Thursday, December 04, 2014

Briefly, we had a daughter

Early this morning, our eight day-old daughter died, peacefully and calmly, with me and the Dr holding on to her. What follows is mostly for friends in real life, as I've been struggling to manage updates.

The past few months have been exciting, terrifying and surreal, a strange dream from which we've now woken.

Having been shown rather definitively in 2010 that we couldn't have biological kids of our own, we'd moved on, created an identity as a barren couple, and adopted our beloved Lord of Chaos. So the pregnancy came as a complete surprise this spring. We assumed, given our history, that it simply wouldn't work and it was another complete surprise when the hospital rang to ask what we were playing at - as we'd crossed the first important milestones but hadn't booked any appointments or tests.

We were still dubious, and avoided saying anything online, preferring to tell people in person. (Then forgetting who we had and hadn't told, and making a bit of a meal of it. Sorry.)

But as we went to our appointments, all look just fine, and we allowed ourselves to believe it. The Lord of Chaos was relieved to be getting a sister because - he said - he wouldn't have to share so many toys. We bought things for baby and things were bequeathed. I took on loads of freelance jobs so I could afford some time off round the birth. We even worked out how we'd refer to our second child online: as "Minotaur". We looked forward to her arrival.

Then, last week, the Dr was rushed to hospital as - it turned out - her waters had broken eight weeks' early. Friends and grandparents moved at short notice to come to our assistance, looking after the Lord of Chaos and running errands while I dashed to the Dr's side. But the tests showed things were okay with Minotaur. She would just be arriving early - they hoped in 2-3 weeks.

Minotaur had other ideas about that and with very little notice arrived one morning last week. She was swooped on by doctors but everything looking fine. I watched Minotaur being carefully placed in an incubator - like all premature babies - and grinned at her funny monkey face as she blinked dolefully back at me. Much later, exhausted and relieved, I went home to Champagne with my delighted Dad, and began letting people know.

But 12 hours after being born, Minotaur took a sudden turn for the worse. We were told straight away that the prospects were not good. The Dr and Minotaur were rushed by ambulance, all lights blazing, to a specialist unit across town, but we were put under no illusion that things were very grave.

We expected her to die, but Minotaur held on tenaciously over the weekend. There were even small signs of improvement. We let ourselves hope that she would pull through.

But on Tuesday the results of a series of tests proved that Minotaur's condition was every bit as severe as first suggested. There would be no happy ending. And yet, even in that terrible moment there was still some joy: they released Minotaur from her incubator so we could at long last hold her.

I'm grateful to have held her, to have spent time with her away from the tubes and machines, and that at least some family were able to see her, too - and note her eyes and hair being her mother's, and her long skinny feet from me.

Last night, just the three of us had a room to ourselves and we spent the long hours talking, reading stories, clinging on. Minotaur gazed at us dolefully and held the Dr's finger, and knew that we were there. We poured out our hearts to her, and loved her. I think she knew that, too - and that's why she hung on so long. This morning she died.

We are in pieces. But we are grateful to have held her and for so many small moments with her. Friends and family have been incredible - even though there was so little that anyone could do. We're very grateful, too, to the staff at both Croydon University Hospital and St George's Hospital, who so diligently cared for us and our poor Minotaur, making her short life painless, peaceful and something we can cherish.

We will retire now to heal, and try to get back to some kind of normality. A few people I've already been in touch with asked how they could help. At the moment, we need to work this through ourselves. But as our world was tumbling, the charities First Touch and Ronald McDonald House were there to embrace us. You could help them help others like us - and maybe even spare some of that pain - by making a donation.

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