Saturday, 16 February 2013

Into the lion den

Its Monday, and I decide to go sort out this social services thing once and for all. They were supposed to visit on the ward and I’m so glad they didn’t. Not back on Friday, when I was all hospital gown and disorientation; Far too vulnerable. I will go and see them, instead.

I still have the outfit I came in wearing, 4 days ago. I put on the trousers and boots, along with my “going home” top and the cardigan with the brooch on.
They are just ordinary trousers, in a size 14. It seems incredible that I wore them the day I gave birth. How could I not have noticed something was wrong?

Social Services have their office one floor down in the outpatient clinic and I breeze in, in this painstakingly put together outfit and the hospital tags still on my wrists.

Susan MacDonald is a kindly looking woman in a very “public sector” jumper. In other circumstances she could have been a colleague or a friend.  She says “You’re looking very good so soon after a cesarean  I was barely able to move this soon after mine” and for the first time, I think that perhaps my self conscious display of hyper competency isn't necessary after all.

We talk about Jimmy and his progress. His blood sugar is still unstable. He needs to take more milk through his nose and then, later, through his mouth. Then they’ll want me to come into transitional care with him, before he can come home.

Susan mentions my discharge- today isn’t it?

“Oh no” I say “I just thought I’d get dressed today to make a change.”  

As if I would have ever have cone to a meeting like this in my pajamas.

“Well the ward tells me it’s today”

I am not in the slightest bit surprised that no one has told me this. No one tells you anything.  I just say “Oh, well that’s good then” and the conversation moves on.

The appointments were sent out to the wrong address. Susan has chased it up and it turns out I was right. I go to my handbag for a document that might shed some light on the mix up.  It is still in the NCT folder. This is exactly how I hoped things would go a week ago.

Susan confirms that there are no child protection concerns and she will close the case. It’s like I’ve been given the best present ever: The chance to be a mother, unchallenged and unsupervised. This is so, so precious to me.

Then she says something surprising. She says:

“I imagine this must have been very worrying for you”

There is such a huge emphasis on compliance; on “engaging with services” that I honestly didn't realise they knew this. 

And yes, it has been worrying- it has been fucking terrifying.

How was I going to prove I could mother? I was brand new- never done it before.
I imagined weeks, months of home visits, of “helpful” suggestions, of feeling the need to defer to the experts instead of learning how to do things my own way. Of any tiny mistake being picked up on- only confirming the need for involvement, prolonging it.

 I remember the terror I felt when it occurred to me that if this child is taken from me- future ones might be taken too. At birth. I could have forfeited the opportunity to be a mother forever.

And that was before he was born. Before I even knew how important he was going to be to me. How terribly wrong it feels to be apart from him.

“Yes” I say “It has been a bit of a worry”

“Well, I’ll close the case then and pass on the message on to the NHS. Unless you feel you might need some support?”

“No thanks” I say “I’m fine”

And I am now, I really am.  

Chapter 7

Finally its morning.

I haven’t slept or eaten in 24 hours. I haven’t got pajamas or soap or any charge left in my mobile to ring someone and ask for these things.

I have a handbag with a folder of documents, a note book and a final demand for council tax. I have a lovingly packed hospital bag sitting in my spare room, 6 miles away.

Thank god for the bedside telly. If I keep it tuned to Saturday Kitchen, I can anchor my thoughts to something harmless so they don't bother me so much as they drift about. I still have to deal with the raggedy strung-out -ness of (I assume) low blood sugar though, and I’ve just been told there’s no chance of anything to eat until breakfast time.

Breakfast turns out to be a small bowl of cornflakes and a bread roll which does nothing much for my hunger but a great deal for my mental health. I wait to be unhooked from my catheter and walk, shaky as a new foal, to the shower cubical to wash with borrowed soap and dry with borrowed towels.  I hold onto the walls for support and rinse thumb sized blood clots from my cunt.

I have to wait again to be taken to visit my baby. There is the most interminable faff while a health care assistant checks in cupboards for slippers, then checks another cupboard, then gives up and leads me in a hospital gown and bare feet, to special care. The tiles are cold against my feet. It doesn't matter. 

Jimmy’s knee joints are wider than his legs. Wider than his arse even. His shoulder blades stick out from his back.  He is sleeping on his side, propped up on a rolled up sheet no bigger than a handkerchief. He is a pitiful scrap of a thing.

I sit beside the incubator and lean my head on my arms to watch him and fall asleep, myself. I have to be woken up and asked if I’d like to hold him. I do. They place him foot first in my cleavage and his tiny eyes look up at me, so trusting. I feel instantly calm. 

Chapter 6

I call my Mum to let her know she has a grandchild. “When are you going to have the next one then” she jokes and I laugh.

“If it’s going to be as easy as that: I’ll have another one tomorrow!”

I am hopped up on Morphine and feel fantastic. Even vomiting into a cardboard cup while simultaneously hemorrhaging all over the sheets, feels good.

I look down at the red stain, spreading like poppy petals over the bed and wonder how it got there. I look at my husband’s pale face and can’t think what he looks so worried about.

Jimmy is upstairs getting checked out and having his first feed. This is to turn into a 10 day stay in Special Care but I don’t realise this yet. When they say they “Just need to check him over” I take it at face value. Just like I took it at face value when they “Just wanted to consult a doctor about this scan.

I expect to have to start caring for him any second and even begin to wonder how it looks:  Me lying here on drugs, strangers caring for my baby on another floor. Social Services will surely be furious when they find out.

 I reason that I have a valid excuse as long as my legs are paralysed.  As soon as the spinal block wears off, I will get up and go “collect” by baby. I realise that this may present some difficulties in an unfamiliar building, off my head on drugs so I plan each step carefully in my mind. 

I visualise myself walking through the corridors in my hospital gown, and then arriving at Special Care. I might look a bit disheveled so I’ll have to make a special effort to say the right thing: 

“Thank you so much for watching him for me” I will say  “I ‘ll take over from here”

This plan is reassuring enough to allow me to sleep for oh, 10 minutes at a time. 10 whole minutes until someone comes by to check my breathing or my blood loss and I cycle through the same thought process again.

At one point I am given a sponge bath of such touching gentleness I almost cry with gratitude. At another, I am given the most horrific dressing since primary school for attempting to get out of bed.

 By this time I have seen the error of my “collecting the baby” plan and was only trying to get a notebook from my handbag and write a To-Do list for the following day. I almost, (but don’t), suggest to the nurse that she should be grateful for this small mercy.

Somebody asks me how I am and I say I’m fine but I miss my baby. I realise how true this is, as I’m saying it and I wonder at my reactions. How can I love someone so much when I’ve never met him? How can feel his absence so strongly before I’ve even known his presence?