it’s been a long time since i have put my thoughts and feelings into words; around a year, which is kind of scary to think of how quickly time can move on without you. So much has happened this last year, that I have no idea where to begin, but I figured the most prominant part of 2014 was the journey we encountered with Pepin. There are probably a million back stories that are required for parts of this story but I hope that other posts will help me put all of this together a little more eloquently than this may originally seem.
Since I left my job I have not been able to return to work, as Best Friend 3 has had a greater load of medical issues than any one person should have to deal with in their entire life. I have become her medical next of kin, based on her father having tried his hardest to control/ruin her life and we are now living together for every available second that her father isn’t descending on her life and even then we are in constant contact with each other. There have even been times where we have been blowing up the airbed and moving all of the furniture to squeeze it in next to my bed at my dad’s.
We have been in constant contact with each other for a couple of years now (but weren’t living together at this point) so when there had been a full 24 hours that I hadn’t heard from her, it was so out of character that I was genuinely worried and decided that I had no option but to go round to her house just to check that things were ok. I am very careful with never crossing boundaries and it was against my being to use my key to her house when she wasn’t expecting me but my husband took over and opened the door. It was lucky that he did because, as I was checking the rooms at the back of the house, he was standing at the kitchen door with the colour drained from his face. All you could see from the doorway was an inanimate foot of a body lying on the kitchen floor. Instinct took over and I immediately went to check for signs of life; thankfully her heart was strong and she was breathing but was cold from having obviously been unconscious on the floor for a prolonged period of time. This is a condition that she has had for a few years now but this was a particularly bad episode and getting her to safety took some time.
As things weren’t really improving, I ended up persuading her to go and get herself properly checked out. This was the point that I ended up with her nurse having contact with me directly and us working as a team to get on top of the issues without having to subject her to a prolonged time in hospital. After a few weeks of trying to work out why the spiral wasn’t improving, blood tests started to show up things we weren’t expecting. The nurse emailed me with the information that Best Friend 3’s HCG levels were showing up levels of between 12 and 15 weeks of pregnancy so an ultrasound was booked for the following day. Both at home and in the hospital several pregnancy tests had been taken and all had come back negative, so to receive this news was confusing to say the least. Add to that the fact that several of the drugs that she had been pumped with and tests that she had been subjected to could have been fatal to any likely pregnancy. I’ll not go into the multitude of positives and negatives of the decision in this post but it wasn’t a straightforward thought process, should it be the case. We are very open with our bodies and because best friend 2 had recently reached her 5th month of pregnancy then I knew what to feel for in advance. Right enough, the night before the ultrasound, I felt a perfectly round little lump sitting in exactly the place that I would expect it to be. We discussed all the possibilities and the possibly implications on the future (especially regarding her health) but didn’t think that, even if there had been a heartbeat, that it would be a viable pregnancy. There were mental aspects to all of this, which vastly outweighed the physical, and was the reason that we ended up trusting in what will be will be.
I wasn’t able to attend the doctor’s appointment but i was sent a sound clip of a very strong and healthy heartbeat, which shocked us both more than we had anticipated. From that moment on, we were on the journey of a lifetime, leaving ourselves open to things going wrong at any time. Historically BF3 had experienced a lot of heartache where carrying children had been concerned, so we were prepared for both the best and the worst possible outcomes. In the UK, a baby is not deemed viable until the 24th week of gestation and she had previously lost a baby at 23 weeks and 2 days. There had been others of her babies that never made it to this world, due to several different circumstances, but 23 weeks was the record up to that point.
From all of the contraception (the morning after pill was taken), medications, procedures, collapses, inability to retain food, knocks and the one grief stricken drunken night there was no way that this miracle foetus should have been in existence, never mind have managed to reach 13 weeks healthy and thriving. It was against medical advice that we decided to take a chance on the pregnancy, even though surgery on a brain aneurysm was imminent and still scheduled to go ahead. In our minds, there was no way that there would still be a pregnancy after the surgery but at least that would be based on a decision that we didn’t have to make. There was no father to be concerned with, as he had decided to end his life only a matter of days after conception had occurred, which made my husband, BF3 and I as the parenting team. We were all living together anyway, so planning for a future incorporating an extra heart was second nature to us all.
Against every conceivable chance, the aneurysm surgery came (with having to go through the procedure twice in one day) and went with still a healthy thriving heartbeat. Although we didn’t know the sex of our little bean, I looked up names that meant determination and Pepin jumped out at me as a name for the time before foetus becomes a baby. I never like to refer to a foetus as “it” and we didn’t want to find out the sex, so finding a name made the most sense to me. BF3 was left a small amount of money in Pepin’s Dad’s will and she decided the highest priority was a small holiday for me and her to try and relax away from her medical issues. Not long after we found out about Pepin’s existence, practice contractions started plaguing her body in a relentless manner and it was up to me to time them, monitor them and to distract her from the instinct to push. During the worst of them it turned into a task of troubleshooting anything I could to try and halt them. With all of the time I was having to spend with my hand on her tummy, to feel for contractions, I instinctively began talking to Pepin on a regular basis. Most of the holiday was absolute bliss, with the punctuation of contractions a few times a day. The flight home was particularly stressful, as i thought we were going to have to stop off at the hospital on the way home! I had been given a list of instructions and guidelines for contractions from her nurse, to know when enough was enough and to get medical assistance.
Quite soon after we got back from holiday, Pepin started kicking and punching to make himself known. I was referring to him as male from early on, although I had no idea what he was. As it turned out, during one of the many medical scares that BF3 had and a scan was taken, one of the ultrasound technicians let it slip that he was a boy. Neither of us wanted to know what we were having, but it was lovely once we did know because he got more of a personality after it. The reason he had survived for so long, during the medical and emotional traumas, was his ability to go and hide right at the back. He could choose whether he wanted to be shown off or whether he wanted to stay away and hide. This was especially noticeable when BF3’s dad decided to descend upon us. The stress levels were so high around those times that he just kept well out of it all and made sure that nobody found out about him that didn’t need to know he was there.
We were lying in bed watching a film, where there was piano music playing in the soundtrack, and he kicked every time the music played. I decided to test it out and played piano music to her belly to see if he responded the same way; he did. He moved to piano, violin and cello music at around 18 weeks of gestation. This was fascinating to me. For obvious reasons, his stamina was not huge for being able to respond so actively but for bursts of time he was able to enjoy the sounds before drifting off to sleep. After a couple of days of trying different types of music, when ceilidh music came on and i squished his bottom in time with the music he managed to pick up on the rhythm. From then on when music was played, if he enjoyed the sounds, he was able to kick and move in time with the rhythm. The stage after that was using the fact that he could move to the front and back to be able to answer yes or no. If he liked something then he would push himself out so hard that her belly grew like a balloon and if he was unhappy then he could disappear, as if there was no baby in there. I have little video clips of him moving in time to music and further ones of him enjoying water being poured on his mummy’s tummy; me asking where he wants the water poured, and him pushing specific parts of his body out to feel it. He responded to my voice and answered questions that I asked by using his body movements. BF3 was never plagued by cravings, because I could ask him what he wanted to eat and he would choose the option he liked best. His favourite foods were cheesy scrambled eggs, toast and ice lollies/ice cream; to the point that you couldn’t say the word toast, cake or eggs without him going crazy and wanting some!
As time went on, he became more and more opinionated and learned at an astonishing rate. Where in the early days he would choose to communicate through contractions if he was displeased with something, this started to become something that wasn’t controlled by him. We monitored contractions regularly and were expecting an early delivery from the word go. Not only an early delivery but we never expected him to get to the point of viability. Once 24 weeks had come and gone with everything still looking normal (something that astounded us constantly) we started allowing ourselves to make potential plans for the future. the knowledge that none of this could come into frutition was never far from our minds, but it was still good for us to enjoy the planning process as it occurred. Pepin became a sociable little Lion and had firm opinions of people he didn’t and didn’t like. If anyone upset his mummy then they would be hated and he would do anything he could to appear invisible. He would play with the kids at school when they wanted to poke him but if he didn’t want touched then you knew immediately. He could choose not to talk to you if you annoyed or upset him. I was put in the dog house for a while when I called him “foetus” as a joke. He was happy with being called Pepin or by his birth name (he vetted it before we finalised the decision) but would not tolerate being called foetus.
At 32 weeks, he learned a new trick and could wiggle his bum inside the belly. The whole bump would move from side to side and it made me giggle every single time. Giggling was something that he loved to hear and so would do it to create happiness all around him. I explained that he shouldn’t move too hard just in case he hurt mummy or himself but the need to generate laughter was just too great for him. If I asked him to show me where his bum was he could push it out at will, the same for his arms, legs and head. This was handy because I could keep track of his position. The last thing we wanted was a breach baby and could explain to him that if he was lying in the wrong position and Mummy’s body decided it was time for him to come out then I couldn’t be there to catch him. He didn’t want to be cut out of the belly and wanted me to be there for his grand entrance so could turn himself round to be head down from bottom down. He hated being bottom down but we compromised and let him lie sideways to sleep because that made him the most comfortable. I would sleep with either my hand on the belly or the belly in the small of my back for heat and safety. He knew if there was any danger he could wake me up and I could help before things got out of control.
My outside life fucked everything up. I ended up with a psychopath stalker who made my friend feel threatened. This led to sleep being elusive and sleep was the key to all wellness within her. A family friend was visiting from Australia and her mother had arranged for her to take BF3 to a spa for a weekend for a pre-natal pampering session. This friend was a midwife so Pepin felt safe enough to be away from me but seemed to know that everything was going to be completely unpredictable from there on in. It sounds so ridiculous to be able to say for sure that I knew how a foetus felt but he taught me more about pre birth than anything else could have.
On the first night that they had gone away (about 2 hours from home), the worst case scenario happened. Her medical condition having been so poorly dealth with had caused further complications at the time and at the time would fall unconscious for prolonged periods of time. On the way to the toilet she had collapsed (as she frequently did with non-epileptic seizures) and remained unconscious for a prolonged period of time. Midwife friend had woken and noticed the bleeding, so called the ambulance.
What ended up being a placental abruption caused a starvation of oxygen to his brain and organs which he only managed to fight through for an hour. He was born exactly 2 months early and was perfect in every way. It tears my soul that I never got to hold him or kiss him but he was well cared for during his short time in the outside world. Luckily I was able to get an imprint of his hands and feet to see for myself the size that he was. I have one gorgeous photo of him and these are things that I will be eternally grateful for.
I’m sure that there will never be such an amazing pregnancy story for us to tell again but I am sure that it won’t be our only pregnancy story to tell. There will never be regret that we emotionally invested in a little person who never managed to be and has only left us with positivity that we can love as much as we can without fear of disaster. As it turns out, hurt is natural and normal but how you deal with it is entirely in your own hands. Perspective is the thing that can keep you level and in control of any situation.
For now, we crave the family dynamic that we prepared for when our Pepin was growing and hope to have another chance to make it happen for real again. We can only see what the future will bring and every door will remain open until we know for sure. Here’s hoping anyway.