She is no longer the delicate crumpled flower that arrived with such force over 11 months ago. She's strong, alert, healthy - three simple words that I was too afraid to think about in the early days when all that mattered was keeping our 34.5 week old baby alive. And now, as the warm tropical days fall away, these three simple words remain a testimony to how far we've come as a family since India became part of our world.
She was hiccuping. I lay in the warm bath and watched in wonder as my rounded stomach moved with every tiny pulse that shook her small body. I placed my hand on my taught skin and smiled deeply, thinking that I would tell her father of this experience in a message before bed. Chris was still in Uganda and not due back to the UK for another 2 weeks. I stepped from the bath and wrapped myself in a towel, checking in on our son Leo of 3 years who was sleeping heavily, his limbs a tangled knot of chubby vines. I padded down the hallway and flicked off the light. I was 34.5 weeks pregnant.
Eight hours later I was in a hospital bed on the maternity ward with two monitors strapped to my stomach. One was taking my readings, the other focused on my baby. Next to the bed a needle scritch-scratched across a sheet of paper and a midwife studied the lines. She asked when I had last felt my baby move and I realised with spiking fear that it had been last night, when I had bathed, just hours before my waters had unexpectedly broken. I sat further up the bed and shifted my weight to the left, to the right, willing the body encased within mine to move. The baby eventually wriggled and the monitor reading peaked up and down. The midwife told me we needed more of that and then hurried towards the door. I tried to breathe.
Twenty minutes later the consultant on duty entered the room and I felt the trapdoor in my memory drop open and my throat tighten. Accompanied by a group of nursing staff this man with a harsh haircut peeled back my notes and roughly asked me about my pregnancy plan. I told him I didn’t have one other than getting us safely to 38 weeks. I have a tragic pregnancy history; a stillbirth at 26 weeks pregnant and 2 further miscarriages, so to consider the wheels falling off any earlier would have driven me mad. Ella’s premature birth had been natural, yet fatal, and due to my weakened uterus Leo’s birth was an elective c-section at 38 weeks. I had been medically advised that I would never naturally conceive again, but against the odds I did, and now our treasured soul was starting her journey south.
The consultant was the same man whose care I fell under when I lost Ella. What were the odds I silently mouthed? Here was a man I had personal grievances about and someone I had studiously managed to avoid with both my future pregnancies. With barely a glance he outlined the birth options available; emergency c-section or natural. I closed my eyes and leant against the pillow and gently rubbed my stomach, only for him to tell me that by doing so would encourage the contractions, so to stop. Memories circled like vultures and questions fell like hail. What if my body crushed her, what if she died silently in the birth canal? Will she breathe, cry, live? Will she be pulled silently from the cut of my stomach? What if either decision results in the wrong decision? I absolutely CANNOT do this again....
My wonderful mother, who had driven me to the hospital and remained with me throughout the morning, read my fear and leant across the bed and spoke the words I so desperately needed to hear, ‘no two births are the same Georgie, you must believe that’. I exhaled and moments later I quietly let the midwife know that I would birth my baby naturally. She agreed that it was the safest choice as my baby was still relatively small and the birth was likely to be quick. She gathered towels and began to prepare. I was moved into another room where my cervical stitch was quickly removed and moments later my body began the descent into strong and powerful contractions. I held fast to an image of Leo and felt myself let go from the ledge of fear as I dropped into the swell of labour.
From the corner of my eye I noticed my sister. She had arrived with a basket of treasures and came to stand next to me as I sucked on the gas and air. I rasped that I didn’t want anyone to touch me unless absolutely necessary, so could she get mum to stop stroking my arm! She laughed softly and motioned for her to stop. Fifty minutes later and with two of the strongest women I know by my side I bore into the world on the 4th contraction my beautiful daughter, India. Our mother cut the cord and we wept tears of joy as I held my precious baby. We had all travelled full circle - both women came to the hospital on the night Chris and I lost Ella; Abby was there within the hour as I drifted in and out of pure despair and later in the dark, as I was wheeled from surgery bleeding tears of sadness, I was held in our mother’s arms as she spoke quietly into my hair before toxic sleep dragged me under. For them both to have held Ella and now to have been present at India’s birth was like a balm across my heart.
India Fleur, our treasured baby. She spent her first 11 days in the NCU where I pumped milk for her, cradled her and nuzzled her. At 6lbs 3oz she was strong enough not to require oxygen, but small enough to be monitored. I was emotionally broken, but she gently gave me the strength to heal after the years of wild heartache. Chris arrived on the morning of day 4 and was spell bound. Leo adored on his baby sister and when I eventually left the hospital and stepped out into the July sunshine to drive my daughter home, I was full of unconditional and unwavering love for my entire family.