Alone To Recover

The nurses checked on me every half an hour after my C-section surgery. I was in a private room with a view across London. Emmanuel was with our baby. I was so alone at that moment. Yet I still felt full and happy, not sad. I felt like I had accomplished something. Something with a nine-month build up.

Emmanuel came to my room and gave me my phone. He had kept hold of it for me after Bethany (the Anaesthetist) had taken our wonderful birth photos for us. I had been alone with no phone for almost thirty minutes. I think that feeling was more bizarre than the numb legs were. He bowled into the room with the biggest grin on his face. He was a father. No matter what, from this point onwards he was a Daddy. I had had nine months to get used to the idea of having a baby every time I felt him kick. Emmanuel had this moment. It was written all over his face and his navy-blue scrubs. I am a Daddy. He looked like he might burst.

“How is he?” I asked.

“He’s good. The doctors are just sorting him out now.” He beamed at me with such joy, I couldn’t help but feel the same way.

“Go. Go be with him.” I would have pushed him out of the door if I could have.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“I’m fine. Just go.” I was again left alone.

I looked through the pictures on my phone. Seeing it all captured made me so happy. I zoomed in on Zach’s face, his wide-open screaming mouth. That beautiful squashy nose. In one picture his face was next to mine and his hand was reaching for me. I couldn’t stop staring at it. Then my phone pinged and Emmanuel sent through pictures of him now. His bottom half was tightly wrapped up in a hospital blanket. He was wearing a hat with a white and grey star print on it that I had picked out as his first outfit, He didn’t need the baby-grow that matched as he was on a heated bed. His chest had three little wires attached to it with different coloured sticky pads, a red, a green and a yellow. These were to measure his heart. But I didn’t know that at the time. I barely saw them. I just saw his face. His beautiful fluffy new-born face. My son.

My parents had booked a hotel room in London near to the hospital. As soon as we gave the go-ahead for them to visit, they appeared in my room in a nanosecond. Armed with a gorgeous teddy and a card. It was so surreal to see them there. I had just briefly met my son and now my parents were about to as well. They came to me at my bedside, because of course I couldn’t move, and gave me hugs. I told them right away to go and meet their grandson. It didn’t take much convincing before they left to go and find him.

Again, I was alone. A nurse came in and took my blood pressure and observed my bleeding. Which involves lifting the sheet to peek at you and see if you are bleeding on to the giant pad sheets.  At the time I did not care a dot. Looking back, it was really humiliating. I asked when I could go and see my baby. As soon as you can get into a wheelchair was the answer. Over the next hour and a half, I sat there trying to wiggle my toes and get my legs to move enough to be able to get into a wheelchair. They offered me morphine and I accepted. Anything to make it easier to get off this bed and into that chair. By 3.30pm just over two hours after I had been stitched up, I was calling the nurse.

“I can do it. I can get in the chair.” I was so determined that I didn’t care if I actually felt ready or not. She wheeled in a chair with a humiliation pad on it. And a big sheet to wrap around me so that I wasn’t flashing my butt to everybody through the back of the chair.

I used every piece of strength I had to heave myself into that seat. I could move my legs but not properly. I was using my arms to get off the bed and closer to the wheel chair, closer to him. I stood one foot on the ground and lifted, exposing my naked back to the nurses. I did not care. I swung around and placed my butt down into the seat.  Leaving my remaining leg to drag behind me, with some effort I managed to pull it across and into the footrest. The nurses wrapped the sheet around the chair. I was so happy with myself that I ignored the pain in my abdominal region. I pushed it away like a leaf down a sticky stream of mud. It was not going to stop me seeing my son.

My dad came to wheel me over to the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I gleefully joked with him about Mario Kart driving as we whizzed past the rooms and receptions of each ward. We passed the lifts that separated the mothers from their babies. A wall between us. Soon, so soon, I was outside the room where he was. Emmanuel came out to meet me and to wheel me in. My wound was throbbing now. The morphine hardly touching the edges of the pain, but it was certainly making me high. I didn’t realise at the time but the morphine and the dihydrocodeine were making me feel giddy. I was a little bit ‘away with the fairies.’

I was ready. A nurse held the door open for us and I was pushed inside a softly lit room filled with four baby beds. I was about to meet my son, properly. To hold him in my arms for the first time. To look into his face, to hold his hand and whisper his name.

The Birth

As we drew closer to my induction date on the 16th February it was becoming apparent that Zach would not be turning on his own. Despite my attempts to get him to flip around, he remained in a head upwards position. I had a phone consultation with the doctor at St Thomas’ Hospital where I would be for the birth. She talked through the risks of attempting a breech birth. It did not look good. So reluctantly I agreed that if a 3rd ECV attempt didn’t work that I would have a planned C-section. The ECV and was booked for Monday the 17th of February. I was 39 weeks pregnant.

We arrived in hospital on Monday morning, I was so hopeful that he would turn but deep down I think I knew that he wouldn’t. I knew either way that very soon my son would be born. Either we would start an induction today if he turned. Or I would be going to theatre for a C-section if he didn’t.

We tried the last two ECV’s to turn our baby boy around but he wouldn’t budge. As it turned out Little Zach was stuck in position because I have a heart shaped Uterus instead of the regular oval shape. Or at least That is possibly why, He could just have been really comfortable there.

“You tried baby,” Emmanuel said to me as he held my hand. I was sat perched on the edge of the bed still waiting for the salbutamol to go away so that I could stop feeling jittery. We were left alone whilst the midwife arranged a room for us. We would be staying in until the C-section was booked.

We were checked in and given a private room. Then we waited. And waited and waited. It turns out that we would not be having our baby that day. The hospital informed us that they just couldn’t fit us in. So, we went for dinner and came back to the hospital later. The night was an odd one. We both knew what was coming but we were in limbo. Emmanuel had to sleep in the reclining chair next to my hospital bed for the night. We watched Love island and fell asleep early.

The next day I was woken up by the nurses at 7 am and given omeprazole to prevent acid reflux during the C-section. My blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels were taken and we were again left alone to wait. At 8 am the nurses changed shifts and we were visited once more. This time we were told we would be going to theatre today at some point. Today would be my baby’s birthday. I liked the date that it had fallen on which is a weird thing to focus on. But somehow the 19th Feb just wouldn’t have suited him and likewise the 17th. The 18th was a good day for Zach to be born. I liked it. So today was the day, then we waited. And waited and waited. We messaged family and friends and let them know what was going on but truthfully, we were just kind of floating around with no idea.

At around lunchtime, I was given some compression socks to put on and antibacterial wipes to ‘wash; with’. Along with a gown. I got washed up, dressed down and sat on the bed so that Emmanuel could help me with my compression socks. Trust me when I say there is no easy way to put on a pair of compression socks. It took about half an hour to get on just one sock. My feet were so swollen and the socks, of course, were so tight that the task became a hilarious event of pushing and pulling. It didn’t help matters that I hadn’t shaved my legs for months. Added friction.

Finally, with the socks on, we were called to theatre. It was literately a knock on the door and let’s go. We were taken to another room in another ward. This would be the room that I would come to afterwards for recovery. We lugged all of our bags and bits and pieces across. I set up my bottle of water and tablet ready on the table for afterwards. Then we sat taking in the view overlooking the London eye. We took some last photos of the two of us dressed in our gown and Emmanuel in his ‘scrubs’. The knock on the door came and off we went. We walked down the corridor to the theatre. I was holding my gown closed so I didn’t flash anybody my bum.

The theatre was not what I expected. We walked in through two sets of doors to a green coloured room and that was it. There it was right off the main corridor. You could almost stumble into it.

I was sat on a bed and given a chair to rest my feet on. My blood pressure etc. were all checked before we started and then the procedure was explained to me. I had a cannula inserted into my hand for drugs to be administered. Then a fluid drip was set up. I was given a pillow to lean over and hug onto. The anaesthetist then cleaned and numbed the skin on my back. She pushed between two of my vertebrae with her fingers for a while before finding the correct spot. She then inserted the needle and administered the spinal block. I could feel it, I won’t lie. But it’s not painful it’s more like pressure. Almost straight away my legs went tingly and I felt sick. I was helped to lay down before I lost anymore feeling. Emmanuel was given a chair so that he could sit by my head the whole time. The anaesthetist, Bethany, stood the other side of me. She was amazing. From start to finish I couldn’t have asked for somebody more kind or professional to take care of me. My gown was lifted to be used as a screen and a blanket placed over my lower half – then the part I had been truly dreading and I mean that. The catheter. My legs were moved by the nurses and the catheter inserted. I had no idea about any of it of course but I knew what they were doing as they were talking and telling me as they went. And honestly, that was probably the worst part. It still makes my tummy feel funny just thinking about it.

The anaesthetist used a cold spray to check I was numb all over before anything began. Once she was happy that I couldn’t feel anything anywhere we were ready. I was giving her detailed feedback. “well I know you are there, but it doesn’t feel cold.” I am sure she was used this. I was concentrating so hard in case I could feel anything, but I couldn’t at all. They do explain to you that they take away the pain but not the sensations. So, you will feel the movement. They said it would be like rummaging in a handbag! Nice analogy! There I was, Emmanuel holding my hand, everything numb and ready to go, but the surgeon was nowhere to be found. Bethany stepped up and called to someone to sort this out. She was efficient and assertive. It was just what was needed at the time. Then he entered, in a room full of women a man walked in. He took a moment to introduce himself to me before a proper screen was put up and I could no longer see anything except the blue fabric, Emmanuel and Bethany. The surgeon was concerned by the size of the bed and wanted the side extender removed as he couldn’t reach across. It was what felt like a power play but must have been a genuine concern. The side of the bed was quickly removed. It was time.

My blood pressure started to drop at this point and I began feeling sick so Bethany gave me some drugs to counteract this. I felt better almost right away. I was a bit shaky but this was just the adrenaline in my body, like when you go to the dentist for a filling and afterwards your legs are wobbly. Then it started. Within minutes we heard them saying, we can see the baby’s feet and bum. They all laughed as he pooed on his way out. Then we heard the most beautiful sound I have ever heard in my life. My baby boy cried as he was lifted out of me. Bethany took my phone and snapped loads of pictures for us. Thanks to her I have a picture sequence of the most amazing moment; the birth of my son. His bum being lifted out. His face appearing. His cord being cut. His screaming face and long body stretched out as they lay him across my legs. He was taken aside for a few moments to be checked and wrapped in a blanket before being brought over to me. Because of the poo, he had to go straight to NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) but I had a few brief moments of him placed next to my face. He reached out and grabbed at my face as if he knew who I was and was asking to stay with me. But soon, too soon, he was gone. Emmanuel kissed and hugged me and told me well done before he left with our baby. I was so adamant that he stayed with our son that I am sure I was practically shouting it.  I was alone in a room full of strangers. But the most wonderful strangers. The nurses chatted to me and kept me calm as they started to stitch me back up. I thought I would feel sad because my baby and my partner had both just left, but I felt pretty good. As if I had just done a workout.

As they stitched me back up, the student nurse and Bethany kept up the conversation. “is this your first baby?” “Did you know you were having a boy?” Questions that I would soon get very used to hearing and answering. Safe questions. Normal.

I asked how the stitching up was going. Bethany told me they were nearly done. I asked again “no I mean what layer are they on?” She paused before answering and telling me there were three to go. Fat and two skin. I told her I had watched a YouTube video on how it was done. She laughed and nodded.

The surgeon leaned over the screen and informed me that he had knotted the stitches on the outside and they will likely need cutting off later. The midwives would do this. This is not a normal procedure; stitches are normally all tucked in and would dissolve apparently. I still have no idea why he did this. Perhaps he was trying to start a trend. He said goodbye and disappeared off. The nurses cleaned me up and gave me a painkiller in the form of a suppository. I had no idea and wished they hadn’t have told me. I was leaned onto my side so they could clean the blood off me fully and then move me onto a travelling bed. I joked about being heavy. The five nurses chuckled politely as I am sure they had heard that joke a million times whilst lifting a 5’9 – just given birth so carrying some extra weight – woman across to another bed!

That was it. I thanked everybody as I was wheeled out of the theatre and down the corridor into my room. It was over. I had ‘given birth’ to our son. He was beautiful. That feeling is something I cannot explain. Hearing him cry and seeing his face for the first time. Something inside my heart moved for him.

Four ECV’S and a Breech Baby

The weeks progressed and the news sank in a little. Some days I would feel hopeful and happy. Others I would be full of fear for what was to come. I soon found that working nights in the private members’ club that I managed was getting too much. The loud music, the drunk people and the 4 am finishes left me exhausted. I spoke to HR and started maternity leave early. I was going to miss my job and my friends there but my body couldn’t do the late nights and my mind was elsewhere. So, in late November 2019 I finished work.

I started nesting at home and getting things ready for Zach’s arrival. I wanted to be prepared as well in case Zach was going to come early. So, by Christmas time I had our hospital suitcase packed, the nursery ready and the car seat installed. I had pretty much everything we would need all sorted. I loved standing in his nursery and looking around. I would sit in his nursing chair and imagine what it would be like to be sat there feeding him. I started to find that I needed something to do. To take my mind off things a little bit. So, I got my sewing machine out and made gift bags for my family’s Christmas presents! After Christmas I got into the routine of seeing the midwifes on a bi-weekly basis for regular measuring check-ups.

The local midwifes would measure my bump each week and check Zach’s position. He was in the ‘Breech’ position for the entire pregnancy. Which isn’t a problem, until you get towards the end. At this stage its ideal to have a baby positioned facing down, with their head in the pelvis.

Zach decided that he wanted to stay where he was, with his head sitting under my right rib-cage and his bum sat above my left hip. He was laying diagonally across in utero. This is fine for the pregnancy bit, but not so great for the birth bit. So, I was given the option to have an ECV to try and turn him around. I desperately wanted an all-natural birth. I had been practising my hypnobirthing techniques daily and wanted to use them. With Zach in breech this pushed my ideal labour and birth further away from us. 

What the heck is an ECV? Is short terms two people push your baby around to try and get the head to face down and into the pelvis. It is exactly as it sounds. Brutal. ECV stands for External Cephalic Version. External being from the outside, cephalic being the head and version being turning. So turning the head from the outside as a rough explanation. Here is why they do it and the risks involved.

As Zach is a Cardiac baby, we had to have the go-ahead from his doctors at the Evelina hospital. This also meant having the procedure done at the Evelina/St Thomas’. So, Myself and Emmanuel did the drive into central London the day of the ECV. It had to be done at the Evelina as there is a risk of inducing labour. We needed Zach to be born where his doctors and surgeons were and not need to be shipped across London in an ambulance from our local hospital.

What they actually do in an ECV

They put heart monitors on my belly to listens to Zach’s heart. They monitored Zach’s heart for 30 minutes. He always started moving around when the monitors were on me. I imagined him trying to kick them away from him. The doctor explained that they are really loud for the babies inside. It must be quite a shock, like having your house suddenly start playing loud, bass-filled music. After some time watching the heart monitors they gave me an injection of salbutamol, which works to dilate the blood vessels. This helps to reduce contractions and relax the muscles that are supporting the baby. Salbutamol makes your heart race and your hands shake. It is very unpleasant but thankfully its effects do not last for long. The midwife described it as being flustered. I would say it’s like being high (on life of course) but without the fun bit, just the shaking.

Next my blood pressure and oxygen levels were measured periodically whilst Zach’s heart rate was still being monitored. The midwife and doctor left us alone for a while to let the drugs kick in and the monitoring to continue.

When they came back they checked in with me to see if the salbutamol had taken effect yet. It most certainly had. I felt like I was running whilst laying on a bed. My breath was short and fast and my body was shaking as if I had just squatted 90kg fifty times over. I knew I needed to stay as calm as possible during the procedure so that they had the best chance at moving him. Emmanuel held my elbow (my hand was behind my head) and I started to take long deep breaths. I found a spot on the ceiling to focus on and tried not to think too hard about anything at all. Which is much easier said than done when you have salbutamol and adrenaline rushing through your body. 

The first thing they did was to disengage Zach’s buttocks from sitting in my pelvis, which means they press really hard to try and lift him upwards. They then pushed Zach’s bum up towards my ribs. They paused and the other person moved his head down towards my hips. They did this step by step movement a few times.  This was all fairly bearable. The worst was the hand that was holding Zach’s bum. It was also pressing into me so hard that I felt like my intestines were being squashed down. It was like having a hard-blunt object held in place on a bruise. This was certainly not fun.

They managed to move the Zach some of the way round. Then he must have stuck out his little hands and pushed away or something because that was as far as he would go. He refused to tuck his head in. He refused to let his bum travel any further up. I was in agony from the pressure and they had to stop. The second they moved their hands away he swivelled right back to where he started.

I imagined Zach’s little face in there scrunching up in annoyance at all the disturbance. Kicking his legs out and doing everything he could to stay put. Then when he was back to his favourite position, I imagined him snuggling his head back into where he liked it best. His peace restored. I wanted to explain to him that he needed to help out and move around. But he was comfortable where he was.

It took me a few moments to recover from the first attempt. I soon wanted to try again. It was agony, but I was determined.

ECV take two

They looked on the ultrasound to confirm Zach’s position. He was back with his head under my right rib. This time the midwife and the doctor swapped roles. The midwife took Zach’s bum and the doctor his head. This time round was just as painful but I managed to breathe through it. Again, he got half way around and wouldn’t tuck his head in. They had to move him back to the original position. They can’t leave him half way. So back he went. That was it. The second attempt failed.  

The doctor and midwife advised me that now I needed to speak to my care team and we can go from there to make a decision on what to do for the birth. I knew there and then that it was either going to be a higher risk breech vaginal birth or a C-section that I was facing. I was devastated. We had just been through all of that for what felt like nothing.

Because Zach has a heart condition a breech birth adds more risk. I knew I would be advised against it. These are the statistics. 1 in 1000 babies come into problems in a normal straight forward vaginal birth. Its 2 in 1000 for breech. So the odds just doubled right there. Then with a cardiac baby they go way higher. A caesarean section is 0.5 in 1000. Clearly the odds are in favour of the caesarean section, but I really didn’t want to have major abdominal surgery and need to recovery myself just as my baby will be having his heart surgery himself. There is of course a small chance the baby will then turn by itself. The odds are 3 in 300. I was not happy leaving that hospital. I felt like I had failed somehow. I wanted so badly to be travelling across London back home thinking about my beautiful birth. But no such luck. Not today.

Back at home, laying on my sofa the day after I felt like I had run a marathon. My stomach felt bruised all over and it was painful to move. I was so determined to get him to turn that I spent the rest of that day upside down trying to encourage him to turn. He didn’t.  All I could do was continue to hang upside down and hope. I watched a lot of movies hanging off the edge of the sofa that week.

Risk of an ECV

Just in case you are being offered one here is what they told me about the risks.

Less than 3% of women have an ECV and it causes their waters to break or for the baby to go into distress. If this happens it means you would need to have the baby pretty soon. Possibly via a C-section there and then, or at least within 24 hours.  There is a slight chance that it causes the placenta to come away and cause bleeding. Or it can cause labour to start. The midwife and the doctor where I had mine done at St Thomas hospital in London explained that for them, one woman last year and one five years before that had to have a C-section due to waters breaking at the ECV. That’s it. It is very low odds, but just in case be ready and have you hospital bag with you. That’s what we did. Take some paracetamol for the soreness afterwards and you will be ready for anything. I personally didn’t take any painkillers, preferring to just soldier it out.

It has a 50/50 success rate, some hospitals are slightly lower at a 40% success rate which is the national average. It’s worth trying it if you want to have a natural birth. It’s worth practising those deep breathing and relaxation techniques as well. Be prepared for it to hurt because it does. But so do a lot of things in life. Like labour.

Having a Cardiac Baby

High suspicion of Aortic coarctation

After the 20 week scan showed an anomaly with our babies heart we were transferred to fetal medicine at our local hospital. This appointment was the very next day. I was so grateful it happened quickly. I needed to know what was going one before the weekend came. On Friday afternoon my Emmanuel and I went to a different hospital for a scan with a specialist doctor.

This time we were in small room with three professionals. The one scanning, the one who was the consultant and another person who I assume was there to take down the information. The scan was identical as the first but these guys knew what they were looking for. Our little boy hid as he always does when he is being scanned and waved his arms in front of the scanner making everything difficult to see. I was asked to empty my bladder. Jump up and down just as I had been the day before.  I was even doing downward dogs in the disabled toilet. He didn’t move. So they just worked with the views they had. After much scanning they confirmed what they thought had been spotted on the first scan. A smaller left side of the heart and a possible VSD (hole in the heart). Unfortunately, because of his bad position it was very hard to be sure but what they had seen was enough for us to have a referral to the specialists. I did not know what to make of the news. Nothing was confirmed just yet, but something wasn’t right. I held on to the hope that perhaps it was his position and they weren’t actually seeing what they thought they could see.

We were referred to the Harris Birthright Centre at the King’s College Hospital. The appointment was Wednesday the following week.

That evening I had to make the heart wrenching video call to my family. They had all gathered at my parents’ house to hear the gender of the baby. Of course we had other news for them as well. So after saying hello to the crowded table of people. We told them it was a boy! They were shocked, we all were thinking girl. My mum picked up that there was something we weren’t saying. I told them all that the scan also showed that the baby probably had something wrong with his heart. I could see my ten year old niece’s face right at the front in the corner of the screen. I kept the smile going and explained that it could just be that he was in a bad position during the scan. I couldn’t let on that I knew deep down they had seen something on those scans twice. I think I had not let it sink in yet. I was still desperately hoping that they were wrong. I also didn’t really know what all of this meant at this stage. What was a VSD? What does it mean to have a smaller left heart. I only had some very basic knowledge of how the heart works based on GCSE science lessons. We just had to wait for now and see what the expert cardiology doctors would tell us.

The following week’s appointment was at 5pm. We left the Harris Birthright Centre at nearly 9pm. The cleaners were already working their magic in the corridors as we were leaving. Again our stubborn little man did not want to pose for the scanners. We walked for miles around the hospital and came back again and again to try to get him to move. I downed a bottle of lemonade and ate chocolate. Nothing. But with a lot of patience they managed to get a clear picture. The doctor and the fellow researcher were amazing. They were reassuring and calm. They spoke to us throughout and explained what they were doing. But they then had to deliver the news of what we did not want to hear.

We sat in a small medical room with the scanning equipment next to us as she explained that our baby has what she thinks is an Aortic coarctation and a possible VSD, though she couldn’t confirm the VSD 100%. Lastly that the left heart ventricle was smaller than the right. She explained that the VSD, the hole, will either close on its own or there may be a need for it to be operated on and closed. This procedure has the potential to be done when Zachary would be older and bigger and therefore may not involve open heart surgery but a process where a super small balloon is fed into Zachary’s heart via one of his big blood vessels (this could be one in his groin, arm or neck). The hole in the heart is not really anything too massive or hard to deal with. The coarctation, the narrowing, is. It means that the artery that comes out of the heart that delivers oxygenated blood to the rest of the body is small. Very small across the ‘arch’. Imagine a twisted straw and how hard it would be to get any liquid through it. She explained that our baby once born would need surgery within a few days of being alive. It was not this that made me upset. I could deal with that.  It was what she said next that got me. If the left ventricle does not continue to grow or becomes smaller in comparison to the right side then his likelihood of survival, of having a decent life, was massively diminished. His rate of survival would drop. In other words I might give birth to my baby boy, only to bury him a few days later. I would have known him for nine months and only have hours with him before saying goodbye again. This tore me apart. I cried, hideous tears and the doctor stopped her explanation. My partner held my hand and reassured me. I managed to somehow pull myself together so we could finish. She made a drawing for us that showed how the heart works in most people and how our babies heart looks at the moment. I focused so hard on that drawing. The lines of ink that her pen made across the white paper. I needed to focus on something to keep it together. I could fall apart later. After she finished explaining we asked a few questions about the surgery and how that would work. What would he be like after the surgery? How long would we be in hospital? She gave us some guidelines on how everything would work, but only based on her experience. Because these scans were only giving us an indication. An official diagnosis could not be given until he was born. Then they would really know what they were dealing with. The wording they use is ‘high suspicion.’ There is a high suspicion that he has these things. A high suspicion that he will need surgery. Although this is mostly just for the formality of it. To leave enough room in case of error. This gave me a small amount of hope still that they were wrong. He was just hiding in there. He would turn around at the next scan and everybody would go ‘ooooooooohhhh’ there it is. That’s OK, he is actually fine. I still had hope. And even if he did have what they were saying, then it was just an operation with a really high success rate. greater than 95% successful. So all was going to be just fine. Fine. That was a word I started to use a lot after this day. He will be fine, after the operation. I am fine. Everything is fine. He is fine right its just after he is born……he will be fine.

We sat in a small room with a sofa and a box of tissues on a coffee table as we waited for them to finish writing the reports. The fellow research student came in to ask us if we had any questions and to give us the leaflet on heart conditions. She also asked us if we wanted to continue with the pregnancy. Yes really! That easily.

I looked at Emmanuel and asked him if he thought it was the right thing to do. To have a baby that might struggle, that might be ill. His certainty will always stay with me. He said “we have to give him that chance.” and I whole heartily agreed. It wasn’t up to us to decide. We had already decided to have him when we planned for him. Now we just had to see what he brought us. I did think about it. I thought deeply about changing our circumstances and not bring him into this world at all. To let a doctor suck him away into a tube. The thought floored me. I knew this little wiggly creature inside me already. I knew his name, I knew is energy. Emmanuel was right – all we could do was give him a chance. I can see and fully understand that many people might have made a different choice. I understand it fully. But for us then, we made the right choice. the only choice. It was a brief heart harrowing moment. We had also been asked the question several times. “Do you want to continue the pregnancy?” “Are you happy to have the baby knowing this?” It was asked so often that you start to think? Am I? Can I do this? We knew that whatever out little boy had we would give him a chance at life and hope with everything with have, that he thrives.

We also turned down more intrusive chromosomal abnormality testing, as genetic anomalies and heart conditions sometimes go hand in hand. We knew that it wouldn’t make a difference to what we would choose. So there was no need to go through having a big needle pushed into the placenta to find out something that made no difference to us.

After the scans that focused on the heart the doctors wanted another full anomalies scan that was done with them at the Harris Birthright Centre. So we had another full scan where they measured his leg length, head circumference and so forth. I lay there on yet another bed staring at yet another black and white image of my baby. This one was much clearer. We could see his hands and face. I enjoyed it. I focused on seeing my baby and being excited about all the things that a new baby offers. Who will he look like? Will he have his hands or mine? I left all of the thoughts of his heart in the other scan room. This was just a lovely opportunity to see my son. It should have been impossible to feel like this. Or at least you would think it would difficult, but it wasn’t at all. Yes we were facing having a baby who needed an operation almost as soon as he was born, but we were still going to take home a new baby. And from what the doctors were saying he would be healthy and hopefully happy after the surgery. It was just something we had to get through and get him through right?

On our way home I left a voice note for my family to explain what we now knew. It was so difficult having to explain the medical terms as well as the implications. I held back tears a few times. When it came to explaining that if the left ventricle didn’t grow or wasn’t adequate then we would be facing a truly dreadful situation. I couldn’t hold it in. My voice went and I trembled. Once I finished the voice note I sat staring out of the window. I chatted with Emmanuel about what I had said in the voice note and if I had covered everything. During the car journey it all started to sink in. I tried so hard to focus on the new baby aspect but when I thought about not getting to keep him, my mind just scrambled into mush. I couldn’t keep it together and by the time we reached our house I opened the car door and threw up. The next morning I did exactly the same thing. I woke up and cried so much I made myself sick. I was in shock and so pained that our little baby boy had a broken heart. I had given him a broken heart. It must have been my fault somehow.

We were booked in for a follow up appointment for when I was 23 weeks. This is because they wanted to check the development of the left ventricle and offer us one more option to terminate if needed based on that scan. You can terminate a pregnancy up to 24 weeks if there is a medical reason to do so. We were certain we were having this baby regardless but we went to the second fetal cardiology scan just to check that heart again. This time around he was a little bigger and they could see that the VSD, the hole was unlikely to be there at all. It had either closed on its own in the last three weeks or was never there in the first place. Then they confirmed that the left ventricle was growing at the same rate as the right. It was adequate. Which meant that he would have a normal and happy life after the narrow artery was operated on. His heart would be adequate for him. So we had good news and now a plan. The plan was to refer me to St Thomas’ Hospital in Westminster, central London to have our baby boy. I would be induced at 39 weeks to make sure that he would be born when all the right doctors were around. Then within the first few days they would do an echo cardiogram and finally confirm and diagnose what they think they can see on the ultrasound scans.

The operation would be a re-sectioning or reconstruction. They would cut out the narrow part and re-join the two larger parts together from either side. Or at least at the time that was my understanding of it. It may become narrow again in later life and he may need a stint put in place. But generally it would be one open heart surgery and one possible minor keyhole surgery later on. The operation has a greater than 95% success rate. The surgeons doing it are the UK experts. They do this kind of thing every single day. I felt very reassured by all of this information. We knew what was what now and we knew what to face. I just had to get through the rest of the pregnancy. Somehow.

If you have a similar situation I would love to hear how yours is like mine. Or if you are now facing something like this, please get in touch.

My baby boys name

Zachary Chialuka Onyieke Woolnough-Osuagwu

I was about four months pregnant when Zachary became Zachary. I had been feeling him move for a while now. Just little flutters at first, around nine weeks and then slowly they became clearer movements. I was laying awake in the early hours of the morning, having finished a night shift at work and was not able to sleep. So I started to talk to my little bubba in my head. He could hear me of course because we were connected. He hadn’t moved in a few hours and I was getting worried. So I started to try out some names to calm my racing mind. I started with some girls names and asked bubba if that’s what he was called. Nothing, not even a twitch. Then I started on some boys names. The second I thought Zachary in my mind he moved. A new movement that I had never felt before. I said it again and he moved again. Zachary was a name that wasn’t even on my ‘list.’ I liked it, but had forgotten all about it. “So your name is Zachary is it?” I asked in a whisper, rubbing my belly. “Yes”, he kicked back as if to tell me I was right. This was before I even knew he was a boy. I kept my girls name in my head just in case as well. But now I was pretty sure who I was carrying.

The next day I looked up the name Zachary to discover that it means ‘The Lord has remembered’. We did not know about his heart condition at this point. His name was our little secret. I was just hoping that when I asked his Dad if he liked it, that he would. I would have some convincing to do if he didn’t. But I think deep down I knew he would like it as well, because well, that was his name. He told me. Not the other way around.

Later I started looking through my lists of Nigerian Igbo names. I had started this list just a few months after dating Emmanuel, but I wouldn’t admit that for a while. I scrolled through and one jumped out at me. Chialuka. I loved what I thought it would sound like and the meaning was perfect. “The Lord has done great things.” It went perfectly with Zachary. I typed out the two names next to each other in a note on my phone. Writing the meanings underneath. I would store this away until Zach was ready to let everybody know his name. It wasn’t up to me. I would know when He was ready.

I had already spoken to Emmanuel about wanting to have both our surnames for our children. Firstly, so that when we go through passport patrol in the airport, both of us can take them through. As we are not married, they can stop you and assume the child isn’t yours (hello patriarchy). Secondly, why shouldn’t my children have my name? And thirdly because this is 2020 people and I am giving my name to my child.

So Zachary Chialuka Woolnough-Osuagwu had named himself. Onyeike would come later. The name given to him by his grandfather, Chief Osuagwu himself.

After our twenty week scan, when we first found out that Zach had a heart issue, we told our families. My sister-in-law suggested that if we knew his name perhaps we could share it so that our families could pray for him by name. It has a power to it. I loved her suggestion and I felt we were ready to share it. It goes against what most people do, but I felt like pushing fate that day. I just cried for an entire hour during the journey home from the hospital. Then threw up by the side of the car just as I was about to get out. I thought being sick from shock only happened in films and TV shows. I think I deserved to share his name and push the gods in my favour if I could.

So I sat with my partner on our red sofa in our cosy living room in our new flat. Our home. I said to him that I liked his sister’s idea of sharing the name and I think I know what his name is. My partner gave me a look to continue and so I explained everything. In true Emmanuel style he said “yeah I like those names. That’s his name”. Simple. We said it over a few times to ourselves. Saying it out loud made it really real. We then messaged in our family WhatsApp groups and told them all.

I messaged my family group with:

 “I know you are all in bed but we have decided to tell everyone our lil boys name. So, if you are the praying type and feel so inclined you can do so. Apparently, a name is helpful for that.”

Emmanuel followed with his names and their meanings.

Emmanuel sent a similar message into his family’s WhatsApp group with some apologies to his parents about not consulting them about Igbo names (the done thing in Igbo culture would have been to consult Emmanuel’s parents about name examples and their meanings) and some thoughts about not being religious but believing in the power of positive thought.

Myself and Emmanuel are spiritual in our own way but we don’t have a formal religion to speak of but we loved the idea of all of our families and friends being able to know Zach and think of him before he was here. It felt right to do that. So, we messaged all of our family and friends. Told our work colleagues and with every thought and every time we spoke his name it gave us all a little more strength.

Now I come to Onyeike last as it is the most unique of all of Zach’s names. It means “the strong and determined one” in Igbo. It was given to him by his grandfather. My partner’s dad, Nna. He took his time to think of it and only came up with the name after visiting him in hospital when he was born, hearing about everything Zach had gone through and seeing how strong of a character he was, even at such an early point in his life. Somehow the name just fits him perfectly. For some people it would have just become a family name, but we have chosen to give it to him as one of his official legal names. He will have the longest name of any child in 2020, but he deserves to be named five times after his start in the world. We also love the idea that when he is older, he can choose which part he likes to go by. He will always be Onyieke in the Osuagwu household. He will be Zach to us and perhaps Zachy to his young friends. Maybe when he needs a cool ‘stage name’ or football name he can be ‘luka’ or ‘chia.’ And then when he has his first boy or girlfriend, they can call him some cute combination of all his names. I love names and I would never have been able to choose just one.

I will have to have some equally powerful names for my next children ready. If it’s a girl I am all set. But a boy would throw up some challenges. Any suggestions?

20 Week Scan

We sat in the waiting room for over forty minutes awaiting our 20 week scan appointment, with all the other mums and dads at various points into pregnancy. The room was packed full of hot bodies with the heating cranked up to full blast like it seems to be in every hospital. I was melting! Finally my name was called and we were shown into a small dark room. My partner, Emmanuel, sat in the guest chair next to the bed and a screen was pulled around us. One woman sat by the computer ready to take down the measurements that would be read out by the sonographer.  They both introduced themselves and we set to work. You know the drill: the cold jelly, the uncomfortable bed and the pressing down until they find the right spot. Then we could see him, a leg, and a rib. So clear in grey and black on the screen in front of us. I was twisting my head to see it all but I didn’t care about the pain in my neck, I just wanted to see my little baby, who I had felt fluttering away in there for the last few weeks.

“Oh we would like to know the sex as well please” I said to the sonographer.

“Let’s see if we have a healthy baby first. We will look at that late”, was her sharp reply.

I was shocked at her bluntness but didn’t think much of it. Of course this is the anomaly scan. They are literately looking for anything that may indicate an unhealthy baby. Down’s syndrome is the one we probably all know about. Along with the other genetic conditions that can be possible to find early. But what we don’t often realise is that they are checking everything! And down to the measurement of a thigh bone can be an indication of an illness, disease or under development. For example, they check the face not to see how adorable they look but to see if a cleft pallet is present.

So the measurements began: the thigh bone, abdominal circumference, the skull and various others. All looked normal. Then we came to the heart and the sonographer couldn’t get a clear view of our little one’s chambers. I was asked to jump up and down, wiggle my hips and generally make a fool of myself to try and get the baby to move. All of which are massively difficult whilst squeezing you bladder closed as it is of course full. We try again. Still nothing.

“Please empty your bladder” was the short sharp instruction I was given. I trundled off to the toilets and did as she asked. I returned to the room and resumed my position on the thing pretending to be a bed. She started pressing the tool across my belly once more. The baby had not moved. This was a trend we had seen at our first scan and would continue to see right up until the end. Our little person in there – always hid from the scans and later the heart monitors. He did not like any of the intrusion, much to the annoyance of the medical professionals. The sonographer was getting irritated. She could clearly see a heart, because I could. We could all hear it beating away. That amazing moment when you hear their heart beat. But ours was dampened by the huffs and puffs from this woman. She presses harder, moves the end of the instrument more aggressively. She still cannot see what she is looking for. She calls in her colleague. I turn to look at Emmanuel who was holding my hand. He makes a face that I know to mean. ‘I know what you are thinking. I am thinking it too.’

The colleague comes in and takes over for a few minutes. They start chatting over us. Not saying anything to us at all at first. Then the second women speaks.

“Yes I agree with you.” She turns to us and finally acknowledges that we are even there and I am attached to the stomach that she is scanning. “We think we can see a problem with the heart. We have to confirm it with each other; which we have. We will send you to fetal medicine.” She finished and left the room. The original sonographer continues her scan and actually starts to explain what the heck is going on. My heart was racing by this point. What a way to drop that on new first time parents, with no explanation. We were stunned. The woman showed us the screen and pointed to the heart. “This side looks smaller than the other and there is possibly a hole, but we can’t see clearly because the baby is in a bad position.” She bluntly stated then began to move the wand away.

“Wait, have you seen the gender?” I asked.

She says nothing and places the wand back on my belly. “Here’s the spine and the bum and that there is the genitals. He’s a boy.” Just as plainly as if she was telling me the day of the week.

I was reeling with information. I wiped down my stomach, said my thanks to the women and left the room. We were in stunned silence at first. Taking our seats again to wait to have my notes folder given back to me. I felt an excitement and shock that I knew I was carrying a son. I had been thinking I was having a girl from the start so this blew my mind. So much happiness! I was having a boy and now we knew! But this sat within a whirlwind of everything else we had just been told. My mind cleared and the information began to settle. That our baby, who was so tiny in there – had a heart problem. Or a possible one. It felt like nothing and everything all at once. Like being sick and hungry at the same time. I couldn’t think about it enough, it was as though the thought had legs and was running away from me.

For some reason the rude manor & tone of the woman who scanned me, sat in front of anything else. I was SO annoyed with her! How dare she be so rude? I spoke with Emmanuel and we discussed that maybe she couldn’t see what she thought she could because our baby boy was sat in the wrong position. Maybe she was rushed and stressed and this was just a blip of information. But something in my own heart told me otherwise. This was the start of a long journey of happiness and anger mixed together at every turn. The not knowing is the hardest thing at all. Nothing is confirmed.