At the age of 32, I had given birth before, five times to be exact, so nothing should have been a surprise to me. Unfortunately even foreknowledge can be of little use when things go dreadfully wrong.
August 18 1998 should have been a happy day; I had just telephoned my boyfriend of almost two years that I was pregnant. (I had been married before, but was divorced by that point.) I then turned on the news to see the result of a callous act of barbarism - the Omah bombing in Ireland. A mother pregnant with twins, barely days before her due date, had been murdered along with 30 others. I cried for hours. I felt very vulnerable during that time, Miguel, my boyfriend, was working in London, several hundred miles away, and my parents were in London as well. I was alone. But I took heart; I was not a first time mother, I knew the ropes. Nothing could be easier.
Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. Wednesday, September 9, 1998 I was getting terrible pain down the right side of my abdomen. I had had a great meal, which did not stay down. I lay down; I got up; I walked, hunched over like an old crone with spinal problems - nothing got rid of the pain. In desperation I called my doctor - his office was closed for the night, but an emergency locum centre was open, call this number the recorded voice said. I called it. They were very reassuring and they said to come over straight away, just in case. I went, having roused all my children from their beds, to have the locum doctor tell me that I had a stomach infection, or wind, and I should go home and forget about it. Was that it? Don't you believe it. Even doctors can be wrong.
I went for my routine pre-natal the following morning. My family doctor, whom I have known personally for years, noted that I did not look well. He gave me the usual examination and checked the painful area on my right side. He read the cover letter from the locum doctor and disagreed instantly. I did not have an infection - I had appendicitis. I went cold. I did not have time to call Miguel, I did not have time to go home for an over night bag - I was going to the hospital, and I was going NOW. Problem - I had my two-year-old son with me. Solution, the receptionist at the doctor's office allowed me to phone a friend. She rushed over immediately, scooped up my son, and told her to leave everything to her. Don't you just love friends?
I went to the hospital, and in the Accident and Emergency department, English name for the ER, the doctor examined me and said confidently that I did not have appendicitis, but an ectopic pregnancy. At fourteen weeks? I thought I was well past the time when that could happen, and wouldn't my doctor have noticed that morning? I didn't feel like asking too many questions, I was too ill. I was told that if he was right I would have to have an abortion. I was appalled; my religious beliefs forbade such an act. I was in a terrible state. Another doctor arrived and eased my mind, a little. I didn't have an ectopic, but I would need surgery for appendicitis. I was wheeled up to the surgical ward. The nurse there told me that they couldn't do my operation that day, because my blood pressure was up. Oh, really? You don't say.
A doctor came to see me on the following morning, and gave me some grave news. There was no doubt that I would need the appendix out if I was to live, but with the drugs they had given me and the close proximity of the distended appendix to the uterus I would most likely "spontaneously abort". With that in mind I was taken to the ultrasound room to check the precise location of the appendix. The radiographer let me see my baby wriggling on the screen, and I burst into tears. I asked her for a picture, she said that wasn't allowed. I begged her, after all this was going to be my only time I'd get to see my baby. She gave me a picture, and wished me luck. I reflected later that she must have been as upset as I was, she put my name in the patient's window as 'Sara'. I had the operation that night. A few days later I almost died after the wound became infected and an abscess formed. It burst, royally, in a patient's toilet that wouldn't open. The door had jammed. Security finally got me out. By then I was in agony and in shock. My blood pressure dropped to 45/85. Surprise, I survived; even greater surprise, I kept the baby.
After I finally healed enough to go home, my belly grew as the baby grew, and with it came pain, scar tissue and difficulty sleeping. My abdomen was smaller on one side than the other, and it was tender to the touch. I wondered if I would heal enough to give birth naturally, or if I would get so big the surgery site would split apart. Ridiculous notions, now that I look back on them, but very real fears for me at the time.
March 16, 1999 came around and I was jittery. Nothing unusual. I always was. I had five lively children to raise on my own. Miguel and I had effectively drifted apart, still great friends, but he couldn't find work near enough to be with me and so we mutually decided to split up. I collected the children from school and they asked to play outside. I said yes, but stay close to the house, because I might have to send them to their Auntie Karen's, Karen is a good friend, at some point. I wasn't getting any pains; I just knew that my time was close. Funny things, instincts. I rang Miguel, no answer, which meant he was at work. As I sat down on the sofa trying to remember his work number, I had a strong contraction that needed breathing through. I rang Miguel at work, it would take him several hours to get up to Doncaster, and they were short staffed and he couldn't leave until the shift ended - at midnight. Ok, there I was thinking; this is baby number 6, my last one took only 2 hours, and Miguel is 402 miles away; he's going to miss this event of his life. I couldn't have any more. The doctor at the hospital after my op told me that the scarring would leave me sterile.
I called Karen, and I called the ambulance and the pre-arranged taxi - they were booked up. Panic. I called another company, and another, and another. Finally I found a taxi to take my children across town to my friend's house. The ambulance arrived at my door before the taxi did - panic number two. Finally D-Day, and no Miguel.
I was in the pool room, I had booked a water birth. My previous child had been born in water, and I highly recommend it. Unfortunately things did not go according to plan. The contractions were strong enough, but I was not dilating. I was put on a monitor for a while, and checked again, still not dilating. I got in the luxurious bathtub for almost an hour, the contractions were getting stronger. I was checked again, nada. I explained that during previous labours it was discovered that I don't efface, and suggested that the midwife check me again. Nada. At the most I was 4 cm, normal for a mother with several births under her belt. They told me that they would not be sending me home, as I was in for good, I wasn't going home without my baby, but they would get me a bed in the pre-natal ward down stairs. By midnight they changed their minds, I was in too much pain to be moved down there - and guess what? I was not dilating.
I sat on the bean bag, I walked, I massaged, I rocked, the pain wore on. By 1 am, I think it was, I asked for pethidine to ease the pain. By 3 am I was using Entonox. I was tired and very worried that Miguel still had not showed up, but decided that it could take him a while to get to me, 2 hours from Kings Cross Station alone. I tried very hard to be patient, but I was not in a patient mood. The midwife checked me at 4.55 am and said that I was still not dilating. Not one jot. She said she would go and get a cup of tea and see me again when she returned. 5.02 am, I felt a pop.
I pressed the buzzer and a junior midwife came in. I told her my water had broken. She looked and said, "They haven't, Susan. The bed is dry." Next contraction. I groaned loudly. She stared at me. "Are you getting the urge to push?" she asked. "I've been trying not to," I replied. I have never seen a nurse dash 'from' a room so fast. My midwife was nowhere to be seen. A new face appeared and told me to straighten up a little. I did, and Oh Golly!! The pressure was immense. The midwife rush to wash her hands and screamed at me from across the room "PANT!" Pant? What on earth for? I say "why?" "The baby's head is out", she said, grabbing gloves and reaching toward the bed to catch my son. I reached down to touch him, to greet him tenderly, but I was fuming. With the next push I swore blind that I would do nasty things to our son's father for not turning up - something to the tune of "I'm going to wring his ****** neck." Yasser-Thomas slid out with a relieved roar from me and chuckles from the two midwives. They had heard it all before. The time and date were - 5.27 am, March 17, 1999 - and knowing my luck I was still not dilating. I held my son, warm and wet, to my chest. I still in my night clothes having had no time to take it off, the pool stood unused and I was exhausted. It had been a long night. My friend Karen phoned a little after that to see how I was and whether they would be sending me home since I "wasn't in labour". We've laughed about that ever since.
Yasser-Thomas is now a lively 3 1/2 year-old, and into everything. I need three pairs of eyes. I wouldn't change a thing.