It’s 3am in the morning and, as usual, I’m keeping myself awake by flittering through old photos of you. You’re 13 months now and although I’m excited to watch you grow, my arms yearn for one more cuddle from you as a baby. The photos bring me joy as I recall how small you were, how cheeky you were. In nearly all of them you’re smiling, smiling that wonderful full smile which I use as proof, confirming my abilities to be a good Mam.
Tonight though, I stumble across a picture of you that stops me in my tracks. I’ve seen it before, it always creates the same reaction. My eyes fill with tears as I look at you and know what you’re thinking.
The photo was taken by your grandpa when you were 9 months old. You were 9 months when your sister was born. It was meant to be a happy occasion. You were meant to share in our joy. Instead, you shared in our heartache, added to it in fact as we were forced to be apart from you for longer than expected.
We knew it wouldn’t be a smooth transition but, your father being a planner and all, had worked out every fine detail to ensure the whole debacle wouldn’t upset your routine. We had parents on hand to stay at home and mind you when they ‘got the call’. Possibly one night’s disruption had been accounted for – if my labour lasted into the small hours. With Siena being of second child, we anticipated that I would spend one night in hospital and your daddy would be able to mind you at home. When I went into spontaneous labour over two months before expected, we weren’t ready for the turmoil it would cause.
It was 4pm when we began our journey to hospital. Labour was escalating so quickly that we didn’t have time to wait the 20 minutes for your Grandpa to arrive. Instead, we took you with us to the hospital. I’ll never forget the way you looked at me and smiled as I laid crying on the bed in the assessment room. You were so cheery, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings and faces as a new adventure. You chorused my name and I imagined you were chanting as if at a football match, egging me on to succeed. ‘Don’t let him see me like this’ I pleaded to your Daddy at every contraction. When Grandpa arrived, he was eager to help and also very worried. After all, I’ll always be his little girl. He heard my screams, felt my pain and shared in my distress as we worried about how safely your sister would arrive. I wanted you with me, I wanted to see that beautiful smile between intervals and I wanted you to mend my pain as you had done for 9 months previous but there reached a time when contractions were too closely together to see you in between. Grandpa took you to his home and I wondered how long it would be until I saw you again.
Siena was born breathing but her journey wasn’t easy. You visited her at Durham hospital when she was less than a day old. You didn’t understand, peered into her isolette unable to see the miracle lying peacefully in the box. You patted the top and cheered at the sound it made. You flirted with the nurses, had them like putty in your hand as you fluttered those piercing blue eyes. We were hopeful that at least I would be coming home soon.
When your sister was only 23 hours born, she suffered a pneumothorax. The doctors at Durham hospital explained that it was quite a serious collapse wiping out 90% of her left lung. They didn’t have the equipment or expertise to help her, she would be transferred elsewhere.
Both me and your Daddy cried that day, we sat waiting for the hospital to confirm where she would be going, knowing in our heart we had to follow her. You were still at Grandpa’s house and we trusted him to care for you until your sister was better. In the end, we made the 40 mile journey South to North Tees.
10 days I was away from you, I don’t think you know how much I wept for you in this time. I would wake at 2am to do Siena’s cares then spend hours crying, watching videos of you, longing to kiss you and cuddle you. You visited us in this time but it only made me more sad. Your heart was heavy, burdened even. The way you looked at me when you saw me is etched in my heart forever, that excitement, that desire to wrap your arms around me and cuddle me tight. You were only a baby too and I’ll forever be sorry for not being there for you in those 10 days.
I remember one day, we made the journey to Sunderland, informed the Nurses at North Tees that we’d be spending the day with you. We planned to take to you the beach, play with you in the sand. Instead, you fell asleep in my arms. You slept for over 3 hours, only stirring when I tried to put you down. In the end, I held you for that time. It felt special knowing that you relaxed in my presence.
Looking back at this photo, I see your pain. You’re confused, you don’t understand why your mother keeps leaving. You’re in an unfamiliar bed, you try to sleep but you dream of me and your heart hurts from not knowing where I am. Looking back at this photo, I see your vulnerability. You feel alone, you wonder when we’ll all be home or if that day will ever come. I feel guilty that it was my decisions that ultimately led to this state but then I remember, we’re all at home now. Siena’s NICU journey lasted 5 weeks. Now, we’re all together. I listen out for you, you’ve slept peacefully since 7pm. I put your sister down and creep into your room, you’re smiling and I wonder if now you dream of me again. Our hearts are mended and I pray you won’t remember the way you felt, hope you won’t hold it against me forever.