This post is best read while listening to 'Country feedback' by R.E.M.
PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT THIS POST IS A VERY PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE FETAL INTRACARDIAC POTASSIUM CHLORIDE INJECTION, AND YOU MIGHT FIND IT DISTRESSING. WRITING THIS HAS BEEN VERY HARD FOR ME, SO I APPRECIATE YOUR RESPECT AND UNDERSTANDING.
What would you do, if you knew you only had a few more days with your unborn baby, happily and unwittingly living and moving inside your belly? This is a question I never in my life thought I'd need to answer.
Daniel and I decided to try and enjoy every single moment with Luca. Every single movement. Every single song that, we thought, made him kick even more. Every single biscuit or piece of chocolate that, we believed, he enjoyed so much. The Saturday before starting with the termination process, we drove to Frinton and spent the whole day on the beach. It's almost unbelievable when I think back to those hours, but I genuinely feel like we were happy. Not in the standard, conventional way, not in the way we would have imagined or chosen, but we were able to create some moments of pure happiness just for ourselves. Luca was still inside me, still alive, still with us - and the unthinkable goodbye we were going to say to him was, I'm sure, out of pure and unconditional love. Yes - the love of a mother and a father for their son.
Tuesday arrived, and with it came my parents, who had flown once again to London so that they could be with us throughout the unimaginable. The unimaginable started by realising that we would first need to say goodbye to Luca, before even having a chance to say hello. Why? Because by law, if a woman ends a pregnancy after 24 weeks of gestation, the medical staff must ensure that the baby is not born alive. How do they make sure of that? By passing a needle through the woman's abdomen, down through the amniotic fluid and into the baby's heart. The needle contains a substance - potassium chloride - which causes the baby's heart to stop, effectively ending his or her tiny life before it has even begun.
When our consultant explained this to me on the phone, I thought I had the procedure very clear in my mind and that I was as ready as I could be - but going through it ended up being an entirely different experience.
Daniel, my parents, and me - sombre, quiet versions of ourselves - made our way to the hospital late in the afternoon. I told Daniel that I'd forgotten to wear my Bruce Springsteen t-shirt: that's my lucky garment, the one I always wear when I fly and the one I wore at each important scan during my pregnancy with Luca. I was, however, quick to realise that clearly that lucky t-shirt wasn't so lucky after all, and that's when the first tears came.
The wait in the Fetal Medicine Unit wasn't too long, but I still found myself pacing up and down the corridor, while our consultant came and went to reassure me that she would be with me in a minute, she just needed to finish up some appointments. They were able to squeeze me in at 6pm - the last, possibly most awful appointment of the day. To distract myself from my own horrendous situation, I even started feeling sorry for the two consultants, who had to work late that day because of me. Talk about a guilt trip.
Once again, I can't quite put into words how outstanding the NHS care I received was, even on that cursed Tuesday. Both consultants sat me and Daniel down in the scan room - the same scan room where, for the first time, we were told that Luca's femurs were a little bit too short - and talked us through the process, in detail. They would first scan me and, once I was ready, they would anaesthetise my belly and begin with the injection. They added that they would also need to perform an amniocentesis, in order to collect as much diagnostic material as possible to fully confirm that Luca had rhizomelic chondrodysplasia punctata. I nodded, while my eyes became hot and blurry with tears. Feeling Luca move in my belly while, in a whisper, we were outlining the next steps of his death sentence is something so cruel, so otherworldly, that I will never be able to explain - nor will I even try. I only felt the biggest, most overwhelming sadness overcome my whole self.
I lied down on the scanning bed. I sneaked one last peek at Luca - his perfectly round head. His tiny fingers. His button nose. His feet wriggling and kicking. For a moment - just a moment - I wondered if it was still possible to stop everything. To tell the doctors that I had changed my mind. To ask them to shred all the consent forms they'd had me sign. To run away from that hospital. To board the first flight to somewhere nice - Barcelona, perhaps. Or even New Orleans, where Daniel and I spent a few days of our wonderful honeymoon. To forget about everything. Instead, I whispered 'Ciao, Luca' - in Italian, my language, the beautiful language I so longed for him to learn one day - closed my eyes, and began to think about happy things. I imagined being at a concert with Daniel. Maybe a Bruce Springsteen one, like the one I went to in 2013 at Wembley Stadium. I imagined laughing, dancing, and singing along. I forced myself to think happy thoughts, and feel happy feelings. My eyes were closed while I felt the needle gently, but cruelly, penetrating my abdomen, going deeper to invade Luca's world. I hoped with all my heart that Luca wouldn't realise anything of what was going to happen. That he wouldn't be startled or scared. That he wouldn't feel any pain.
While performing the procedure - which was more uncomfortable than painful - the second consultant asked me to hold her arm tight. I did, and it was comforting. She and my consultant exchanged a few words, while Daniel never left my side and kept stroking my hair. The room around me began spinning and I began feeling very hot and nauseous. Side effects of the anaesthetic, I was informed. A few minutes later, it was all done. The needle had found Luca's minuscule, imperfect heart, and paused it forever. Luca was gone. He was still there - but gone. My brain felt exhausted - the way it would normally feel after a particularly tough university exam. The two wonderful consultants smiled at me and stroked my head, while I felt so physically shattered that I was barely able to ask for a glass of water. One of the consultants kept looking at me with a gentle but concerned smile. A smile that was more like a hug. It was more like hearing the words: "You'll be fine. You did the right thing. Your baby is at peace now, and he'll never suffer." I was given a tablet that would help my body prepare for the induction of labour which was scheduled for Thursday. I asked the consultant if I would be able to eat and drink normally in the following days. She nodded: "Of course you can, you can do everything normally. Except, nothing will feel normal, I know." She was right. I was scanned one last time, to check that Luca was no longer living. He was not. I didn't look at the screen.
The night and the day that followed were a whole new level of impossible. My belly started feeling softer, and looked smaller. No longer kept alive and pulsing with the presence of my son, it had become a barren planet floating aimlessly in a solitary, uncharted galaxy. Bleak feelings of guilt and anger intermingled with infinite sadness and the longing for things to have been different, less difficult, more ordinary. My son was still there, my bump was still visible - only not the way I wanted them to. That was not the way nature was supposed to work. That was not the way my life and Luca's life were supposed to unfold. I was in mourning. I was grieving them - my son, and my bump - while they were both still a part of me. I realised, then, that my grief had started on that awful 13th April, and it never really ceased. I had been grieving and mourning and knowing, deep down, that I would not take my Luca home.