My 1st Letter to My Warrior Princess

Flicking through my phone earlier as I tried to settle Siena, I found the 1st blog I ever wrote (but didn’t publish). It’s always seemed too raw to share before. Eventually, I feel ready.
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Tonight, I’ve sat by your side until 4am. I don’t think you even know I’m there.

The nurses keep telling me that you do, that you can smell my scent and that it will comfort you. So I’ve sat until 4 am and even now I can’t sleep.

I thought sitting beside you would make me feel worth something. I thought it would make me feel as though I’ve actually contributed to your wellbeing. Truth is, I don’t know how I feel.

I’m numb.

You’ll be Seven days old today (or is that now 32 weeks corrected? I don’t even know how old you are. I can’t even work out your age. That’s how fucking useless I am). Seven days old and still tiny. In the last six days, you’ve overcome more than most people do in a lifetime. You’re over the worst of it and for that I should feel grateful. With luck, your chest drain will come out today. I’m praying for this step forward.

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I’ve prayed a lot recently, I’m not quite sure how hypocritical that makes me feel. I mean, I’ve always believed in God but is it selfish of me to need him so much now when I’ve never paid him much attention before? You were blessed at only a day old – my decision was to get you baptised, the reverent talked me out of being so rash. I wonder if he would have stuck by that decision when your lung collapsed. Would a blessing have been enough had you not survived? Would God have accepted you? I can’t bear to think about it. And yet, I can’t stop thinking about it.

In case I ever forget to tell you, you broke our heart last week. There was a moment when you couldn’t be stabilised, you were very close to death and there was nothing we could do.
I’ve never seen your Daddy cry before. Well, not the way he sobbed for you last week. I saw the fear in his eyes, I felt it in his touch. We were all so lucky. If North Tees hadn’t accepted you (no other hospital in the North East did), this could be a completely different story. I can’t bear to think about it. And yet, I can’t stop thinking about it.

This week has been surreal. I really can’t tell you what I’m feeling. My body is honestly numb.

I’ve washed my hands and sanitised them so many times that my knuckles are cracked and bleeding. It hurts so much. The pain makes me feel something. It makes me feel as though I’m doing something for you. My pain is to help you, to protect you and for that, it’s worth it. It also reminds me that the pain I’m feeling is only a fraction of the pain you’re in. I want to take your pain away, I want to inflict it on myself and make you feel all better. If only there was something I could do.

But there’s nothing I can do. I’m physically useless.

The nurses keep telling me that you can sense me. That my touch makes your sats improve. But what use is that if I can only hold you for half an hour each day? I can’t even keep the windows in your isolette open for too long. I’ve been there to attend to your cares most opportunities. The only times I’ve missed have been when I’ve been with your brother instead.

He misses me so much, I’ve watched his heart break this week too. He doesn’t understand what has happened but he feels it. He knows we’re all hurting. I hurt for him, I hurt for you.

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I’m hurting because I genuinely don’t know what to do with myself, I just want to do something worthwhile.

I’ve been expressing – the Doctor says that breast milk is better than any medicine. So, like clockwork, I’ve collected milk for you. Once again, the pain makes me feel better. It makes me feel as though it must be worth it.

It’s close to 5 am now and I want to be up for your cares at 8 so I’m going to try and sleep. I don’t even know why I’ve written this, you don’t even know who I am. It’s made me feel better though, maybe I’ll sleep now that I’ve processed some of my thoughts.

Sweet dreams baby girl, my warrior princess. Let’s take on the world together later. Let’s make today one to remember.

Holding Siena in my arms, nearly a full year on from this, I wish I could say it was hard to remember feeling that way. My warrior princess has been quite the fighter. She’s stronger and more determined than ever but those feelings won’t disappear anytime soon. I’m coming to terms with the turmoil we experienced last year. It’s my time to be determined – I’m determined to move on from the past and make Siena’s 2nd year completely drama free.

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It No Longer Offends Me

  Straight after having my 1st baby, hormones consumed my life. I found myself an emotional wreck. My mood swings were wild and unpredictable. One moment I’d be intensely angry, a split second later I’d be laughing at whatever had set me off to begin. Mainly, I cried. I was incapable of hiding any emotion or even trying to keep it to myself.

Luckily, as my body settled, my moods did too.

Surprisingly, I found out I was pregnant again only 15 weeks after the birth of my son, my main concern was dealing with those pesky hormones once more. I’d only just managed to regain control, I hated the thought that I was about to lose it all over again.

Then my daughter arrived 9 weeks early and I found myself more in control than I’d ever been in my life. Having always had emotional tendencies, people expected me to be unstable. Even my Mother thought I wouldn’t cope at the challenge ahead. The truth is though, Siena’s prematurity meant that I needed to be strong. I didn’t have time to wallow or feel depressed, she needed me to be focused and she definitely needed optimism.

Siena’s birth forced me to evaluate every character trait I possessed. Before her, I could be sulky and more annoyingly, touchy. I took everything personal, I could be insanely sensitive. Following her birth, I found myself thrust into positions where I could have been so easily offended. It became obvious that people didn’t know what to say to me or how to approach the subject of my sick child. In these moments, I found myself holding back the tears or boiling with anger. Yet, I never showed it. I bit my tongue, forced a smile and nodded in agreement. This wasn’t a time to isolate people or make them feel worse than they already did. I want to take a minute to apologise for being offended, I’m now able to reflect and realise that it was hard for people to show empathy having no idea what we were going through. It was hard for them to relate to our situation or understand that what they’d said was insensitive. So…

It no longer offends me that you told me I was lucky for not gaining weight. At the time, this was not a priority of mine. I would have happily gained 19 stone if it meant I needn’t watch my daughter fight for her life. There was no apparent reason to why Siena came early. This subject made me feel so guilty. Why hadn’t I gained more weight? Could this be the reason why Siena decided to exit so early? If I’d eaten a higher calorific diet would she have been more satisfied? I’m able to banish this guilt now more than ever. Siena was born at 31 weeks weighing 3lb 14oz, I may have only partly cooked her but she was big for her gestation. She had obviously been satisfied and I had obviously fed her enough.

It no longer offends me that you told me I was lucky because at least I could sleep. I didn’t sleep, I’d set my alarm for every three hours so that I could breast pump. It killed me knowing someone else was caring for my daughter, expressing was the only thing I could do to feel like her Mother. In between the expressing, I’d lie awake crying, feeling useless, missing my daughter. Siena had her nights and days mixed up which meant that I would spend all day at NICU watching her sleep. I’d get up and go straight to hospital to hear how she’d kept the nurses entertained with her gassy smiles and wide eyes. I wanted that, I’d do anything to see her awake. When Siena was at North Tees, I lived with her. I’d spend all night by her side singing lullabies and reading her stories. It wasn’t enough, I needed her where she belonged. When I wasn’t by her side, I’d sit watching videos of her brother, longing for a cottage pie kiss. Only now can I see that you were trying to comfort me. You were desperately clinging to anything positive to say, you weren’t aware of how painful my nights were.

It no longer offends me that you told me I had a ‘big’ baby. Yes, for her gestation Siena was big as I mentioned before. This comment made me feel as though my worry and doubt about Siena’s health wasn’t warranted. It made me feel petty for getting upset. Siena was more poorly than we ever let on. Her early days had been extremely scary. Her size was an indication that she had been progressing successfully but it didn’t have a direct impact on her health. I’m now able to see that you were offering me words of comfort and that it was my problem for not seeing that immediately.
It no longer offends me that you told me I’d have a baby for longer. Once more, this is not something I cared about. I didn’t care whether Siena was big or small, like a baby or a toddler from birth. I just wanted her to be healthy. Siena is now 8 months and she is still very much like a baby. You were right, I’ve cherished every moment with her – and knowing she’ll be my last, I’ve been able to savour each shoulder cuddle, every bottle. She’s growing so quickly now and I’m ready to watch my caterpillar transform and grow her wings.

It no longer offends me that you tell me you wish you’d go into labour early/had gone into labour early. Now this one used to really upset me, having a premature baby isn’t something any mother should want. Having a baby in NICU is not fun. It’s emotionally draining to see someone care for your baby; to not be able to cuddle them whenever you please; to watch them struggle, cluttered in wires and tubes; to not know when they’ll be well enough for home. It’s taken me a while to realise you don’t mean it, you’re just fed up at how shitty you’re feeling. Also, I’ve never reached full term. I can’t judge someone for how it must feel in those final days. Going over a due date can have just as serious consequences too, I now recognise your discomfort and fear…but please, don’t wish your pregnancy away.

It no longer offends me that you told me she’d be ‘normal’ one day (she’s my daughter, she’s got no hope of ‘normality’ ever). When Siena was 1st born, she still felt ‘normal’. As she grows, she still feels ‘normal’. She’s smaller than other babies her age, she’s not advanced as those babies either but she’s perfectly formed. Yet now I see that she isn’t ‘normal’ she’s blessed with hope and strength. She’s sprinkled with miracle dust. I no longer hear this statement as you judging her or thinking of her as ‘abnormal’ I now can accept that all you meant is that one day, her hard start to life wouldn’t be noticeable. One day, people won’t realise that there was ever anything different about her.

It no longer offends me that you told me Siena was ‘becoming beautiful’. To me, she has always radiated beauty. Even when covered with wires, when her veins shone through her skin, when she was covered in bruises from pin pricks and needles, she was magnificent. At the time, your comments made me feel as though once you thought she wasn’t. It made me feel as though her prematurity made her ugly. It’s only now that I can accept it might have been harder to spot her natural lushness to those who didn’t study her with love. As she grows each day, she does flourish and I know you can now see what I saw from the start.

It no longer offends me that you chose to avoid me but I’ll also never forget. When Siena was born, my eyes were opened to those who had the strength to help and those who couldn’t support me. There were friends and family members who never once asked me how Siena was doing, never once asked me how I was coping, never once visited her in the 5 weeks she spent at hospital. At the time, this hurt me so badly. I felt as though they’d rejected her. I now accept that just because my world had stopped didn’t mean that it had for others. I also know that some people just didn’t know what to say to me, I think of whether this had happened to someone else, would I have done the same? I’m sorry for being offended, we weren’t your problem to deal with.

When Siena was in hospital, I’d hear these things and couldn’t accept them for what they really were. They were meant to be comfort. They were meant to make me feel better. I can see now that the problem lay within me, not within those who said them. I can now think logically and know I’d probably offer some of the same words to others had I not experienced how they made me feel. To those Mammies still going through this early journey, try not to hold these comments in your heart. Look at them on face value and try to find the comfort others try to offer. It’s not easy for you but it’s also not easy for others, they’re trying and that’s what counts.

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I Won’t Rush You to Grow

  

We were lucky that you were a good size for your gestation. For 31 weeks, I’d done well to get you to 3lb 14. Plenty of people told me that I had ‘a big one’ and, although the phrase itself made me boil with anger, I saw how I was meant to take comfort in it. 
Still, you were the tiniest baby I’d ever seen. The 1st time I saw you, you were lying flat on your tummy. Your legs and arms hadn’t yet uncoiled and you reminded me of a frog getting ready to leap. You were beautiful. Your eyes were closed but I could see from the start that your features were perfection. You had the cutest button nose, your lips were perfectly poised, your ears were so flimsy that they had folded over (this, in itself, drove me wild with love). Your legs were long and so were your fingers. We’d expected the legs, your 20 week anomaly scan had shown that they were ‘abnormally’ long. We’d laughed about it ‘she’ll be a model with those pins’ we joked. ‘She’ll make us rich with those stick’ we said. They lived up to expectation. Slender and sleek, they made you ever more gorgeous. The fingers were also a talking point. Your Grandpa, a wannabe musician, took pride in them the most. ‘She’s going to be a pianist’ he beamed. 
We had big dreams for you from the start. 
You were exactly one week old when the doctors performed the brain scan. It was routine and we were confident that everything would go smoothly. In the seven days you’d lived, we’d never known a more ‘clued up’ baby. You’d had complications with your lungs and had been placed on a ventilator as you couldn’t breathe on your own but we’d seen a side of you that showed how bright you were. When you were awake, you engaged with us. You stared at us and seemed to take in your whole surroundings. We never expected to hear the term ‘brain damage’. 
The results from the scan showed that you’d had a bleed to the brain. The doctors sat us down and explained exactly what this could mean. ‘The excess fluid could drain and leave no everlasting side effects’ or ‘Your daughter could have a level of brain damage’. They explained that your bleed was known as a stage I, the smallest kind of bleed. Once again, we were lucky to know that the chances of you having permanent damage were small…but yet still possible. 
We were told that the most likely effect of the bleed would be learning difficulties.  In this moment, I felt split. The shallow side of me (one that I’m not proud of) worried insanely. I’m a Secondary School Teacher of English, what would my colleagues think if my child wasn’t clever? I felt disgusted in myself then and even still now, confessing it to others.
 The other side of me didn’t care.  You were my child and you’d already done me proud. Whatever obstacles were thrown in our direction, we’d conquer them together. You were strong, stubborn and determined. This was clear from the very beginning. I knew those qualities would see you  right through life.
As a parent, I believe that a certain level of ‘pushiness’ is healthy. After all, no-one wants to raise a lazy kid. All parents want the best for their children and, being a child ourselves once upon a time, we’re aware that sometimes it takes a little bit of nagging and drive to motivate. I certainly wasn’t going to sit back and accept that you might not fulfil your dreams.  
However, here’s my second confession, another moment I’m hugely not proud of. When you were 1st born, I struggled with guilt and envy. It’s the envy that now makes my stomach turn. I envied the women in ward 10 with their fully grown newborns. I envied my friends, still pregnant with sprouting bumps and growing foetuses. I envied babies bigger than you, more advanced than you. I envied those who gave birth and took their babies straight home. I knew of four people who delivered in the time you spent in NICU. Although pleased for them, I wanted it to be us. I put pressure on myself and inadvertently you, to get you home, to get you bigger. 
My emotions were massively conflicted. Partly, I knew you needed time and patience. Partly, I knew I shouldn’t pressure you. I thought to myself ‘I won’t rush you to grow’.
You’re 5 months old now and make me proud every minute of the day. You don’t look like a 5 month old baby (in fact, you’re still in newborn territory). You’re not as advanced as a 5 month old baby either but that’s fine. After all, you’re not meant to be 5 month old yet. The 1st time you smiled, at 13 weeks actual, will remain in my heart forever. It proved that you were on track with your corrected age. Today, you smile on demand. You babble when I look at you (in fact, you’re quite the chatterbox). You seem to know your name and you’ve started to cut your 1st tooth. You’ve started weaning and handled the spoon better than your brother did. You can’t roll over yet or hold your neck perfectly on your own but so what?! I remember a time when you couldn’t breathe for yourself and now you’re living, growing and developing with ease. You’ll do things in your own time and I’ll be proud of you forever.