Life & death in a day... again
It’s four weeks since Molly was born, yet it feels like months ago. Not in the newborn fog sense where you can’t pinpoint what day it is. But in the sense that those few minutes we had with Molly were over so swiftly and so many thoughts and decisions have flowed through our minds since.
So how did it feel to be doing this all again?
I guess like every mother rapidly approaching the birth of your next child, there is a sense of uncertainty – and the recollection and sudden realisation of all you went through last time round! Funny how we forget those things and waltz on into having another one!
In the days prior to her birth, I definitely felt a sense, not of dread, but of stepping to the edge of a cliff and having to jump. We’re here again. Everything is fine today. But tomorrow it won’t be. This strange journey is coming to an end.
Birth is this strange right of passage, this necessary pain to gain probably one of the greatest rewards. Yet when you know that reward will be so momentary on the other side, giving birth can seem brutally unfair. And I was lucky enough to meet my baby alive. So many don’t get that chance.
As I was wheeled down the corridors to the operating theatre on that Wednesday morning I remember thinking this is all so familiar. ‘I have spent so much time on level 9 of Auckland Hospital in the last decade, and it’s all about to come to an end. Can’t you just stay with me?!’, ‘Why on earth am I doing this again?!’
The fluoro lights, the 15 people in the room, the complete lack of dignity ;)… and of course, the complete lack of control. How would this play out this time around?
On scans Molly was larger than Nina and had moved a lot more in the womb, so we had tentatively thought she may live a little longer than her big sister. We had prayed for full healing too of course. But really, no-one had any idea of how things would play out until she took her first breath… if she could even do that.
Theatre was so well prepped. The team is so fantastic at planning – months of work had gone into it so that we could have as much time as possible with our girl.
We had such a great experience with Nina, that nothing changed in our planning for Molly. But the emotions on the day for both Russell and I felt very different to last time.
With Nina we had no certainty we’d meet her alive, and had had a very fretful night the night before wondering whether she’d passed away already. So coming into theatre we were very on edge, ‘please, get this done and deliver her!’.
As I lay there on the operating table for Molly, I wasn’t shaking constantly like I had been for Nina, tears weren’t streaming down my cheeks as they had done last time – I guess for both of us, we felt a little numb emotionally (me, quite literally from chest down!). The reality was about to hit and just what were we about to get? Minutes? Hours? Days?
The obstetrician went to work and in what seemed like quite a physical caesarean, Molly Robyn Georgina Christie was born on the 8th August at 9:21am. Delivered at 36 weeks, she was a bonny 5lb 8oz (2490 grams), a decent weight for a bub who should be sitting on the bottom of the growth chart - and quite a bit larger than her sister Nina.
Tethered to a table I lie there waiting to hear signs of life and noting the facial expressions of those above me. Quiet, quiet, quiet for what seemed like 30 seconds, and then she cried, with the classic, high pitched ‘cri-du-chat’ (call of the cat) cry that her sister Nina had also, part and parcel with her Chromosome 5 issue. In fact, I feel like Molly made more noise than Nina did.
Yet, her signs of life were not as strong as Nina’s had been. The feeling in the operating theatre felt quite different to the last time round. There was a real sense of time pressure, that this girl could go at any moment. Even lying flat on your back completely incapacitated, you have enough awareness to pick up the vibe in the room!
She was breathing just like Nina did – infrequently – as her brain just didn’t provide the signal to her lungs to keep things regular. But her heart rate was low. Her flimsy little purple body was placed on my chest while the surgeons continued working on me, and we talked to her and massaged her little limbs and back to get the blood flowing.
Nina had needed a bit of help to get breathing, but then had quite an alert time with us – eyes wide open gazing at her family. Molly struggled to even open her eyes. Any energy she had was put into her little coos and kitten-like cries.
Several times it really felt like she would go. My midwife even gave her a stern talking to! And it seemed to work. Her breathing settled into its slow pattern, and heart steadied for a while. But there was a real sense of urgency in the air. It felt like we were on the verge of life and death already as they wheeled us into recovery next door.
The tears had been flowing for a while for me by this point, and as we rounded the corner to see grandparents and her brother and sister, I felt a real sense of disappointment, that this was nearly over.
There in the next room Molly met her big brother Jake and sister Brooklyn, she cuddled Russell’s parents and my mum, all while the hospital team wove in and out trying to take care of me and check on her. It’s not some calm and joyful experience – in fact it’s quite overwhelming really, especially for the kids!
But still there were some beautiful times. Brooklyn had been quite nervous about coming into hospital again for this and all that it entailed. But we’d talked it through, had made prior visits to hospital to look around, and discussed that this was the only time she’d get to meet her sister alive, so if she wanted to, this was the best time to give her a cuddle (last time with Nina she had been too scared to hold Nina while she was alive). And Brooklyn rose to the occasion – she cuddled Molly, and was so pleased with herself.
Even when you know your child will go as quick as they came, it’s still such a joy to introduce her for the first time to her family. It’s a joy to see their faces, their delight and their emotion.
And it was a great joy to be able to meet her, know her and celebrate her, if only for a second.
As her grandmas dressed her, her breathing slowed and she drifted off and passed away peacefully in my arms all just 1 hour 34 minutes after she was born.
In the scheme of things her time on earth was very similar to Nina’s, yet as these babies live for such a short time, having 13 minutes less with Molly felt like quite a difference.
It was strange second time round. There was a flatness that came with the whole experience. Both Russell and I felt that way. I guess it’s a knowing… a knowing of what’s coming. We both felt there just wasn’t that huge elation we felt last time. Part of that was the fact that we we never knew we’d meet Nina alive, so when it came true, there was this huge euphoria on that day even though she died - we’d made it!
Yet with Molly, I guess we knew we would most probably get to meet her, and so that elation just wasn’t there so much. And of course you’re stepping back into a season of life you just don’t want to step into. Russell said there just weren’t the high highs or the low lows – the whole experience sadly felt rather deflating. Too quick. You set it all in motion, and it’s all gone so quickly… here we are again.
Those low lows did certainly reveal themselves in those first few days though. All those feelings came pouring back to me from last time, surging with all the hormones post-birth… ‘Why have I done this again?’, ‘That so wasn’t worth the effort’, '9 months growing this baby for 90 minutes? It’s such a rip off!’. I found the surgery pretty physical this time round and felt absolutely wrecked in those first few days, and emotionally very low. It’s heartbreaking all that effort for nothing. A few short cuddles in between drips, tubes, needles, and the post-surgery bustle. No real time. No proper snuggles. ‘What was the point?’. The briefness of her life sometimes tricks you of her worth.
But those low lows pass. And so does that attitude.
There was joy in it all. I would rather have met Molly only for a moment than to never have had the chance at all. I know very clearly why we did this yet again. I see the purpose of Molly’s tiny fragment of a life and the ability this experience gives us to relate to people in a very different way.
It’s strange how much grit experience gives you – so many things that were so hard last time round, were just not even a thing this time. Those three days post-birth felt a heck of a lot harder and darker than last time. But the days since have felt lighter, much lighter than those post-Nina days. In all honestly I have this real sense of joy most of the time, and I can only say it’s God-given. What else could it be at a time like this?! I feel a real need to praise Him, particularly in song. Molly seemed to like music, kicking a lot more whenever I played my worship playlists… so it seems only appropriate to sing those truths out.
There are moments of sadness of course, moments when you just long to have Molly (and Nina) in your arms, moments when you realise only half your family is actually with you, or when you think of all of that family life and joy you’re not getting to experience. Those thoughts, they’re frequent, but momentary. And overwhelmingly this has been a strange season of joy. Let’s hope it continues!
I grew up always wanting four children. And somehow I got them. Not in the way I ever imagined or would wish on anyone. But, it was worth it.
Her name, Molly, means 'much longed for child' and also 'bitter'. Quite apt really for our final child meant to fill a gap left by her sister Nina, but once again, life didn't pan out in the way we had hoped. Bitter and sweet this whole experience of caring for a child you love for as long as you can, knowing full well you'll never get to enjoy them in this life - only the memories you made in minutes.
PS. Thanks to my sister who was there with us in surgery to capture those 94 minutes with Molly in these beautiful pictures - check her out on Insta - Liv Buchanan Photography.