I don’t know that I expected a caesarean section to be a spontaneous or improvisational exercise, but the orderliness of the occasion in Homerton University Hospital’s delivery suite was still remarkable. I’m bad with numbers, but I seem to remember there being roughly 140 people in the room, all working at their tasks independently, in that unlikely way ice skaters have of bisecting each other’s paths without clattering into one another.
Through it all, my heart was trembling, facing for the first time the terror I’d held there for over a year. Shortly before Christmas 2020, my wife was rushed to hospital in Dublin with a suspected miscarriage. Covid protocols meant we were turned away on account of having been in Northern Ireland the previous week, before it became clear that what we’d thought was a miscarriage was actually an ectopic pregnancy.
A fertilised egg had implanted, not in her womb, but in her fallopian tube. As it grew, it caused a tear and as she struggled to remain upright on the hospital steps, it ruptured, causing 2 litres of blood to fill the gap. Action stations were staffed, ashen-faced doctors rushed her to theatre, where the internal bleeding was so severe that the words ‘close to death’ and ‘20 minutes to live’ were repeated by almost all of the staff we met in the days that followed. Suddenly, ‘if’ was the only word in my vocabulary. If we’d been admitted 20 minutes later; if this rupture had happened on the plane we’d been on a week earlier; if the Dublin traffic which had delayed our trip to the hospital that afternoon had presented us with just one more, interminable traffic jam.
The grief of baby loss is the pain of missing something you’ve never even got to hold. The physical and emotional toll this event took on my wife, the strongest, most resilient person I know, served as a quiet, needling counterpoint to all our little hopes for the next year, as the word ‘trying’ lived up to two meanings.
When we were lucky enough to get pregnant this time, we held that little hope in our hands like a baby bird, never quite daring to believe things would work out again. And then, scan after scan, we nourished that belief into something more solid until we realised we were no longer hoping, but expecting.
And now, here we were again in a different hospital, surrounded by doctors, and midwives, only they weren’t ashen-faced and grim, but calm and kind. Calm in that way that burns a tired eye. Kind in that way that makes you want to melt down all your possessions so you can build a statue for every last one of them.
They’d hardly started before the sheet was lowered, and my daughter raised above it to say hello, giving proceedings the cheery incongruity of a gory little puppet show. As she was handed to me, my eyes burst like those rubberised bath pellets young girls used to gift each other in the 90s, but which no one has seen or heard from since.
My head swam as a tiny hand gripped my finger, and small black eyes gazed back at my own. All of hope, of life, of joy, was held now in my arms.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats