W ith you suckling at my chest, the pool of blood gone, and our family here to celebrate your birth, I feel elated, and sure it must be over.
But it isn't quite over yet. The family are ushered out for the doctors to begin stitching me up. I lie on my back, feet in stirrups, and try to think more about you than about the four or five people examining the damage.
Your tiny fingers are so long and thin, with soft fingernails that curl over at the ends. Your hair is fair and curly, but darker than mine. Or is it the dry blood and amniotic fluid that make it look that way? Your little nose is upturned, like my sister's. It’s the one feature I recognize from the scans. Your eyes are big and blue, the shape of mine and my fathers. You look a bit like my father. All the babies in our family seem to look a bit like my father. Perhaps it's his distinctive features, or perhaps it's his lack of hair and our lack of imagination. A female student doctor is supervised as she stitches. It's the same doctor who told me you were well before your first cry. I feel warmth towards her for that. She's the doctor who comes to give me the birth control talk a few days later, and turns bright red when I cut her off. "I'm single and also, I'm a lesbian, so birth control is not going to be an issue for me".
I wonder if I could have handled it in a way that didn’t make her feel so silly. I just hadn’t wanted to waste her time. Eventually it's over. The remaining family members file back in and Nick has followed the instructions I’d forgotten I’d give him. He’s brought food! With the first bite I realise I’m utterly starving and devour huge quantities, visualizing my strength being restored. My parents, both pale and weak but for different reasons, head home. Nick and Charlotte stay late, and decide it's time to leave our little party as I'm helped into a wheelchair and move to the ward, you in my arms. We study each other's faces, stare into each other's eyes. We're wheeled down to a ward that is almost deserted, and I have to let go of these midwives and the wonderful care and attention they've given me. We're on our own. I suddenly realise it was a big mistake not to ask someone to stay with me tonight.
You go to sleep in a bassinet beside my bed and I can just reach you to carefully lift you in and out through the night, when you cry. I imagine how distressing it must be to no longer hear my heartbeat as you lie alone in the world for the first time. I place you on me and you’re content. I'm afraid to fall asleep like this, terrified that I'll suffocate you, but I do drift off, and when I wake you're still safe. On this first night I find myself wishing there was another parent. In the morning we are wheeled to the postnatal ward. It's brand new, only recently opened, and the rooms are spacious, light and quiet. I can't quite believe that although I'm a public patient and not paying for this, I have a private room with a bathroom and my own little fridge, perfect for storing my mother's food deliveries, and ice packs to put in my undies, to sooth my wounds. I spend hours gazing out at the view of the mountains, and the most beautiful sunsets.
"You are never taken from my side, and I love being with you, but I miss you being inside me, almost a part of me."
I miss my pregnant belly. I study you, awake and asleep, getting to know all the parts of your face and your body. I recognize the way you move, curl up, stretch out, from how you moved inside me. I look for the things that I recognize from me, and the things I don’t recognize, that must come from him. I have no colour in my face. Even my hands and arms have the pallor of a corpse. I'm not getting much stronger. The doctors don’t think I lost enough blood to be in the state I'm in, but decide to test me, and find that I have. They'd weighed the sheets and blood after the birth, but somehow underestimated the amount. A blood transfusion is recommended and I'm given pamphlets laying out the risks and benefits.
Apprehensively I decide it is the best thing to do. The blood comes, and I feel very strange as I watch it make its way into my body. Within hours I start to feel stronger, and by the next day I have the strength to leave my room, to explore the ward, discover the toaster, another food supply! You are peaceful and perfect, sleeping well, feeding well and making me feel more filled with love than ever before. I haven’t decided on a name yet. I've got it down to three, and thought I'd know once you were born, but my head is so foggy that I'm just not sure! I try to ignore opinions and pressures and after the transfusion, I have clarity.
"Astrid. Your name is Astrid. It takes weeks to feel natural, but we settle into it. Astrid is definitely who you are."
This is an independent production made by me, Sophie Harper.
Music by permission from the artist: Hooked by Versus Shade Collapse, a listener who reached out and offered her music to use in this and future episodes. Thank you.
Music from freemusicarchive.org - CC NC License:
Oxygen Garden by Chris Zabriskie; Sleepless Nights by Dexter Britain; Spellbound by Broke For Free.
Thanks also to my family, my friends and my daughter, for allowing me to record and for your endless support. To every one of the 152 people around the world who donated to my fundraising campaign, I am moved and inspired by your generosity. Thanks to your support, I can and will continue the series for several more months, or maybe even longer. If you'd like to do something more to help me and the series, leave an iTunes review! I love reading them, and reading your emails and messages.