It seems a huge failing in my mind that we humans haven’t evolved to make the childbearing feat of endurance easier on ourselves by now. The fragility of the birthing process is terrifying. No matter of the details, any woman who has given birth is heroic in my opinion. As I write about what happened next, I am aware that in spite of all that I went through, I am so very fortunate. I am forever grateful for the medical staff and the work they did. I survived. My child also survived. I have friends who would love to have children but the circumstances of their lives have made this impossible. I have friends whose beautiful, precious children didn’t survive.
Sometimes life just is unrelentingly hard and cruel. We will all face unquantifiable hardship and pain at some point, as the words of the late Robert Fisher of Willard Grant Conspiracy Theory say in his Suffering Song :
“Suffering's gonna come
It's as old as the world
It's as old as the world
Suffering's gonna come to everyone, someday"
Nobody knew if my injuries would impact my ability to give birth. My antenatal physio had advised me that I should try to avoid C- section as it would cause further injury to the already damaged area of my hips and pelvis and further exacerbate my recovery process. A consultant informed us that he felt I would be ok to have a natural birth also. Retrospectively it seems insane that I didn’t just opt to have an elective section however, we wanted to trust the advice we were given, we wanted to hope. So we decided that we’d at least try for a natural birth, with the option of intervention if needed.
After a week of complicated labour (including back to back labour / 2 failed inductions/ failed epidural as I bled into the line/ physical pain beyond anything I can find words to describe/ the baby’s heart rate going down and many more struggles and complications along the way, our daughter was finally delivered, 15 days after her due date by emergency caesarean section.
Then I suffered a major post partum haemorrhage.
“There’s a lot of fluid, she’s losing a lot of fluid,” I heard urgency in the tone of the surgeon’s voice.
It was moments after my daughter was pulled from me. I had just found myself incredulous that she was 9lbs10! The nurse carried our not so tiny newborn over to me and I desperately wanted to hold her but suddenly I found I was shaking uncontrollably. I looked at Bill and asked him to hold her instead. I knew that something was going very badly wrong. Lying fully conscious on the operating table I experienced a violent physical turbulence as my body lurched and shuddered, while I bled out.
There have been many moments in my life when a work of art has reached into my consciousness and helped me to survive my brief stint here on this planet. A few months earlier when I was awake at 3am in an Italian hospital bed following my fall, I had one of these moments. I remember reaching for my iPod and putting on Abigail Washburn’s City of Refuge album. It was just what I needed to hear. The music transported me to another place that was beautiful, uplifting, comforting and a much needed, distraction. As track 3 'Bring Me My Queen' began to play the tears rolled down my face- it felt so affirming and spiritual, like a sort of prayer calling to the deep parts of myself, to awaken and just bring me my own queen and I'd be able to do what I needed to do and find the strength to travel and make it back home to Wales the next day. The morning light dawned through a gap in the curtains in sync with the words of the final track to Abigail Washburn’s old folk Americana "Day Is A Breaking In My Soul.'
Here on the delivery table I was about to experience another such moment and I will forever be grateful to the kind and compassionate human who made that happen. My anaesthetist, stood up and left my side to speak with the Drs and see what was going on. He had a worried look on his face when he returned. Earlier in the birthing room, during my failed inductions we’d had a brief chat about music and musical tastes. He’d commented that he’d really liked the playlist of music that we’d put on in there. Now in an act of inspired human kindness he asked, “Would you like to listen to some music? I have Beth Orton on my phone,”
“Yes.” I nodded.
I hadn’t told him how much I loved Beth Orton.
I gripped his hand as lightheaded panic and fear flooded my mind. He played “Sugar Boy” a song where Beth is sarcastically telling her lover that “…it’s all over now…” I know, initially that sounds like the worst possible thing to hear, but it wasn’t at all. It was in fact the very best thing for my panicked mind and heart to hear right at that moment as Beth continued defiantly singing a repeated chorus of,
“Do you want me to lay down and die for you?
Well I'm not gonna lay down and die,
No I'm not gonna lay down and die,
Oh no I won't lay down and die,
Never gonna lay down and die…”
I looked across at Bill holding our daughter. She was alert and calm, eyes wide, looking around at everything. I knew that I would be ok. This was just turbulence, the flight was not going down that day. I felt the hands of my surgeon working to stop the bleed.
Beth continued to sing…
“Oh no I'm never gonna lay down and die for you,
Oh no I'm never gonna lay down and die for you,
I'm never gonna lay down and die.”
Several hours later in the recovery ward, my daughter was finally placed on my chest.
She was still so alert and curious. She gave me a good long stare with a look that seemed to be sizing me up.
I felt relief.
I’d made it to the finish line.
Or so I thought.