Tuesday 17th January 2017. The day that would change my life forever. The day that snuck up so unsuspectingly and without any warning yet swiftly became the biggest day. The day that signalled the rest of my life, our lives. Betsy, Matthew and The Wriggler. Oh, and my Mum, she’s always in attendance.
The appointment for the dating scan was scheduled to be at 1.20pm at the local hospital. Me, Matthew and my Mum were all due to go. I had booked the day off work and spent the morning watching each minute go by until it was time to leave. The word anxiety doesn’t even start to cover how I was feeling that morning, but it’s all I got so I shall use it. If I’m honest, there’s a lot about that morning that I don’t remember. It all turned out to be so insignificant compared to what happened in the afternoon that I don’t believe I hold the capacity for memories spanning the whole day. One thing I do remember however is that I needed to be organised, and on time. By on time I mean a minimum one hour early for the appointment or bad bad things would happen. My wrath and Matthew would become acquainted.
Our alarm had gone off at around 9am and I had shot out of bed and got myself washed and dressed incredibly quickly. Needless to say, Matthew was feeling rather horizontal that morning and wasn’t in such a rush. He took much longer to emerge and once he did he locked himself in the bathroom without saying a word to me. Most likely wanting to put off the inevitable, he then decided to attempt to drown himself in the shower for around 40 minutes. I sat on his horrifically uncomfortable sofa and listened to the water. I could see him clearly in my mind and I felt so awful. I imagined him surrounded by steam, head down and one hand against the wall, shower droplets masking any signs of his tears. Matthew and I were in love sure, but we had never discussed where the relationship was going, we were serious but not even 18 months in and we hadn’t even spoken about living together. What if I brought a baby into our lives, would we survive it? Would we be able to do this? Images of me living alone in a studio flat hoiking a fat and ugly baby up flights and flights of stairs entered my mind and I stood up quickly. I marched down the corridor in his flat and rapped on the door.
“Matt, we have to leave in 15 minutes minimum. Please get out of the shower now.”
He didn’t respond verbally, but around two minutes later I heard the lock on the door turn and listened to his soggy feet make their way to his bedroom. We danced very slowly around each other until it was time to leave. I don’t think we knew how to communicate and I was so scared I would be losing him very soon that I stayed very quiet. Something that is near impossible for me to do.
When I say that I like to be places on time, what I actually mean is that I wish to be there an hour early or I really start to lose my shit. Matt has never quite learned this or understood my need to be so early and therefore it’s always been a bone of contention in our relationship – add the prospect of a new baby into the picture and you can only imagine how I was behaving. Each red light or minor bump in the road that pushed us further and further away from being early had me gouging bits out of his leather seats with my nails. This psychotic need to be early was inherited from my Mother and needless to say she was even earlier than us and her barrage of tetchy text messages was nearly sending me over the edge. But we made it, 59 minutes early.
The walk up to the hospital isn’t a long one, but with every step forward I felt like I was taking three back. I couldn’t be going any faster but at the same time felt we were going nowhere, no one really spoke as we made our way up to the Women’s Centre, gradually finding ourselves in the company of more and more pregnant women and women with freshly birthed babies on their way home.
A woman who has just given birth tends to have a particular look on her face, or so I’ve always thought. These women, unfortunately as ugly as they’ll ever be due to the fact that they have just done something incredible. All look beautiful. There’s a serene exhaustion about them, their grey skin and dark circles are excused and their shuffling walk is oddly powerful. When you look into their eyes they go on forever, as if they have just been expanded by all they have experienced. They have quite possibly been through the biggest moment of their lives, a moment that no matter how hard one tries. You cannot prepare for. You cannot prepare for nature as nature always takes its own course. These eyes though, right at the bottom have the brightest spark that you will ever see. These women have had a fire lit inside of them, and it’s a feeling that no one else could dream of experiencing. This fire is not necessarily one of love, as for many women love doesn’t occur immediately or even soon after, but a flame of protection. Like a lioness with her cubs these women will do anything and everything to defend their innocent, and this fire gives these exhausted and spent souls the energy to go on. The energy to be what us mere mortals call ‘Mother’.
I saw this look in so many eyes that day and etched over the bemused faces of new mothers and fathers alike it was something other worldly, would this be me one day? I couldn’t fathom it. I felt like an impostor, I had no right to place myself amongst such heroes.
We eventually found ourselves at the top of the women’s centre of the hospital after a daunting lift ride where we had been forced to acquaint ourselves with each and every floor on the way up. There were maternity wards, the SCBU, post natal wards and finally where we were off to, the diagnostic suite. Little did I know that from that day on and over the next few months I would become rather accustomed to each of these areas.
On turning right out of the lift and dragging my heels down the corridor towards the diagnostic suite I quickly realised that this place was a cut above the other areas. The decor was nicer, it was light and airy, there were beautiful photos of happy families with babies all over the walls. They even had a water machine. This area was decorated like a happy area, it was clearly designed for the lovely mothers and fathers who were going to glimpse their little beans for the first time. It wasn’t decorated for women like me. I was an incredibly sore thumb here.
A nudge in the back made me realise that I had opened the door and frozen, my Mum was pushing me towards the desk. I quickly informed the lady that I was here for a dating scan.
“How many weeks are you sweetie?” Wow.
“I’m afraid that’s why I am here, I’m here for my dating scan. I have no idea.” She gave me a funny look.
Clearly the fact that I couldn’t give her even a rough idea was puzzling, instead she asked for my name and the time my appointment was booked for and went from there. Turning around and rifling through some papers there it was, the fax that my GP had sent with the word ‘URGENT’ scrawled over the top. She turned back around, eyebrows slightly higher, eyes wider and lips pursed and spread into an awful forced smile. I had no idea what my Mum and Matthew were doing behind me but I felt so alone, a tear jumped out of my right eye and onto my cheek. I was so embarrassed, I could see women and men in the waiting area looking like school children awaiting a certificate or medal. I felt a slightly more familiar feeling, that of a girl who’s sitting outside the headmistresses’ office awaiting a severe punishment for a very silly crime.
The lady’s tone had changed so much after reading what was on my medical notes that it further confirmed how serious our situation was, she told me that the sonographer would be fully aware of my circumstance and would accommodate accordingly. I was glad, I wanted to spare myself the shame of explaining that this wasn’t necessarily a happy occasion. I chose some seats set slightly apart from the main waiting room. I knew that the other couples in there were awaiting a different kind of news from me and I didn’t want to put a downer on their experience. We took our seats one next to the other, Matt first, then me and then my Mum. Matt immediately took out his phone and started playing Candy Crush, as much as I needed him at that moment he needed to be elsewhere more. Besides, my Mum was here too and willing to talk. I watched a little blonde girl potter through the waiting room. She was wearing some kind of denim suit and her hair was tied up in a top knot. I followed her dodgy and clumsy footsteps until she found her Mother. Her head was in line with her Mother’s tummy and as soon as she reached it she gave it an odd and jabbing head butt, lips pouting. She was attempting to kiss her unborn sibling. I looked up and my eyes met with those of the Father; like me he had been watching his daughter. Embarrassed I looked away and focused on the door in front of me. But that act of love and togetherness had got to me, It had tapped through the thin shell I had manged to don that morning. The tears flowed down my cheeks again, my mum squeezed my hand tightly and I’m sure uttered words of reassurance and kindness. Matt didn’t notice.
We all sat there for a while, the appointment time came and went as they often do and we had entered that phase of ‘late’ where you start to bed yourself in for the day and get a little more comfortable. Not knowing when I would be called forward made it all a little easier and I started to relax. My mum and I focused our attention on the other people in the waiting room and keeping my eyes off their tummies we started guessing their stories. Trying to work out what had brought them there, what jobs they did etc. etc. One woman appeared to be wearing a pair of what can only be described as an Ugg boot with a Croc sole attached. Shoving my Mum in the ribs and giggling. I whipped my phone out, opening the camera zooming in and taking a photo and sending it to my best friend and captioning it ‘Cruggs’ had me and my mum in stitches. Silently shaking and shoving my sleeve in my mouth so as not to draw attention to ourselves for one moment I completely forgot where I was. It was one of those situations that are so incredibly serious that the slightest funny will send you over the edge. I was so glad for a little respite from how stern the atmosphere had been all morning that I was completely engrossed in riding the wave of hilarity. Unfortunately we both looked around to find the kind face of a dark-haired lady looking at us and mouthing my name.
“Catherine Lewis-Tafft.” I watched her lips form the words in slow motion and my moment of hilarity suddenly became very unfunny. We all stood up and followed her into the ultrasound room.
I took off my coat and my bag, shoved them in a corner and let my mum direct Matthew into the chair beside the bed as I stared ahead waiting for the instruction to lie down on it. The instruction came and I strode past my mum and Matthew sitting like sentinels and clambered rather unceremoniously onto it, exposing my tummy ready for the scan. The sonographer told me that she knew what my situation was, that we could stop at any time and that the screen usually used to show expectant mothers their unborn babies was turned off. I didn’t have to see anything and she would keep her screen to herself until otherwise instructed to do so. I shifted my head up and to the left, feeling that horrible paper rustling against my hair I found Matt’s eyes. He was poker faced, I couldn’t read anything.
The scan commenced and the lady put the cold gel that’s never actually that cold over my tummy below my belly button. I tried to remain comfortable and stared straight up at the ceiling but something made me look to the left again. My Mother had somehow managed to scoot her chair to within range of the lady’s screen and had a look I had never seen on her face before. Knowing my Mum is a medical professional all I could see was that she fully understood what she was looking at. Going against my better judgement I shifted my head to the right and craned for the monitor. I saw an arm, a very small but perfectly formed little arm. It turns out you didn’t need a medical degree to understand this ultrasound. It was there, plain as day. Waving at me. I looked straight back up at the ceiling knowing that Matthew hadn’t looked with me and quickly tried to work out how soon in a pregnancy an arm is fully formed and functional. I had no idea but pretty late was my guess. There was no way this was happening, I had seen something else and was losing my mind. Maybe it was an image left over from an earlier scan on a different lady, and then she spoke.
“So you have no idea how far along you are?”
“Erm, no I’m not sure. I couldn’t even guess.” Just give it to me.
“You’re six months pregnant love. You’re having a baby.”
I screamed. I screamed the word no. I immediately decided that this was not true and that I wasn’t going to do it. I could not be having a baby. It was for one thing medically impossible and for another, how had I not noticed that I’d been carrying for six whole months. Only stupid women in cheap magazines do that. It wasn’t real and I could not process what she had just told me. My body was shaking and my arms had flown upwards so my hands could cover my face, I had no control over my reaction. Somewhere through my turmoil I managed to work out what Matt was doing, he had slumped forwards in his chair and had his head in his hands. I was too scared to touch him, his non-reaction was even more frightening than my shrieking. The stark contrast between us both must have been incredible. Not to add, what I could see going on behind my boyfriend. There she was, my bloody Mother. Unable to hide her glee for one respectable second, jumping up and down, fist pumping and celebrating. What a trio we were.
I seem to remember the sonographer stopping what she was doing and letting us react in our own ways for a few minutes. I don’t think Matt moved or said much and as I exclaimed that I could not do this my Mum came straight over and said. “Yes we can.” We. That was the word that instantly made it all better, she wasn’t going to leave me with this, not for one second. We were going to have a baby and we were all going to be a part of the pregnancy and what was to follow. The sonographer informed me that she required me to allow her to carry on so that she could see the baby was alright and do an anomaly scan. I still didn’t want to see the screen at this point so I let my mum stand over me and watch everything the lady was doing as I took Matt’s hand and we just let the tears pour from our eyes. One of the most incredible things about Matthew is that he will always step up and take responsibility for his actions, and in that moment, when he picked up my hand and squeezed it has hard as he could. I knew that he wasn’t going to leave me. I don’t think he much wanted to be in this situation either but he definitely wasn’t going anywhere, he wiped his eyes and refocused back on what was happening. He brought himself back to where I needed him to be.
The scan continued. Due to the baby’s size she couldn’t see an awful lot, most issues were ruled out but she couldn’t quite count each finger and toe. She deduced from the baby’s size (weighing in at 2.9lbs) that I was 27 weeks + 6 days and due on the 12th April. The baby was too big to see the gender but she did say she couldn’t see any boy bits. She handed me a ‘free’ photo of the baby as though it was some consolation prize and sent us on our way. We had to make an appointment for 36 weeks to ensure that the growth was as wanted and make contact with a community midwife who would do everything else in the mean time.
Walking back out of that room and down the corridor and taking the lift past all the floors where countless babies and Mothers were was surreal. I realised that I was in fact now part of that special club, but it was like I had somehow sneaked in through the backdoor and had a fast track pass to the end. We burst into the winter sunlight and I let Matthew go off to phone his boss and tell him he wouldn’t be in work for the rest of the day. I watched him go and in that moment I fell in love with him a little bit more. His shape seemed to have changed, he was standing taller and broader than I had ever seen. He had just become a Daddy and it was so beautiful to witness.
My Mum and I didn’t say much to each other, she offered one more “we will do this” and told me that I was always destined to be a fabulous Mum and hugging tightly and sobbing I continued to watch Matt’s silhouette over her shoulder. A minute or so later I saw him spark a cigarette. As most smokers will know, whenever something big or stressful goes down a fag is the first thing one will reach for. For the first time in years I had not done that, I had somehow realised that I had something precious to protect and from that moment on I quit.
We took seats in the cafe at the hospital and ordered some food and coffee, I was suddenly starving and feeling a little better started to digest what had just happened. I took out the photo of the scan and immediately deduced what everything was. It was a side on photo and I could make out a leg and an arm, a pretty rotund belly. A beautiful button nose, cute but defined jaw line and a pair of little lips that seemed to be blowing bubbles. This baby was the cutest thing I had ever seen and I was already starting to form a mental image of what he or she may look like when they were born. I was in love. I talked Matt slowly through what everything was and in under an hour all three of us had become very excited for the existence of our new family member. We still had so much to work out but we had time. Once it became clear that our sense of humours had fully returned my mum turned to me.
“Bitch.” she said “You only have to endure a three month pregnancy, that’s so unfair.” Laughing and realising I needed to pee I took myself off to the loo, as I sat down I dared to look at my tummy. I was surprised to find out that it was protruding, more so than it had that morning I swear. It seemed more ‘toned’ and round. It had clearly already commenced its accommodation for my baby, I touched it ever so gently in the mirror and realised that it was rock hard. Feeling incredibly stupid and also finding amusement in this I pulled my tights up and as I always had done yanked them as high as possible. Taking one step towards the door I realised how extremely uncomfortable I was, who was I kidding! These tights didn’t fit one bit; and for the first time ever I let my stomach hang out and proud and I didn’t care. It felt so nice to be free.
I strode back to where my Mum and Matt were feeling a new confidence in my body. The five pounds I had put on over Christmas had not just been down to too much Turkey and the weight and pain I had felt during my ‘new year new me’ run had been explained. After all this time I had finally been given a diagnosis. It wasn’t the diagnosis I had expected but by God it was a pretty good one. I was pregnant and I was going to have a baby in three months time, it was extraordinary. Reaching the table I saw that my Dad had been calling, feeling very scared I picked up the phone and rang him. Not thinking that at this point we had all got over the news and had started chatting about pairs of baby Dr. Martens I very quickly and gleefully told him that I was six months pregnant and he was about to be a Grandfather. “You’re joking” he said and I was immediately reminded of his reaction when I told him I’d passed my driving test on the first go. I kindly explained that I was not by any stretch of the imagination joking and that this was very real. Being quite a practical bloke he didn’t have the same reaction that my Mum had had. I realised he needed time to process and catch up with how we were all feeling. I arranged for him to meet us back at my flat and then put the phone down.
The journey back home was peaceful. I asked Matt if he was alright and he seemed to still be breathing so all was well. We both got into the car and spent the journey holding hands and humming along to the radio. We felt more together than we had been ever before, we were embarking on an adventure together. And that was the crucial point, we were together. Me, Matthew and our baby. Oh, and my mum. There she was pictured in the rear view mirror, driving along behind us and grinning away like a Cheshire cat.
Sitting by myself for a few blissful minutes that night I had a flash back. To around a week or two before where I had been desperately tired and sitting cross-legged on Matthew’s sitting room floor had burst into tears and declared a sudden need for a McDonald’s strawberry milkshake. I had never even had one of these and yet I was weeping and pining for one. Thinking further, I had wondered. Who does that?
A pregnant lady does, that’s who.