It seems a little bit backwards that I shared the story of Norah’s death before the story of her birth. We talk more about Norah’s death because we are actively grieving, which means many people ask how we are in the wake of Norah’s death, leaving us fewer opportunities to talk about her birth. Whilst I consider us incredibly fortunate to have numerous ‘Congratulations!’ cards and messages in amongst those wishing their sympathies; it was incredibly painful to know that her birth was only celebrated for a brief time. News of Norah’s birth had only just begun to circulate by the time we were existing within the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and beginning to talk about her death, so naturally that is what filled the conversations of those around us. With a little bit of distance and a whole lot of love we are beginning to see her birth celebrated again, but the spaces to talk about the things that consumed our lives in anticipation of our parenthood still cease to exist, so this is the first time I have shared Norah’s birth story outside of those closest to us.
My pregnancy with Norah was challenging. As many do, I came into parenting filled with anxieties, and an extensive history of mental ill health. I have always been an advocate for openness around mental health issues, but once these fell within the context of pregnancy and birth I found myself more silent than ever. I continued to lean on the support and management plans I had mastered before pregnancy but, outside of my husband and closest friend, I suddenly found myself unable to talk with freedom about the choices I had made in preservation of my mental health. It’s possible that this was a result of my own insecurities, but it’s difficult to ignore the immense pressure new parents are under. Before our babies even enter the world we are filled with guilt and anxiety over everything from birth choices to feeding methods.
Norah was born via elective C-section; a sentence which was all consuming during pregnancy, but now holds so little significance to anything we have experienced since Norah’s birth. I am survivor of sexual abuse, and subsequent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which made a lot of pregnancy and birth incredibly challenging at best. I knew very early on in my pregnancy that I would not be able to endure internal examinations, touching by medical staff without explicit and controlled consent, nakedness and exposure; all of which make pregnancy and birth an absolute minefield. I would like to be able to write that I was fully supported by my midwifery and obstetric team, that the very mention of sexual abuse and PTSD was enough to gain the understanding and support of those caring for Norah and me throughout my pregnancy, however I was well in to my third trimester before I could gain approval for an elective C-Section. The constant dismissal of my anxieties and being told that many women worry about birth but it’s ‘totally natural’ did nothing to reduce the trauma I had faced, and only served to validate my guilt and fear around my birthing choice. The fight for the birth that was safest for both Norah and me was exhausting; it drained so much of the joy of my first pregnancy, and had such a detrimental impact on my mental health. Without the support of those closest to me, I’m sure I would have succumbed to the pressure to attempt a vaginal birth, and I can only imagine the impact that would continue to have on my mental health.
With the support of my family and the ability I gained as Norah’s mum, I was able to champion the needs of myself and my daughter, and the result was an incredibly positive birth experience, and an overwhelmingly beautiful memory of the moment Norah completed our family. With my C-Section booked for the 27th June, we planned the weekend before and filled it with activities we wouldn’t have time for once we were full time parents, Norah had other ideas though and my waters broke on the morning of the 24th June. Armed with an explicitly detailed birth plan that outlined my PTSD triggers and instructions for our care, we nervously made our way to our local hospital.
After months of struggling to gain support for our plan, once we arrived every step of my birth plan was adhered to. Female staff were prepared for our arrival, midwives completed our pre op checks with care and dignity and we were taken down to theatre feeling reassured and excited. Before we knew it I found myself lying in theatre casually chatting to our anaesthetist about our scuppered weekend plans when my obstetrician asked if we were ready, and as ready as we could have been we heard a gurgle before Norah was lifted up in to the light above us. She was here, with the grumpiest scrunched up face, weighing 9lb 6oz and looking every bit the best of me and my husband combined. She was taken to be checked over for a couple of minutes before she was carried over and placed on to my chest, we were complete. We lay together for what felt like an eternity, with every breath of mine and Norah’s entwined. Norah was taken in to the recovery room with her Dad whilst they closed me up and prepared to move me in to recovery, these are his words on the first time he held Norah, written to Norah by her bedside in the PICU.
From the moment I first saw you I loved your amazing face that lit up with all the faces of our families, the best of us in its purest form of an innocent, beautiful baby to make the two of us become three. We have big plans for you, our little Norah. As your father it was my duty to cut the last part of your cord, the blood connection to your Mum, the provider of your life. After skin to skin with your Mum we were taken to the recovery room, you were placed on my body and I felt your warm skin on mine for the first time. You felt waxy and clammy and your skin stuck to me like we were glued together. You made me feel content like I have never felt, and complete.
Our first hours with Norah are carved in to our memory, and we savour these memories now more than ever. As difficult as my pregnancy was and as much as we had to fight for what we needed, Norah’s birth was, and continues to be, the light at the end, and beginning, of a very dark road.