I always imagined that I would have a pregnancy and birth very much like the rest of my life has been--uneventful. Unfortunately, life doesn't always go the way you plan or imagine. Less than two months into the pregnancy, I started spotting heavily and the ob-gyn that I was seeing at KKH diagnosed it as a threatened miscarriage. "About 20 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriages," he said, matter-of-factly. "Sometimes, it's the body's way of telling you there's something wrong with the quality of the embryo. We'll just have to wait and see."
So for the next three weeks we held our breaths as the bleeding did not abate. I remember praying very hard in my helplessness, bargaining with God to let me keep the baby. The spotting stopped when I commenced my second trimester, along with all my morning sickness. The next three months were a breeze and the incident was relegated to the back of my mind.
So 15 weeks later, when we were deciding on whether to terminate the pregnancy after getting Johanna's diagnosis of a complex heart defect, Ivan reminded me of how God had answered our prayers then to let us keep the baby, and we knew that termination was not an option. The heart is the first organ to form. On hindsight, it seems that the KKH OB was right. But we had to trust that if God had answered our prayers then, He could do another miracle for Johanna.
Because the baby could be born blue, I was advised to have an elective C-section so that the cardio and NICU team could be on standby to receive Johanna and give her immediate treatment if it were necessary. The caesarean was scheduled for 21 April 2014, on my 38th week of pregnancy. It was just 5 days after my own birthday and I was super excited to finally meet Johanna, a belated birthday present to myself. I woke up that morning, full of anticipation, my hospital bags packed and ready to go. Then the unimaginable happened. Yes, even more unimaginable than anything that had happened so far.
As I put down my toothbrush and filled my mouth with water to rinse, the water came sloshing back uncontrollably out of my lips. I looked into the mirror, and to my horror, I realized the whole right side of my face was completely lax and drooping. I made a squinty face, and only the left side of my face creased up, the right remained smooth and expressionless. WHAT IS THIS SORCERY. DID I GET A STROKE OVERNIGHT?!
When I got over the initial panic, my brain finally connected what was happening to the swooshing tinnitus in my right ear that had been bothering me in my last trimester. The pulsing, swooshing sound had gotten incrementally worse in the last three weeks, to the extent that I could hear it over Transformers 3 in the cinema, that I would be kept up half the night because it would sound like a clanging funeral procession in my head in the still of the night.
When we checked into the hospital, the doctors decided that they couldn't proceed with the scheduled C-section without sorting out this facial paralysis first. Instead of meeting Johanna like I'd planned, I spent the day being examined and having my brain scanned to make sure that I did not indeed, have a stroke. They diagnosed it as Bell's Palsy, an unexplained infection that had damaged a facial nerve and paralyzed half my face. It was so bad that I couldn't speak properly, and I had to tape my right eye shut at night because it would stay open involuntarily.
I did have the C-section on the morning of 22 April after all though. We had planned to have an epidural C-sect with Ivan by my side in the OT; I wanted to experience it all and at least have a chance to see the baby before she was whisked off to the NICU. But like everything else we planned in this whole pregnancy, it fell through because the anesthesiologist felt that he did not want to risk the epidural affecting my damaged nerves and at the last minute, it was decided that I was to have GA.
Johanna was born at 9.34am weighing in at a hefty 3.2kg, and despite all the fears that she would be blue and un-oxygenated once out of my womb, she emerged pink and yelling at the top of her lungs, with an APGAR score of 9.
So as it turns out, my birth story is no birth story at all because it's like I wasn't even there for it. I woke up, in pain, still looking like I was at least 6 months pregnant. Baby was in NICU and I was in an 8-bedder ward two levels up. I finally got to see Johanna later that evening, I was wheeled downstairs and I could only look at her from afar, outside the glass of the NICU because they weren't sure if my Bell's Palsy was still infectious. I don't know if I was expecting to be hit by an immediate maternal bonding, but it all felt kinda anti-climatic and detached.
I don't think I felt like she was really mine until she was off her tubes and I finally got to hold her for the first time four days later when the lactation consultant wanted us to try breastfeeding. And boom, it was like she knew me and I knew her. She latched like a champ.
This little baby has since turned my life (and living space) upside down, and put a whole lot of things into perspective. I love her something fierce and it takes up so much room in my heart that I wonder what was in that space before she came along. Some might say it's the mother who brings new life into this world, but really, I think she's the one who gave me new life.