Thursday, October 8, 2009


I was great at getting pregnant, brilliant at being pregnant, just not so clever at staying pregnant. But here we were, within spitting distance of the end, providing you can spit as far as two months or so.

We were very earnest young parents, determined to do everything right. So, instead of going out for my birthday we went to a “Parentcraft” class. All the other parents in the class were nearer the due date, some of them wondering if they would complete the course. We were worried that we might have forgotten something between the end date and the arrival.

My father-in-law’s birthday was at the end of November and my brother-in-law in early December. They were both smitten by the idea that the baby would arrive on either of their birthdays. I was more alarmed that we would go late and get perilously close to Christmas. Daft tart.

After the excitement of our Parentcraft session, I was ready for bed. My husband fell asleep in front of the television and didn’t wake till after midnight. Just as well, it was the only sleep he got that night.

As he came to bed, I woke with a start. Heaving myself off the side of the bed, I realised that something was amiss. Labour was in full swing.

Going through the ambulance bay, there was an ambulance waiting, doors open, lights on ready to go. It was for us. They’d called a London teaching hospital to see if they could take us. A quick check in the ante-natal suite sent us to the delivery room not the ambulance bay. It was all going too quickly.

“We normally ask parents if they would like to have their baby baptised”. No. No. NO. I was never going to admit that I might lose her.

The ups and downs of the next days and weeks will stay with me forever. I remember the intense blueness of the sky as I gazed out of the hospital window on October 8th. The day before had been summer-ish. I had taken a day off and sat in the garden for my lunch. Autumn crept in as we trudged through each agonising day. When people say “one day at a time”, that’s exactly how we lived. Life developed a new rhythm of days in the hospital, sitting by the side of her incubator. Stroking her back when her ears turned blue-ish. Learning to handle her delicate, downy limbs.

Gradually, she grew. Each 5g gained was a triumph to record. The sucking reflex came and her little tongue would curl and stick out as the feeding tube filled her tiny belly. I could cradle her shoulders between my thumb and forefinger, her arm running along the length of my forefinger.

I watched other babies come and go. The big babies who needed to recover from a difficult labour. One such babe was over 3 times the size of my little elf. Other babies needed a day or so of help and then went home. Some were very ill and needed the privacy of a cubicle. Shocked parents with faces bruised from crying as the hospital chaplain stayed with them.

Gradually she grew. 10g increments. At 1.8kg, they moved her to a crib. All her energy went in keeping warm and we hovered on the brink of returning to the incubator. But then she made progress again. Wakeful and alert, she would fix her eyes wide open and would gaze, small and furious, into my face.

Home. I remember dressing her in this little outfit. A friend’s mother had knitted the jacket and bonnet from a doll’s pattern.

Home. Chaos. We never did finish those Parentcraft classes. Do you suppose it’s too late to go now?

Happy Birthday, Madette.

May you live all the days of your life


  1. Happy birthday to your dear Madette.

    How happy I am that she is well.

    Love Renee xoxo

  2. Although I have never been a mother I found this story very moving. I felt terrified for you as I read it, dreading that there might not be a happy ending.

    You write this stuff so well. Many happy returns to Madette.

    Jean xx

  3. Thank you ladies. Yes, she's very well, though will always be small and slightly clumsy.

    Having a baby is an enormous privilege and brings an obligation to love and care forever. There were days when I thought that care obligation might have fallen on my shoulders with the heaviest of weights.

    At the time, there was a 50% survival rate and, of that 50%, 50% had some level of handicap (or whatever the politically correct term is these days). We are lucky beyond words that she is one of the 25%.

    The iron will was there from the outset and she would struggle to stay awake, glaring at me when other babies would just sleep.

    Jean : I only wanted to tell the happy story and that's why I didn't include any very early pictures. I don't look at them very often these days but find that they shock even me now. The first picture above was taken at about 3 weeks when all the tubes and monitors had been taken off and she looks just like a very small baby. She probably weighed about 1.6kg by then and just needed to grow and stay in good health. She'd just tipped over 2kg when she came home.

    I am still horrified that, in some countries, it would have been legal to terminate a pregnancy at this date. There is now an 80 - 90% survival rate for babies born this early. Girls do better than boys. Of course, there is still the risk of serious problems and the journey from birth to home may be long and slow.

    I can't recommend having a premature baby to anyone. Even if you get too big for the maternity clothes, it's better than sitting in the NICU.

    But the sheer joy of parenthood is wonderful. I never took it for granted and I still look at Madette and Junior Mad with wonder and delight.


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