My waters broke two weeks early with Emily. I was admitted to hospital but my contractions were feeble and intermittent. In the end I was hooked up to an intravenous drug called Syntocinon (essentially rocket fuel for the cervix) and five hours later I had a baby in my arms. We were discharged and left the hospital a deliriously happy, exhausted young family.
The next day we were admitted back to the Maternity Unit. At 3am Emily had experienced a seizure, her tiny arms flailing about in a series of jerky, uncoordinated movements. Tests and observations were required. My husband and I were devastated. We couldn’t quite comprehend how quickly everything had turned to shit.
The doctors needed to take blood from Emily but the process seemed barbaric. The screams of our newborn baby were ugly and unforgiving. Voicing our own displeasure, we were marshaled from the room and ushered into another. Ten minutes later my husband was asked to leave. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. ‘Visiting Hours are over,’ repeated the nurse, tapping her watch like some ghastly caricature of her own profession, and no number of ‘unmitigated circumstances’ was going to move her.
I was left alone in that room for two hours. There were no updates on Emily. There wasn’t even a cup of tea offered, and I was too numb and too traumatized to venture outside on my own. When I was finally reunited with my baby she looked as stunned as me. The doctors mentioned something about a ‘blood sugar imbalance’ and we were ordered to stay put until things stabilized.
That night was horrific. Every time Emily twitched I found myself smacking my hand against the Call Button. A nurse would bustle in to check her stats but that was it. There was no comfort or reassurance. On reflection, their detachment was chilling. They must have known how much I was struggling. By this point I hadn’t slept in two days.
Breastfeeding wasn’t happening either. Somehow the perfect latch that Emily and I had demonstrated in the delivery suite had deserted us. Mortified, I was forced to ask the nurses time and time again to show me what to do, and they did, albeit briskly. I didn’t make a fuss. They had dozens of patients to look after and were understaffed as usual. But Emily would invariably fall off my breast as soon as they left the room and then refuse to latch back on. By 5am we were both crying in frustration. I was shattered. I was a failure at motherhood at just forty-eight hours in.
There was no TV in that room. No distraction. Not even the ticking of a clock. I longed to be transferred to a busy ward. Time stretched into days – just one very hungry baby and me. The brief visiting hours, once in the morning and again in the afternoon and early evening, passed by in a blur. I barely registered faces. My parents said they came to see me but I honestly don’t remember.
Those four walls kept closing in. I knew every pattern on the yellow and blue nylon curtains and every crack in the paintwork. Sleep was unforthcoming. The nurses met my husband’s growing concern for me with a perfunctory offer of two paracetamol, their answer to all ills it seemed.
On the third day Emily’s fits had subsided but her weight was plummeting. I was encouraged to ‘try a little harder’ as if I’d been jacking about for the last forty-eight hours with my feet up and binging on Netflix. The doctor even advised a little formula by the evening if things hadn’t improved. I saw this as a threat and then as a punishment. My failure was compounded. I couldn’t even feed my own child.
That night Emily screamed on and off for seven hours straight. There was no partner or friend to share the burden. For three of those hours not one single nurse came into the room. They must have heard her though. The whole hospital must have been cursing us. Finally, at daybreak, a young maternity worker took pity on me and we sat and cracked it together like the Three Breastfeeding Amigos. She’d only popped in to change my water but I will forever be in her debt.
With Emily’s weight in the ascendance, every new ounce bought us a little more freedom from that room. Six days later we were discharged but by that time the spidery roots of my PND had become entrenched. My feelings of inadequacy were insurmountable. The legacy of that hospital stay would cast a long, dark shadow over the first eight months of Emily’s life.
Friends talk fondly about time spent with their new babies. They complain about sleep-deprivation and ‘new parent panic’ but there’s always warmth and affection in their voices. It makes me wistful. It sometimes makes me sad.
The tragic irony is that the care I received during my labour was faultless. My midwife stayed long after her shift ended to see the delivery through, and to have her calm, familiar voice guiding me through the final furlong and into the winner’s enclosure was a pain relief all in itself. And I will always be grateful for the swift diagnosis and treatment of Emily.
I just wish that the same due, care and attention had been extended to her mother as well.
*This article has also appeared as a Huffington Post UK Parents Featured Blog Post.