Disclaimer: I wrote this piece a year ago for a magazine. Sadly it never got used, so I thought I'd dig it out of the archives and publish it here instead.
|Our first night at home|
At some point our parents would arrive and there would be a flurry of activity, advice and photography. And conversations about how to turn the bloody flash off.
It would be the most magical time.
Well, it wasn’t any of that.
The day we came home from hospital with my newborn son was the greyest day of my life.
The birth itself had been straightforward. The afterbirth was a different matter. My placenta decided it quite liked the lining of my uterus and had become rather too attached to it. It’s called placenta accreta and it affects 1 in 500 pregnancies. There was a lot of blood – four litres of the stuff – a lifesaving transfusion, two operations and eight nights in hospital, including three nights away from my baby on the high dependency unit.
Our son, Elliott, was thankfully fine, but I really wasn’t. The physical impact of what I’d been through was one thing, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the massive emotional void that followed.
The day before I was finally discharged I was as high as a kite. I’d had a flurry of visits from all the lovely people who’d cared for us over the previous week; my midwife, consultant, high dependency unit staff, the maternity ward matron, the breastfeeding counsellor...they’d all heard my discharge was imminent and wanted to wish me well.
“I feel so good!” I told them all honestly, and off they all went with big smiles on their faces thinking they had mended me. And, there and then, I did feel mended.
But that night – my final night in the hospital – was rough. I was dosed up on morphine to ease the pain of the latest operation, yet unable to sleep because Elliott wouldn’t settle.
Morphine and no sleep are not a pleasant combination and, as dawn broke, I knew there had been a shift inside of me. My mind was shrouded in something dark and heavy as it struggled to process everything we’d been through, and everything that lay ahead. It had been over a week since the birth yet I still hadn’t changed a nappy, or dressed him, and breastfeeding wasn’t going brilliantly. How on earth was I going to cope? With all these hormones, fears and uncertainties rushing around my mind, my brain did what it needed to do to protect itself: it shut down.
I genuinely feared that if any of the medical professionals in the hospital had any inkling as to how horrendous I felt there was no way that they would discharge me, so I shakily filled in the forms, pretended to listen to the instructions about all the medication I needed to take, and off I went.
In a series of photos as we carried our baby over the threshold of our home for the first time I look dead behind the eyes. Clinging to my rainbow-tinted visions of what returning home would be like, I slowly climbed the stairs, gingerly perched on the nursing chair in our baby’s mockingly colourful room, and held Elliott. But I didn’t coo or stare lovingly at him, I wailed.
It wasn’t just tiredness. I felt as if my spirit had been sucked out of my body, leaving behind a grey Hayley-shaped shell. I had thoughts inside my head but they were echoey and distant, as if they didn’t belong to me. “Me”? I didn’t even know if there was a “me” anymore, or if there ever would be again.
My parents put my husband and I to bed but how could I sleep if I didn’t exist? After a couple of hours of nothingness a quiet, unrecognisable voice inside of me told me that I had to do something normal, even if I’d never felt less normal in my life. So I wrenched my bruised and swollen body out of bed and forced myself to eat something.
As I got back into bed my body did something that it hadn’t done since giving birth: it stretched. It was a long, deep, recuperative stretch that I had no control over whatsoever.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but, looking back, I now realise that this stretch was the first step on my long road to physical and emotional recovery. It showed me that the human body really is a wondrous thing and it can sort itself out without you having to tell it to do anything.
That stretch stirred my personality, which was lying dormant somewhere deep inside, (my husband later told me of his incredible relief when I finally made a humorous quip). That stretch told me that I was home, and that I’d be OK.
That evening I finally managed to get a bit of sleep, and when my slumber was disturbed by the cries of my son as my parents tried to settle him, I asked to hold him. He quickly stopped crying, falling peacefully asleep in my arms. I felt – I could feel! – like a mother.
Over the following days I continued to get sleep whenever I could. It often didn’t come easily – I had flashbacks and nightmares to thank for that – and it was often broken due to the needs of our baby, but with each additional hour of sleep I felt more like me.
There was a constant presence of at least one of our parents throughout the first couple of weeks. We needed all the help we could get, and the thought of somehow having to manage on our own was petrifying. But we did eventually manage.
Nine months later and here we are.
“We’re home!” I always exclaim after the latest battle to get the buggy over the doorstep. Elliott grins back at me, his eyes sparkling, his personality already burning in his belly. I carry him through the house, plonk him down as I tidy this and sort that. He chomps his way through a surprisingly large volume of food in the kitchen and bops along to the radio.
We pause at the hallway mirror and make faces at each other. I change his nappy in his little room we decorated in all the colours in the world. He splashes in the bath, and fiddles with the bath mat (fun toy? NO! Edge of bath mat? YES!) as I wrestle him into his nightwear. We sit on the nursing chair, read a book and have a cuddle. He gulps milk, sleepily.
Yes, that day we left hospital was truly horrible. But we are healthy and we are together. And, each day, we come home.