The solemnity with which the two medical assistants entered the room, carrying the strange long floppy syringe as if it was the Holy Grail was almost laughable … apart from the fact that for me it was the Holy Grail. The embryo about to be transferred from the depths of the syringe into my waiting and perfectly prepared womb was the most precious most longed for mass of cells in the entire universe.They looked like twins, the two medics, one opening the door, the other carrying the oval dish with its precious cargo. They were both dressed in blue scrubs with neat blue plastic hats and they both had identical grins. I looked away. There was a screen beside the bed but I didn’t feel that I could watch the exact moment when my little Spaniard was ejected from its temporary transporter into the waiting warmth.
To be honest, I was scared it would hurt and I’d flinch if I could see it happening. But I did think that just at ‘the’ crucial moment I’d turn and watch it fly out, the slow motion music would play in my head, and I’d see it settle in. I missed the whole thing. By the time I realised it had been transferred (I felt literally nothing), it was too late … All I could see on the screen, and on the subsequent scan photo, was a tiny dot at the end of a smudge of fluid. I lay stock still for an hour and then as soon as we were back at the hotel I lay stock still again, praying the bumpy taxi ride back there hadn’t dislodged anything. My husband went out for a walk and I lay on that hotel bed in southern Spain wondering and imagining what was happening deep inside me. Then the room started shaking. At the time I thought it must just be a figment of my frazzled and overwhelmed mind, dizziness at the end of a very long journey, it turned out it wasn’t me, but it was an earthquake. Symbolic, somehow, that the day my Spaniard took up residence the earth shook.
My little pregnancy person was called “The Spaniard,” as we had IVF in Spain. Created in Spain, in a Spanish (presumably) test tube, so rather than ‘bumpy’ or ‘bean,’ I named my growing embryo” The Spaniard.” It needed to be a fighter and determined to succeed, and somehow that name gave me the courage to believe it might.
I was old – 47 and 3 days to be precise – when we found out that The Spaniard had stayed put 17 days after the embryo transfer … and I was told by almost every medical person I encountered that The Spaniard was a huge achievement but not really likely to make it. Being old – geriatric as I was referred to by one midwife – meant that there was a far higher chance of miscarriage and of problems in pregnancy, risks to the growing person and to my own health meant that whilst we had done well to get pregnant I really shouldn’t expect it to last … but that I had done well to get that far.
All of the negative nay-saying made me cross. When I was preparing for the IVF, I went to India to an Ayurvedic retreat to cleanse and allow my body to get to a place where mentally and physically I was as healthy, relaxed and prepared as I could be to be stuffed full of drugs and to get pregnant. So, hearing all this negativity felt totally at odds with the idea that stress should be kept to a minimum during pregnancy. In the end, I had a tearful tantrum and told the consultant that I was pragmatic and I knew the risks but that I’d really appreciate a hug and a hurrah from time to time.
From then on, my increasingly frequent visits to the hospital were utterly professional, but were supportive and nurturing experiences. All of the 20-something scans I had were accompanied by encouragement and warmth. However, various things went wrong: I tripped and fell whilst out on one of my daily two-hour walks. We held our breath but the little heart kept on beating. I was in a taxi accident but the heart kept on beating. I had a bleed, but there it was – insistently beating. I still never really believed it was possible. Then, two months before the due date, The Spaniard, my bouncing, hiccupping thriving little person, suddenly stopped moving.. But then, even then its sturdy robust little heart galloped on. I was in hospital for nearly three weeks scanned daily, its heart monitored three times a day. By then my poor tummy was black and blue from all the anti-blood clotting injections which I’d been giving myself since hearing I was pregnant … Nothing, no body movement at all -just fine lip movement and the heart beating.
The consultant met with colleagues, the senior consultants scanned me; we wondered had the baby had a stroke, was it resting, was it anaemic? All the other tests were 100% fine and it kept growing – just no movement until one day when they were about to give me an emergency cesarean, just as suddenly as it had stopped, The Spaniard started to move again … its legs flexing, bouncing, hands uncurling, head turning. I was allowed home but still had to be monitored every day. I still felt that because I was old, something was inevitably going to go badly wrong.
Then, my own heart began to beat erratically. Christmas came and went and I was scanned, monitored and measured. Finally, in early January, a month earlier than the due date, my doctors decided to unzip me.
It didn’t seem possible, even the morning of surgery. I couldn’t believe that later that day I’d be meeting my precious Spaniard. I hadn’t let my mind go there for the whole pregnancy, I hadn’t done much in the way of shopping or physical preparation of beds and so on. I had a bag packed, but it was almost with the expectation that I’d be bringing it home and nothing else. I shook so violently it took three anaesthetists to get the drip into me. I’d forgotten to bring my ‘birth’ music playlist in with me so had just grabbed the CDs out of the car glove compartment.
They put Dean Martin on “repeat,” (I never want to listen to him again); it was all wrong and I shouted at them to turn it off … the obstetrician said it was better to have something on so my Bruce Springsteen CD went into the machine. And as I lay there behind a little blue screen I listened to my favourite singer and his wonderful band singing an old American folk song, “Keep your eyes on the prize.” I was unzipped and The Spaniard – my precious, determined, miraculous little friend suddenly ceased to be – and Hope, my baby daughter, was pulled out into the world.
She was blue and ‘grunting’ at first (the sound I thought endearing was actually that of lungs trying to collapse) and my heart was still erratic, so we didn’t see much of each other to start with. I didn’t even know if it was a girl or boy; my husband had to go and check. But I was allowed to feed her before we were both taken off to special care units.
It was a day or so later, just after lunch, that an assistant midwife wheeled a plastic fishtank-like cot into my blue curtained cubicle. I presumed it was in preparation for the baby coming back to me. It wasn’t. It was, in fact, a fishtank full of Hope. We looked at each other, and we both started to cry … and then I picked her up and finally, finally it felt real. I could smile; she was OK; I was OK and there we were – mother (47 1/2, old, geriatric) and baby (2 days old, four weeks early). I had no clue what to do next …
Eleven months on, I wonder how I’ve got this far knowing so little and very unwilling to adhere to instruction manuals. We’ve travelled half way around the world together. She loves avocado and calamari and toast. She chats, she claps and she makes my heart sing. But, there isn’t a day goes past that I don’t miss my little Spaniard and I don’t smile inwardly with pride at the fact that we made it, the Spaniard and I, all the way to the miracle of Hope … No wonder the earth moved.