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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Light and dark

I glance again at the clock in the maternity unit waiting-room. Is it too early, I wonder, to knock on the locked door of the ward and ask if Marie has come through surgery?

Pre-eclampsia we've been told is common. It strikes without warning and for reasons that are still unclear up to 10% of expectant mums. But that figure covers all forms of the condition, from mild to severe. Marie is at the scary end of the scale. Her blood pressure was 170/110 when they rushed her into hospital on Thursday night. The protein in her urine was over 300 milligrams per decilitre.

That means her baby could be dead in days. Pre-eclampsia and its complications kill five to six hundred babies a year in the UK alone. But it's not just the baby that's in danger. It kills around six expectant mums.

The cure is to deliver the baby. The only cure. But do that too early and the little mite's chance of survival drops drastically, as does its likelihood of good health later. Leave it late and the risk to the mum rises.

To the medics it's a numbers game. To Susan it's her daughter's life and that of her unborn grandchild. 

Officially it's an embryo until eight weeks after conception, then it becomes a foetus till it's born. But these are medical distinctions. To us it's been a baby since the start, though we still don't know if it's a boy or a girl. I'm betting girl. Everyone else says boy. 

"It's so much trouble it has to be," is the sexist consensus among a family not short of females or opinions.

On Monday, Poppy - the name Marie's been using since she learnt the embryo was poppy-seed size - would be 35 weeks. That is classed reassuringly as "mildly preterm". But she is not going to make it to Monday. 

Efforts to reduce Marie's blood pressure on Friday and induce her on Saturday failed. So the doctors told her, late Saturday night, that they were doing a Caesarian section in the morning. That much we got from Marie's texts. What's happening now we have no idea. 

"I can't even think about the baby yet," Susan says. "I'm so scared I'm going to lose Marie." 

I reach over and squeeze her hand. "It wasn't this hard when my boys were being born," I say. "I could see what was happening then." 

I squeeze again and stand up. "I can't sit here any longer. I'm going to walk around. Will you be all right?"

"I'll be great," she says.

Outside it's summer. Blinding sunlight is glinting from glass and parked cars. The air is hot, blue and bright. But there's a darkness in my mind I can't see past. The last time I felt like this my wife was driving from Scotland, with my two young sons, to visit me in Derby, where I'd been sent away to work. 

She was five hours late without a phone call. As time passes the darkness fills your head.

"That's 12 o'clock," Susan says, when I return to the waiting room. "Let's ask what's happening."

We walk along the corridor to the double doors and press the intercom button. There is a short delay then a woman's voice says, "Yes?"

"I'm Marie's mum," Susan says. "Can you tell me how she is please?"

There's another delay, much longer this time. We don't look at each other. We can't. The door rattles then opens. It's Chuck. 

He is smiling. The darkness dissipates and I breathe for the first time in days. He looks straight at me. "We have another female in the family," he says.

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia.

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