Preparing mother and child for feeding

The obstetrician on ward duty stopped preparing mother and child for feeding the foot of my bed and surveyed my case notes for a moment. Not many people realise,’ he said, in what I suppose was meant to be a sympathetic tone, ‘that giving birth is still one of the most dangerous things that a woman can do. Two weeks previously I’d been hospitalised with pre-eclampsia, a condition in pregnant women that can prove fatal, so his remark was to some extent justified, if not exactly tactful.

But as it turned out, his words were an all-too-accurate harbinger of things to come. My son Solomon was born at four o’clock the next day after a straightforward delivery. Moments later, though, things started to go wrong. Someone else took the baby away and, I later learned, handed him to my husband. The tranquil, dimly-lit delivery room was suddenly flooded with glaring lights and white-coated medical staff.

Some time later, when I regained consciousness, a large intravenous drip was feeding blood into one arm, a hefty dose of antibiotics into the other. Frightening as it was, looking back on the birth of my second child 13 years ago next month, it seems like a prologue to the complex drama of what came next. And physical danger is by no means the only one to fear. The following day, my husband brought our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Jessie into hospital to meet her brother. We’d prepared carefully for this moment: read her picture books about becoming a sibling, enlisted her help in preparing the baby’s room, asked her opinion about names. And yet, for all our careful preparations, no thought had been given to preparing any of us for what actually happened.

The little girl who walked through the door nervously holding her father’s hand, who scrambled up on to the hospital bed and threw herself on top of me in a wholehearted embrace, was not the child I’d said goodbye to just two days before. Crazy and irrational as it sounds, she suddenly seemed huge to me. No longer a little girl at all, no longer my baby – but an enormous overgrown child I barely recognised. A week later, I was discharged from hospital and went home to a new life as the mother of two children. Drained by a difficult pregnancy and labour, I was wholly unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster that lay ahead, caring – or trying to care – for a tetchy baby and a demanding toddler. The next few months were a nightmare, a hideous waking dream that never ended.