 6 lots of surgery I have undergone. I can never know, but my instincts tell me that the treatment plan I am on now might have saved #2.

I still think that taking aspirin as a precautionary measure prior to conceiving #3 may have interfered with implantation sufficiently to allow a Turner Syndrome baby to take hold, and, I wonder whether, had I not been taking it whether that one would have implanted at all. This is all speculation, of course. Lots more medical research is needed with much bigger, scientifically regulated, double blind trials to answers these questions once and for all. I’m very pleased to read that Tommy’s are going to launch a new early miscarriage research centre (https://www.tommys.org/new-research-centre). I expect many of my hunches will be borne out in the coming years, and couples won’t have to endure 3 miscarriages and be fobbed off with the ‘bad luck’ line in years to come. Getting real answers, sooner, if the tests are quick and reliable, and the appropriate treatment available will save a great deal of time and heartache for a lot of couples. I also wish that the long awaited results of the PROMISE progesterone trial (http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/information/research/the-promise-trial/) would hurry up; it would be nice to see what the actual research says about at least some of the medication I’m currently taking!

As for me, I’m enjoying the mental relief I got from the encouraging scan of yesterday for a while longer before new scan doom sets in for next week. We know it can still go wrong…

The First Big Day

Written 30th October, 2014.

It’s fair to say that I am somewhat apprehensive about this morning’s hospital visit. This will be the fist scan for this pregnancy and, if it goes well (the scan and the cooperation from the prescription-giving powers that be), I will get my supply of heparin injections. Then I will have to inject myself daily, which is not particularly something that I’m looking forward to doing. But there are many bridges to cross on this quest before I get to that stage.

The weekend brought a little spotting, which was alarming, and I sent my husband out on Sunday morning to fetch a digital test (off he dutifully went to join the Whitby Goths on the walk of shame, looking for an open chemist). I was convinced that I had a) imagined the whole thing, or b) it was already over and the spotting was an ominous sign. The digi proved hopeful, however, showing that the numbers had going from 1-2 weeks to 2-3 weeks, over the time period of one week (amazing!).

The lovely RMC ladies on my regular Mumsnet forum were sending their support and advice, and many of them have had similar issues with spotting which they put down to the cyclogest, which can cause irritation (specifically, the way you take it – enough about that). Hopefully this was the cause. I also emailed Professor Brosens at Coventry who, wonderfully, emailed me back on a Sunday (!!) and told me spotting was reasonably common and to increase the cyclogest dosage from 200mg twice daily to 400mg at the same frequency.

So, today we are off to Local Services for our first scan. I don’t like this hospital. The people are nice enough, but they just don’t know what to do with me. They have protocols for MC, but I’ve been there, done that and got (several copies) of their bloody leaflet. I am taking my letters and paperwork, and if anyone there suggests that they will come blindly at me with a spoon (my description of how an ERPC is performed), I will be on the first train down to UCLH!

But let’s not be pessimistic. It could be OK. I was listening to my relaxation recording last night, and trying to visualise the happy outcome I want. The trouble is, I don’t know what that would look like. To me, the disconnect between being pregnant and actually having a bump, much less a baby, seems, if you’ll pardon the expression, inconceivable. A couple of people (pharmacists and such) have already congratulated me when I’ve been picking up my prescriptions and filling in forms. I tell them, thank you, but there’s a very long way to go yet. This is my 4th pregnancy, and I have nothing but an education in fertility and a pile of words to show for it.

Every time is different. Maybe this time is different… Dare I let the hope in?

Eight weeks of silence begins

I’m writing these posts now (beginning October 19th, 2014), but they won’t be published until much later. I’m doing it this way because, oddly enough, in spite of my grumping to the contrary, I have something that I do want to keep quiet for the moment.

I do, however, want to record the next 8 weeks’ journey, because it’s a scary one that doesn’t always get discussed much and it’s a really scary one for the ladies and their partners who are on it.

Yesterday, I discovered that I am pregnant again for the 4th time. It was a bit of a surprise, to be honest. I had been advised that, since everything was taking so long, I needed a HSG procedure (where they inject liquid into your uterus and tubes and X-ray you to see if there are any blockages etc.). After much chasing of consultant’s poor secretary I had the appointment booked for next cycle. That way we wouldn’t waste an egg and could try again after the procedure. Then, on Friday, I had some spotting. Blasted period was two days early. That changed things. The procedure would now be right on my ovulation date. Another month wasted. Another month I wasn’t going to get any younger. I texted the nurse to see whether I could have an earlier appointment, and she’s going to find out for me on Monday morning. I now need to let her know that I no longer need the procedure at all.

What made me test on Saturday? The pain sleeping on my chest on Friday night, the fact that the spotting had stopped rather than developing into a full period flow. To give you an idea of how confident I was that it would be negative, I can tell you that I left it on the side in the bathroom and didn’t check it for half an hour. Given that the results are only really reliable for 10 minutes, I assumed that the faint line was an evaporation line. But it bothered me enough to buy a ClearBlue digital test later that morning. Which was positive. Decisively.

Alright, then. So far I have emailed every medical care-giver I’m currently connected with (which is a long list) to set the wheels in motion to get the early scans and prescriptions I need if I’m to stick to the Coventry plan of progesterone (straight away) and heparin injections (after the pregnancy is confirmed to be in the right place – heparin and an ectopic pregnancy would be very dangerous indeed) . I’m hoping it won’t be a battle. I’m hoping that this one will stick.

Did Not Finish

On Saturday afternoon I got  a DNF. Did Not Finish. I was participating in a long distance sea swim off the Dorset coast. It was supposed to be 2.5km; I managed 1.25km. It was choppy, I swallowed a significant volume of sea water. My nose clip kept falling off. Rolling in the waves, I felt I was making no forward progress. The motion and the saline intake were making me feel nauseous. It was all I could do to stop myself being swept backwards with the current. I was not having a good time.

After an exhausting 47 minutes, as I approached the start/finish area, I made the decision to go in, rather than attempt a second lap of the course. Disappointed? Yes. Right decision? Certainly. Better that than get in to difficulty and need to be fished out by the rescue boat. Other swimmers agreed that the conditions were tough, but, other than myself and two others, everyone completed the event. Many even did 3 laps.

I’m not sure whether it was my body or my mind that made me end my race early. Certainly it was very hard work, but one’s body will only do what your mind tells it. Maybe I could have struggled on, if only I had had the determination. I’ll admit, seeing the letters DNF on the results table was gutting. Its easy to have hindsight about how I could have done more; better, but I do think I did the right thing at the time.

DNF is a strange way of describing what happens when things don’t quite work out. In actual fact, I did finish. I finished half way through; I finished early. Had I genuinely not finished I would, presumably, still be out there. Would ‘Did Not Succeed’ be any better? Probably not.

At the risk of sounding like a 1990s motivational poster, maybe I need to remember that it’s not about the starting or the finishing. It’s about the (wait for it…. ) journey. Sometimes this fertility journey that we’re on feels a bit like that sea swim. Never moving forward in any tangible sense. The perception that other people are finding it so much easier than us to ‘finish’. Struggling against the tide. Wanting to get out, but knowing that the decision to stop and sit on the shore means admitting that it’s over, at least for the time being. You could tell yourself to keep going, and eventually need to be dragged out, or you could make a decision to stop.

My three pregnancies have been DNFs. These days, its more of a case of not starting. Treading water. But not quite ready to get out. Yet.

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

20140726-very-inspirational-blogger-awardI’m very honoured to have been nominated for a Very Inspiring Blogger award by twelveweeketernities, thank you. I haven’t been blogging for all that long because a) I didn’t know how (and I’m still learning!), b) I didn’t have the emotional strength to put my experiences in to words until now and c) I was worried that people might think it was somewhat ‘indiscreet’ to air so much of my blood and tear stained gynecological linen in public.

I’m glad that I have started blogging, though, as I have found the process very cathartic and I have also discovered a wonderful community of inspirational and supportive people out there in the Blogosphere. Thank you, one and all.

Below is my list of nominees. I know that many will already have been recognized, but a little more appreciation won’t hurt 🙂 So, in not particular order:

Considerings

justanotherinfertilityblog

myperfectbreakdown

tryagainbaby

findinghopeaftermiscarriage

hopeanchorsthesoul

pregnancypause

mymmcstory

bloomingspiders

migrainefamily

mommy this mommy that

babybumpwishes

beautifullybrokenbyhim

thingspeoplesaidaftermymiscarriage

everupward

 

To accept this award, here are the things you need to do:

1. Thank and link the amazing person(s) who nominated you.

2. List the rules and display the award.

3. Share seven fun facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.

5.  Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

So, seven fun facts about me…

1. I enjoy wild swimming and swimming outdoors and swimming. Did I mention I like swimming?

2. I baby my cats like a crazy cat lady in the making.

3. I am fascinated by religion and philosophy (even though I am not religious). I teach the subject and also organize a philosophy in the pub group.

4. I like my steak medium rare, but I was a vegetarian for 10 years.

5. I have traveled the full circumference of the earth twice, once taking only two weeks to complete the trip.

6. I have slain zombies in a dis-used shopping mall. It turns out, in a ‘survival’ situation, I’m a ‘lone wolf’ type, not sticking with any particular group of survivors, but forming transient allegiances as I go. Who knew?!

7. I have done a sky-dive with 50 seconds freefall. It was awesome, but once was enough!

Emergency bathroom midwifery ***Birth described***

I have written before about how difficult I have sometimes found it to be around pregnant women and babies. Emotions swing between jealousy, self-hatred (I never used to be such a nasty b*tch) and sadness for what I’ve lost. Self preservation has a lot to do with it, I’m sure. 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. I’ve opted for a nice balance of both.

I knew that my sister and her husband wanted a second child, and I knew that they were tying (the loaned What to Expect books had made the return journey from my shelf to her’s). When she 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!

It was very exciting when I fell pregnant again myself a couple of months later, and we discussed the baby things we could share (I believed at that point that I would be facing something of a financial crisis due to being in the middle of moving jobs and there being big question marks over my maternity pay entitlement). 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.

Awkward!

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. Her first had taken several days to put in an appearance, so no-one was rushing to get warm towels just yet. 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. I made her some beans on toast to keep her strength up for the task ahead. She couldn’t eat them. She said she was fine. I suggested she ring the midwife. The midwife 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. In an act of desperation and futility, I brought her two paracetamol. She barfed them on to the bathmat. I fetched the overnight bag back into the house and phoned 999.

If you’ve ever had to make a call to the emergency services, you will know that they keep the coolest heads in the country. The operator talked to me calmly, but with extreme authority as I helped (forced) my sister on to the bathroom floor (she waned 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 it’s way. Can you hear the sirens? Don’t worry. Help’s on it’s 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. I texted my mum; “It’s happening. The ambulance is here. Don’t worry.”

The bathroom was too narrow for me to get to my sister to hold her hand, so I held her knee instead. All attempts to try to transfer her to hospital had now been abandoned. Nature was going to take its course; it was unstoppable.

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?!

I spent the day sitting by my sister’s hospital bedside, getting snacks from the canteen and waiting for her belated epidural to wear off.

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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Extra special thanks to my sister for agreeing to let me write about this.