“I think the baby is coming!” I tell the midwife as I feel the pressure deep within me begin to descend. I am squatting, holding onto my husband, and before the midwife crosses the room our beautiful daughter comes into the world. There is no rushing to assist her, she isn’t whisked away to have check her APGARS. There are no cries, just an empty and devastating silence.
She has been born at only 20 weeks and four days, it is simply just too early for her to survive in the outside world.
I am helped back onto the bed; I look at my husband who is crying silent tears. The midwife asks her name. We look at each other, it’s still too early and we haven’t decided on names yet. She is wrapped and placed into my arms. I look down at her tiny, perfect face. I softly run my finger along her nose, her lips, trying to embed her delicate features into my memory. This isn’t how I had imagined our first moments together, she should be looking back up at me, gazing into her Mum’s eyes for the first time – instead her tiny eyelids are closed. Her mouth opens, looking for air that her lungs just aren’t ready for. I lay there holding her, wondering if each gasp will be her last. I struggle to keep my eyes open; all I want to do is sleep and for this to all be over but at the same time I feel guilty that I’m not and can’t do more for her. Our midwife soon comes over and gently pulls aside her wrap – her heart has stopped beating.
She is gone.
I hold my baby girl, I hold her close to keep her warm as it is all I can do for her now. I feel numb. But I can’t sleep as I have to do this all again, as the contractions start again – her brother is on his way.
My waters break – I know what is coming and I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to watch my baby boy die. I beg them to just take the baby out of me – my husband stares at me, shocked. I don’t care what happens to me anymore. I just want this to all be over.
The contractions worsen, it’s not just the physical pain that is overwhelming me, it’s the knowledge that my body is pushing out another baby too early that is shattering me.
I continue to plead for it to be over, our obstetrician, midwife and my husband all encourage me when it becomes time to push. My body and my mind are at odds. I don’t want to do it. I have the delusion that if I don’t push I can keep our son safe. My body wins the battle; our baby boy also makes a silent entry into the world. I am told he has been born sleeping and I feel a strange sense of relief wash over me. He won’t have to go through the pain of suffocating, of trying to draw breath into lungs that are just not ready.
It’s all over. What happens next is a blur. I can feel myself being poked and prodded, blood and swabs taken to try and work out why this has happened. I don’t care what they do to me. I just want to close my eyes, and go to sleep to escape this nightmare.
I am taken back to my room. My husband is quietly making phone calls next to me, calling our family with the news no parent should ever have to share. Our babies are wheeled in, placed beside me. They have been dressed in what seem to be impossibly tiny clothes. They are together in one cot, this gives me some comfort. It’s important for me that they stay together, that they still have each other.
I gently pick them both up, nestling each of them into the crook of my arm. I look down at my perfect little girl and boy, and let the tears flow. Tears for the unfairness of it all, for the lost dreams we had and the lifetime of memories that have now been taken from us.
Their bodies are cold, and I try to warm them up. I adjust the tiny beanies on their heads, making sure they are on properly, I wrap them in more blankets and cuddle them closer to my chest. I become obsessed with keeping them warm. My body has failed me, I couldn’t keep them safe, now all I try to do is keep them warm.
Before I fall asleep, I undress them, marvel at their precious, perfect bodies and tenderly wash them. I then dress them again ready for bed. I wrap each one tightly in their blanket, tuck them in together and give them a kiss good night.
The day is over, today we have said hello to our daughter and son, but we have also said goodbye.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem