Sixteen years ago today – the 16th August – my second daughter was born.
I’ve written extensively about the experience and so will aim for a potted history here: I was induced using drugs that I ought never to have been given; those drugs caused agonising pain for which I was denied relief as they nevertheless failed to initiate a ‘proper’ labour; my community midwife came to the ward and, appalled at what she found, ordered and administered pethidine for me; after she left and the painkiller wore off, a truly agonising and violently fast labour did indeed start.
But no-one (apart from one other patient who did her best to aid me) believed either my sobbing pleas for help or the evidence literally at the duty midwife’s fingertips: that my labour was proceeding exceedingly rapidly. As in the case of Sareena Ali, my womb was contracting so fiercely that it was in danger of rupture.
Bullied and repeatedly insulted, I ended up in a wheelchair, as the midwife insisted on taking me to labour ward to deliver the baby. But there wasn’t enough time, and I gave birth in transit. My labour had been augmented with drugs that were known to cause a dangerous reaction in me (as they had during the birth of my first child) and so my daughter was born with immense force – catapulted through my hands as I tried to catch her, colliding first with the wall and then the floor, where the auxiliary pushing the wheelchair ran over her. The force of the birth created traction on the umbilical cord and I began to haemorrhage even as I screamed for someone to please, please help my baby as she lay stricken and dying on the floor.
‘Don’t be so ridiculous, of course it’s not on the floor!‘ the midwife, ahead of us along the corridor, shot back at me over her shoulder. And then she turned and saw for herself.
My daughter suffered severe head injuries; a lack of oxygen; lacerations to the front of her face where the wheelchair hit her – forehead, nose, both lips, chin. The side of her head swelled up and turned purple, making her look like a little alien baby. I remember being astonished that they had managed to resuscitate her at all and terrified of what the future would hold for us both. When a paediatric consultant came to see us and advised me that her brain would be able to rewire itself around whatever damage had occurred – it’s called neuroplasticity – I didn’t believe him. I spent the first ten years of her life convinced that, one day – probably just as we started to feel safe – some awful aneurysm in her brain would burst and she would die.
I wasn’t formally diagnosed with PTSD until some time after her birth, but I started experiencing the symptoms almost immediately: insomnia, distress, hyper-vigilance, constant anxiety and fear. I became a completely different person.
When my daughter was a baby, I never looked forward to what life might be like, for her or for me, sixteen years into the future. I couldn’t even imagine getting through the next sixteen days! There are parts of my daughter’s early life – and therefore also parts of the early days of her younger sister, born safely at home 22 months later – that I cannot recall at all. I do remember calling the GP’s locum service in the very early hours of one particular morning about three months after her birth, agitated and in distress, unable to sleep, or to face another day of lingering, unconquerable terror. The male doctor who came to the phone talked gently to me for over an hour, unable to keep his voice from betraying his own shock and horror as I explained what had happened to turn me into the quavering, hysterical wreck who needed, more than anything else, a level of reassurance that no-one was able to give her.
Drugs, counselling, CBT – nothing helped. Nothing could erase the psychological damage.
Looking back, from this point in time, I have to wonder how I did it. I returned to work; had not just one more baby but two (my 12lbs 2ozs son was also born at home just over ten years ago); fought for justice for myself and for my daughter – justice that never came. I’m no clearer on the details of how she did it, either – going from inconsolable, shrieking baby, to silent, uncoordinated toddler (she did not speak or walk until she was three and had to ride on the back of her sister’s pram to cover any significant distance until she was five), to complicated, moody teenager with only very mild special needs. But here we are, neither of us showing much outward sign of the trauma that has shaped our lives and made us the people we are today.
Provided she has managed to obtain ‘C’ grades in her GCSEs, despite an appalling lack of support from her school, my daughter will be starting A Levels in Art, Photography and History in September. She is prodigiously talented, her fine motor skills now completely normal. She still carries the scars of the bullying and cruelty that her lack of social skills and other subtle differences engendered, but she hopes that a new beginning at college will give her a different life; a fresh start.
There can be no fresh start for me. I still worry; am still afraid. The PTSD is unlikely to ever completely recede and impotent fury still overwhelms me every now and then. My anger isn’t just directed at those who failed to care for me – and who then put me through further torture as they tried to cover up what they had done with, amongst other nasty tactics, accusations that I’d not wanted my baby and had sought deliberately to harm her – but is also aimed inwards, at myself.
I am her mother; I should have saved her.
Nevertheless, I am a stronger person now for what I’ve endured and there is a part of me that would not change that, even though I would take away my daughter’s suffering if only I could. Although, if you were to meet her, you would never know that her start in life was one of the worst imaginable. Today, my beautiful daughter is simply sweet sixteen, a feisty young woman with her whole life ahead of her.
And I am so very proud.