Today was Samuel’s due date, and the day of the London marathon. Marathon day is special to our family, because our church are responsible for one of the water stations. It’s hard work and a fun day out, with lots of friends past and present coming to join the church from 7am to help set up the station, open all the bottles, and then hand out the water. We have a tea stall and a band plays close by, the atmosphere is great and weather permitting its a lovely event. Realising I’d be less than a fortnight post C-section I had the sense not to sign up this year, but I did pop down for an hour to show off the new baby – our first big outing since the birth and the first time he’s met most of his church family. It was wonderful showing him off to everyone and hearing how gorgeous he is (proud mummy!)
Watching the runners, I was struck by the (slightly tenuous) parallels with pregnancy. After months of anticipation thousands of runners tested themselves against 26.2 miles of London roads. Some are good at running, some less so, but all who were serious about completing the race had put in months of hard work and training whilst looking forward to this day. Most reach their goal and celebrated their achievement with friends and family. So many people take part, and yet each person who crosses that finish line has achieved a small miracle. A few drop by the wayside with a story that isn’t one to celebrate, that doesn’t bring smiles when told, but a strange mixture of pity, sadness, and yet respect that an attempt was made, that some success, although partial, was achieved. An uncomfortable situation of a happy tale derailed, an unenviable position somehow perceived as worse than no attempt at all.
Its the same with pregnancy – its something many people experience, yet each birth is a unique and amazing achievement, and follows months of anticipation, excitement and sometimes a lot of medical care along the way. Birth is so common that its easy to take for granted the number of things that have to conspire together for the whole thing to work out. Getting pregnant in the first place, staying pregnant in the early days, and then later on as the baby grows, the placenta growing and doing its job, the baby developing all the right organs and the birth itself happening at the right point. When a pregnancy is announced, everyone looks forward to the birth, and expects it to go well. Well, last time around I was one of those runners standing at the side of the road stretching my sore legs with 10 miles still to go, hobbling into the St John’s ambulance station. At just 5 1/2 months into my pregnancy I went into labour and our little boy was born and the pregnancy was suddenly over. (I’ll post more on Nathan’s story in future).
With Samuel I feel like I have run the full marathon. And I had all the aches and pains along the way to prove it. From getting pregnant, we knew there was a chance the same thing could happen again – or worse – that we might not get to a viable gestation at all. Every day was a worry – do we have a healthy embryo? is there a heartbeat? Might I miscarry in the first few weeks? And then at 12 weeks we crossed a big milestone – I had my Transabdominal Cerclage placed. Its major surgery and not something most women need, but in my case it gave us the best chance of carrying the pregnancy to term. However, the surgery has a 2-3% risk of miscarriage, because it involves open abdominal surgery including handling the pregnant uterus. We survived it with the little one intact, and breathed a sigh of relief. Crossing that boundary was perhaps like running across Tower Bridge – we were finally on the right side of the river but still had a long way to go.
After that, I knuckled down and tried to forget I was pregnant for a while. After a first trimester of morning sickness, I felt really well during the second trimester which helped – but all the while I was aware that my growing baby was getting heavier, and putting more strain on my cervix. Would the stitch hold? Was it placed correctly? Would our baby live? Could I let myself love this baby knowing he or she might not survive? But we kept going, day by day and hour by hour, and slowly the weeks rolled by.
The hardest time was the weeks leading up to our previous gestation – from around 18 to 24 weeks it was like the cold windy Isle of Dogs section of the marathon. I started to feel little kicks, and yet every day was a battle against worry and pessimism. I knew that our child was almost fully formed – with arms and legs and a cute little face, with all the internal organs present, just waiting to finish maturing and laying down fat. But I also knew that if our child was born in those few weeks he or she would have no chance of living. Before 24 weeks, babies in the UK do not have a right to be resuscitated. Some hospitals will try to save 23 weekers, but only about 10% make it. At 24 weeks the survival rate suddenly jumps to around 50%. As soon as we reached that gestation I knew we were in a better situation than last time.
It was a relief, but not a complete one. The time from 24 to 28 weeks involved counting every day too, worrying at every twinge, wondering why every kick seemed to be aimed directly at my cervix. Watching the calendar and counting the chances as survival rates rose from 50% to 90%. It was only when I’d crossed the 28 week mark when I felt we might actually make it, that we had a good chance of bringing home our baby alive and without serious disabilities.
After 28 weeks we were on the home straight, like coming down the Embankment with Big Ben in sight. I knew that the further we got the safer it was, and the less time we would have to spend in the neonatal unit should we deliver early. Of course there was still some risk, sometimes things go wrong even for a full term baby, but risks were diminishing and the end was in sight. I started to think I might reach 36 weeks, the date when I’d agreed with work to start my maternity leave. I started to relax and enjoy my growing bump. Amazingly the weeks kept ticking by, with no labour and no signs of any problem. My last day at work came and went. The date of my caesarean approached – seemingly very quickly – ground rush as the end approached. And on the appointed day, at full term, without any medical emergency or complication, our son was born. I was elated to cross the finish line, to hold a healthy baby.
So today as I showed off our newborn son I smiled when people said “oh, isn’t he small!”. Yes, he is small – although a healthy weight for his gestation. But he is more than five times the birthweight of his brother. He seems huge to me. Nevertheless, I’m clutching my winners medal and showing him off to anyone who’ll look. It feels good to have crossed the finish line this time, and what an amazing reward.