Luca's birth story
Updated: May 2, 2019
This post is best read while listening to 'The Four Seasons - Spring' by Antonio Vivaldi.
If you've read my story so far, you are probably imagining that I'm now going to write a painfully sad and distressing post about Luca's birth. And yes, while sadness and distress are definitely emotions that I felt throughout those two days in the hospital, I also felt a lot more - and I want to tell you about all of it.
On Thursday morning, I woke up very early from a broken sleep. I felt mildly calm. I showered and washed my hair - I had no idea how long I would be staying at the hospital for, and I thought I might as well indulge in a long shower. I found myself thinking about the morning I left to go to Glastonbury Festival, in June 2013. I woke up at 6am, ran myself a warm, bubbly bath, and spent an hour or so in there, thinking: "Enjoy every minute of this, Sara - no shower for the next three days!" Of course, this time I wasn't going to see The Rolling Stones or Arctic Monkeys, but reminiscing about Glastonbury put a smile on my face. I slipped on my favourite maternity dress - a lovely, comfortable white dress that I had worn many times before, including when I went to a Pearl Jam concert - stuffed a couple more magazines in my hospital bag, and was ready to go.
Daniel, my parents, and myself called a cab and headed to the hospital. Both Daniel and his brother Sam were born at that hospital. I was about to lose my second baby there. Life is strange, I guess. And yes, that feeling made me feel like shit. There was a part of me, that morning, which firmly refused to burst into tears yet: if I started crying now, even before the physical and emotional pain of the whole situation had begun, how the hell was I going to survive?
At the hospital, we were placed in the very first delivery room of the Labour Ward, and told that that room was going to be ours the entire time. I believe my consultant had arranged for that, and I can't thank her enough. The room was bright, spacious and very quiet, right at the beginning of the hallway and with a total of three toilets just opposite. The first midwife to come and introduce herself to us was Susie. Not only was she incredibly sweet and sensitive towards our situation, but she also made us laugh - a lot. Just when I was sure that nothing and nobody could make me smile - let alone laugh - she proved me wrong.
At about 10:30, another lovely midwife whose name I sadly can't recall came in to insert a pessary - the first step to inducing labour - and to place a cannula on my hand. The vein on my left hand in which she had placed the cannula burst, so she had to try my other hand. Again, I told myself: "Please, don't cry. It's just a bruise on your hand, it's nothing. If you start crying now, the contractions later on are going to feel unbearable." So, I didn't cry. My left hand was bruised, swollen and taking on a dodgy shade of blue, but I was hanging in there. Daniel, my mum, and my dad kept pacing around the room, not quite sure what to do. I felt guilty. I felt terribly guilty, all of a sudden. Guilty because it was pretty much confirmed that I had passed a faulty gene onto Luca, which resulted in his being so poorly and unable to survive, or to live a decent life. Guilty because, for the second time in a row, I had failed to bring home a healthy, living baby to my husband and myself. Guilty because my mum and dad had travelled to London for the third time in four months to be with me and comfort me. And now, they had to witness all of this. They had to witness their only daughter giving birth to their first grandchild, who would be stillborn. If this is not the definition of "fucked up", then you tell me what is. These feelings were enough to have me burst into tears, for the first time. Daniel came and held me straight away, while I muttered "I don't know if I can do this." This was just the first of numerous "I don't know if I can do this" - and the first of Daniel's endless hugs, kisses, and reassurances that of course, I could do this. I could do anything. As it turns out, he was right.
Daniel's mum arrived around lunch time. While I was really glad that my parents were there - I honestly couldn't see myself going through this without them - I was also very relieved when she came. I could tell that my parents, especially my mum, were starting to feel distressed and uncomfortable, and Daniel's mum was able to calm them down and persuade them that it would all be fine. My dad speaks and understands English pretty well, while my mum struggles a bit more, so I can only imagine how strange, unfamiliar and scary the whole situation must have felt like for them. Daniel's mum told them that the Whittington was an amazing hospital and that everything would go well. I don't know how she did it, really. She was in a lot of emotional pain, just like all of us, yet she managed to keep a clear head and look after my parents at a time when they needed it so badly.
Six hours after the first pessary, I was given a tablet by mouth. Nothing had happened yet, so we decided to spend some time in my room playing music and flicking through magazines. I had put together a playlist on my iPhone with all the songs that I had been listening to throughout my pregnancy, and which carried some sort of meaning. Some were uplifting, others were just downright depressing. It felt unreal. A part of me was still expecting to wake up from what surely had only been a bloody nightmare. It wasn't me, this wasn't happening to my body. This wasn't happening to my child. Nurses and midwives came to check on me from time to time, making sure I was drinking enough and keeping my energy levels up. I began to feel what I could only describe as mild period cramps - I knew it was the first contractions. Another six hours passed, and I took another tablet. My friend Mila popped by with a gorgeous plant that she and my other friend Giulia had bought me. By then, the cramps had increased in intensity and frequency, and both Mila and Daniel gave me a lovely foot and leg massage to try and distract me and help me to relax. Mila left just as the pain became so bad that I had to lie down and start doing my breathing exercises.
As I was only 26 weeks into my pregnancy, I hadn't been to any antenatal class yet. I had no clue what I was supposed to do. Daniel's mum helped me remember and practice the yoga breathing that I used to know so well - but that somehow my brain and body had forgotten - and that helped enormously. She and my parents went to grab a pizza down the road and brought one back to Daniel and myself. My appetite had gone away completely - in fact, I could just about bring myself to sip water from a cup that Daniel held to my mouth - and I had literally two bites of one slice. Everybody was commenting on how good that pizza was. I couldn't taste anything.
The cramping continued but didn't really change much in intensity, so I begged my parents and Daniel's mum to go back home and get some rest, that we would call them in the night if anything happened. Another stab to my heart. Grandparents called in the middle of the night to be alerted that their grandson was about to be born... to be stillborn. I don't normally believe in karma but right then, on that hospital bed, while the night was falling and the pain was not leaving me, I began to wonder whether I had done something terrible to someone in my life, and this was my punishment.
At 1 in the morning, it was time for a third tablet. The midwife working the night shift - a very matter-of-fact yet caring woman - began administering the first painkillers. I took a huge, pink ibuprofen tablet, which did the job for a couple of hours. Daniel tried to get some sleep on a sofa bed, while I was wide awake, in pain, and officially and utterly terrified. I kept thinking: "Ok, this is it. It starts like this. It will get worse, and more painful. How the hell am I supposed to do this?" Daniel couldn't really sleep. He was constantly reminded by my moaning that his wife was lying next to him and that something unthinkable was happening to her body. I didn't know what to do. Out of the blue, I decided to start playing some music from my phone, and I picked the first album by Hanson - yes, you heard it right, the three brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma! Daniel and I laughed at myself, listening to "MMMBop" and still remembering all the lyrics after more than 20 years. I used to be a very, very obsessed Hanson fan when I was in middle school, and listening to that full album gave me such calm, such peace, that I am absolutely not ashamed to have picked it as my soundtrack to those awful hours.
The contractions were still probably half an hour apart - but when they came, they felt like huge waves. And I was a pretty rubbish surfer. I needed more painkillers, so Daniel asked the midwife for some paracetamol and codeine. At this point, speaking, moving, and sitting up had become difficult for me, so Daniel was my voice, my hands, and my legs. The codeine helped - I was able to relax my tight muscles for a couple of hours and nearly fell asleep. When I accepted that I just wasn't going to get any sleep, I felt the urge to speak to someone - someone who understood what I was experiencing. It was 4 in the morning in London, but one of the amazing 'loss mums' I had met on Instagram was awake as she lives in the US. We chatted for a while. She helped me to feel a lot less lonely and a lot more capable - her words were like gentle, loving hugs, and I needed those hugs so desperately. She kept telling me that I could do it, that I would be great, even if I didn't think I would. Most importantly, she kept reassuring me that meeting Luca would be worth everything. Somehow, through the beginning of that hell, I truly believed her. I began to connect with a hidden, unfamiliar part of myself which contained all the strength and resilience that I needed to give birth to Luca. My last message to this incredible mum was at 4:30 and said: "Might need to say goodbye for a bit now, contractions starting again."
After an excruciating set of contractions - shorter in duration but much closer together - I felt something on my bed, and asked Daniel to come and check. It was blood. He called the midwife, who very calmly explained that it was called "a show", and that meant that labour was starting. "See?" I thought. "Another thing you had no idea of. And you shouldn't have any idea of, because you shouldn't even be here - not now, at 26 weeks, doing what you're about to do." Then, I felt enormous pain. I felt that the physical pain was matching the pain in my soul, and I had no idea how to handle both of them simultaneously. It was just too much, and I didn't have any instructions on how to deal with it all. I squeezed Daniel's hand and I started weeping - out of physical agony, out of anguish, out of pure sadness. Just by sitting next to me, stroking my hair and reminding me to breathe, Daniel was a vital presence to me. I had never seen him like that - tense, scared, nervous - yet his only concern was to be there for me, and for Luca. I didn't know if I was ready for all that was to come, but I was aching so badly that I just wanted it to be over. All of a sudden, I began feeling really ill. I was shaking, sweating, and shivering. The nurse took my temperature, but it was fine. I was feeling sick and asked for an antiemetic, which was administered as an injection in my left thigh - and it hurt. One more injection, one more massive squeeze of Daniel's hand. I was bloody scared and kept telling Daniel that I wanted it to end, I wanted it to end now. "It will, it will soon, my love."
At 7am I took another tablet. I was due one more tablet before the five-tablet cycle would end. If Luca hadn't arrived by the time the last tablet was administered, I would need to take a few hours' break and repeat the cycle from the beginning. "Please, body, make this all stop. Don't make me go through the whole thing all over again," I remember praying. The midwife ended her shift and leaned over to me to kiss me on the forehead, wishing me good luck and saying that she was sorry for my loss. The room slowly began filling with sun - a new day was upon us and my son would arrive almost certainly on that day. I tried to remember the date. Friday the 27th of July. Ten days after Daniel's birthday. I should have been 26 weeks and one day pregnant with my rainbow baby. I asked Daniel to call my dad and his mum. I needed them all there.
A new midwife took over, her name was Gladys. She was very chatty and energetic, and incredibly motherly towards me. She took control over a situation that I felt was slipping from my hands and was too much to bear. The contractions were so powerful that I felt as though I was being tortured. Surely, the unimaginable sorrow of losing Luca should have been enough? Why did I have to be in such physical pain as well? And weren't the bloody painkillers supposed to reduce that pain?
From that moment on, my brain went into a fog and my memories are now very muddled - I've had to ask Daniel to help me remember. I asked for morphine - I thought it was time, as I couldn't resist the pain any longer. Gladys contacted the anaesthesist, who said would be there soon. In the meantime, she showed me how to use the gas and air pump next to my bed - and oh, boy, was that a relief. I'm not sure whether it made me feel better simply because I now had something to do, a task, something to concentrate on, or because the bloody thing was actually working. I certainly started to feel calmer and a lot more woozy. Daniel chatted away with Gladys - apparently, she knew Italy very well, as one of her brothers had lived in Brescia with his family. My heavy, sore eyes kept following her while she walked - slowly, intently - around the room. I was in total awe: this woman was looking after me as if I was her own child. She didn't stop for a second: she checked my temperature and my blood pressure at regular intervals, prepared a fluid drip because I was overheated and dehydrated, and got a pot for me to have a pee in. Yes, I was desperate for a pee but couldn't leave the bed. I couldn't speak. I could barely keep my eyes open and hold my gas and air pump in my right hand, sucking from it every few seconds while the agonising contractions were splitting my body in half. Yet, I felt mentally calm - I genuinely knew that everything would be fine. I remember feeling really grateful for being in London. In my country, Italy, women can't have a termination for medical reasons past 22 weeks - regardless of the diagnosis. They just can't. Women like me would be considered like a criminal, a murderer, an infanticide. And women like Gladys - who is originally from Ghana - would be very often discriminated against and treated with little to no respect. That's just the harsh reality of Italy. Thankfully, I was in a much more enlightened country, being cared for by some fantastic people.
The morphine was late to arrive. I pretty much did it all on gas and air. I was injected a morphine drip at 9, and was told that it wouldn't start to kick in for at least 20 to 30 minutes. How on earth was I going to resist another 20 to 30 minutes? Well, it turns out I did - I, in fact, resisted for a whole 90 minutes, before Luca arrived. I begged Gladys to allow me to push. She, with her untroubled smile and soft voice, said that no, it wasn't time yet. I burst into tears. I began to sob, looking at Daniel: "This is all for nothing, all this pain for nothing." He kept holding my hand and reassuring me that it would all be over soon. Both Daniel and Gladys kept telling me that I was doing great, which I didn't quite register at the time nor did I understand what it meant. Daniel's mum and my mum entered the room, and for a second time I felt this massive rush of sadness and guilt towards them. Did I really need them there? Did I really want them to see what was about to happen? My mum, especially, looked so distressed that she did not speak a single word. She just stared at me with so much anguish, and I whispered a "Sorry" in Italian, which I'm not sure she heard. She sat in a corner, and I was hoping she wouldn't faint or feel unwell. Daniel's mum stood right next to me and helped me to focus on my breathing, while Gladys continued to check if I was finally ready to push. She had to break my waters manually, which felt uncomfortable but at the same time relieving. Plus, I now fully trusted her, and I decided that I would let her do whatever she needed to do.
She announced that I was ready to push: hearing those words made me unbelievably happy - just not the kind of happy that most people would imagine. I pushed once, and then twice. Gladys could see Luca's head. Daniel and his mum kept telling me that I was doing amazing. My mum was now standing next to them, in shock. Gladys told me to stop, and I screamed that I couldn't, that I needed to push again. She told me that I just needed to wait for the next contractions - then, I could push. I obeyed. To my eyes, Gladys was a teacher, a mum, a friend, all wrapped in one person. The following contraction was out-of-this-world excruciating. Gladys told me to put my chin to my chest and push. I obeyed, again. I let out the most primal scream of my entire life. It did not sound like my voice.
All of a sudden, the pain was gone. I don't mean that it had decreased - I mean utterly, fully disappeared. Just like someone had turned a switch off. Clic. I was fine again, I was myself again. Luca was here - no baby cries, no "congratulations", no tears of joy. But he was here and I immediately felt so lucky because I finally got to see his face. It was 10:27 in the morning of Friday, 27th July 2018.