So much happened during my 23rd week and 2nd day of pregnancy that it has taken me three blog updates prior to this one to try and cover it all.
To conclude this day’s sequence of events, I wanted to dedicate a separate post solely to my time spent with my wonderful midwife Carmen.
As it happens, the end of this day was actually spent with Carmen; but as we are approaching the anniversary of the NHS’ 70th year; and stories and articles of the sterling work that this wonderful service and it’s staff provides are beginning to surface in the media; I wanted to join in the celebrations and dedicate my own piece to an outstanding member that the NHS should be privileged to call its own – Carmen.
Carmen took over my care as my midwife on the morning of the 31st January 2017. She looked after me for 12 hours and from start to finish she was everything a midwife should be; but it’s a moment shared between us during the evening of her shift that will see me feeling indebted and attached to her for the rest of my life.
I’ll never be able to properly capture what Carmen did for me; us; it’s just too extraordinary and I’m not that talented a writer; but I have tried my best…..
They day dragged on; there were people in and out of our room, and Carmen kept a close eye on us. Dave laid on the bed with me and during the quieter periods we carried on watching ‘Orange is the new black’ for a bit of light hearted escapism.
I was terribly stressed that day. The situation was weighing heavily on me and it was easy to see. I’m not the type to break down into tears; I can’t do that in front of people; although sometimes I wish I could. At least then I’d have some kind of emotional release. Unable to do so outwardly, I weep inwardly, and the feelings that I then bottle up, seep through my face and my body. I lose weight quickly; my complexion changes to a funny grey colour; dark circles appear under my eyes; I get cold sores and styes in my eyes. The change in my appearance occurs almost instantly, and I guess this was clear to Carmen.
Early in the day Carmen had asked me if I would be interested in trying reflexology. Not really thinking much about it or even knowing what it was, I agreed to give it a go.
It was evening now and she appeared at the door. She asked, “Nicola, would you still like to give this a go?” Seeing her standing there with a small bag, not having let it slip her mind, really warmed my heart. She must have been busy that day, but to think that all those hours later, she still remembered to dedicate a bit of extra time to me just to help me in some little way made me feel emotional. Smiling at her, I said, “yes, okay then. Thank you!”
She walked into the room holding a pencil case type bag (I think) and headed to a table at the opposite end of my bed. She pulled some lavender oil out of the bag along with another type of oil (I think it was Jasmine). I can’t remember the exact term she used, but she said that she was studying alternative therapies in pregnancy and that this covered reflexology and meditation. I’d never tried these methods before and if I’m honest it’s not something that I’d naturally be drawn to. I’m the type of person that when angry or wound up about something, I rant and rave; usually to my husband Dave or my mother. I find that works a treat. It probably would have made matters worse in this situation, though, and I was a desperate woman, willing to try anything. If this lovely lady was offering to help me in some way, then I was going to accept that help. I was open minded. After all; all other avenues has been exhausted. What was there to loose?
Carmen put the Jasmine oil on my pillow and sent some meditation music to my phone. To this day, I still have it. She explained what she wanted me to do: to try and centre myself, control my thoughts and to try to focus and relax. She began to play the music and started to chant. She invited me to join her. I felt a little foolish at first as this was completely new to me, and I thought we must have looked so silly, but I soon got over it and quickly found myself in the zone; benefitting from what was happening.
Whilst I was chanting, Carmen massaged different pressure points and I began to relax. I mean completely relax. I was so stressed beforehand, so unbelievably tense, that when she massaged me, I could feel barriers and walls breaking down. My tight posture started to relax, bit by bit. First an arm would loosen; then another; then my frown became less severe; a leg became less stuff; my grip; my breathing, and so on. I genuinely feel as though my baby was thanking her for calming down the hostile environment that he or she was living in.
Then Carmen began to speak. She had a beautiful soft voice with a Spanish accent that I found so incredibly therapeutic. She asked me to concentrate and to focus on what she was about to say. She explained that she was going to provide me with a scenario and that she really wanted me to put myself in this situation if I could. She wanted me to imagine myself wherever she was about to take me.
The music was still playing, a beautiful earthy piece with a female singer, singing softly in a language I didn’t understand, but that made it all the more effective; allowed me to focus more on the music; on the sound. And Carmen, with the loveliest voice in the world began to speak.
She said: “Nicola, you are on a beach. A beautiful beach with clear water, blue sky and golden sand. The sun is shining and your baby is in your arms.”
A lump grew in my throat instantly. She said, ” you are in the sea, holding your baby. It’s very calm, very still and the water is up to your waist. It’s a fantastic day, and you are both having a wonderful, peaceful time; enjoying your time together, where you most like to be: together. Try and focus on this moment. It’s just the two of you. No one else; just you two; focus on that.”
While this was going on, my baby wriggled around so much in there. It was as though he or she could feel what I was feeling. Whatever my heart felt, he or she was getting it too. It was really powerful. At the end of the day we were one and the same. He or she was inside me. My heart beating was keeping him or her alive; he or she fed off me; so I knew that he or she was feeling this.
Carmen carried on: taking me in a different direction, she said; but now the weather has started to change; dark clouds are beginning to appear and there is a breeze that is getting stronger. You’re still in the water with your baby, but now the sea isn’t calm anymore; there is an undercurrent that is pulling you both out to sea.”
Speaking with more urgency now, she said; “Nicola you are moving further away from the shore with your baby in your arms. You call out for help but there is no one. There is no one on the beach; just the two of you and so it’s all down to you to get you both to safety. So Nicola, you must get out of the water. Hold on tight to your baby and push. Push through the water and get you both to safety. Get you both to the shore. It’s hard; the undercurrent is taking you but you have to beat it!”
Calmly, she said; “Suddenly the wind is settling down again; the sun has come back out; the birds are in sight and you’re on the sand with your baby still safely in your arms. You did it! You waded through the storm and life is good again. And you can be happy.”
I remember feeling as though I had gone through this incredible emotional journey; all in the space of 30 minutes. Something had happened to me; to us. I was more relaxed; genuinely more relaxed. Carmen put both of her hands on my stomach and the baby started kicking right at the perfect time; and Carmen felt it. This enormous smile appeared on her face and she said, “I can feel him kicking. Your baby is strong.” While I was happy that she said that, it also made me feel incredibly sad. Sad because I already knew that and this situation was so unfair for an otherwise incredibly healthy, strong little one. It wasn’t right. I smiled and said, “yes.”
Carmen handed me a couple of sheets of paper and some felt pens. I wondered what we were going to do now. She asked me how I felt and I said, “better.” She was happy about that and said that in life, when times get hard, and unexpected things happen, it’s important to try to centre yourself, and channel your thoughts and strength.
I would guess that from what had just occurred and from the way she spoke that Carmen was a spiritual person; she certainly brought that out in me. We spoke about fate and about destiny and about how only time would be able to provide us with the outcome. I just hoped that our destiny was to have our baby; this particular baby.
There was an inexplicable quality about Carmen; I mean, imagine this: I was a woman who was quite likely going to go into labour at 23 weeks’ gestation; grief stricken; panicked; traumatised; in a tremendous amount of shock and here was this person who was able to have a calming effect. Even in a situation like this, she managed to make me calm, even if only temporarily.
At times I can be quite cynical – a roll the eyes type of person – and so I can be a very hard sell. The fact that I truly felt the power of my experience with Carmen, to me means that it was genuine; it was real and I know it made a difference.
She said, “Nicola, I want you to remember how you felt before this exercise and I want you to draw a picture of yourself and your baby; depicting exactly how you were feeling before. Don’t worry if you can’t draw, it doesn’t matter. Just express yourself and draw whatever you feel. And then I want you to think about how you feel now; now that we’re finished; and then draw a picture of yourself and your baby that shows your current state.”
A little apprehensive, (my drawing skills are non-existent), I did as I was asked and began to draw. My drawings, albeit limited in skill, captured my thoughts and feelings perfectly.
The first picture was of me, with a face clearly in distress; arms raised in panic, anger and frustration; with fuzzy lines surrounding my fog filled head; lines which also represented my feelings; feeling as if I’d been hit by lightning. I also drew a speech bubble filled with exclamation and question marks.
The second picture depicted me in a calmer state; with body language that indicated I was less stressed and upset. This time my arms were lowered. I wasn’t without question and exclamation marks, but they were far fewer in number, and this time they were met with zzzzs; an indication that I was currently ready to close my eyes and surrender to sleep; proper sleep. I also drew the Sun. Maybe the Sun was going to rise on us. I was open to that possibility after this exercise with Carmen. I didn’t draw it alone though; it was accompanied by a cloud. And lastly, I drew a couple of hearts. I didn’t want to keep a part of me closed and protected anymore; I was prepared to be vulnerable and completely open to what may occur. After all, there was no protecting the heart from a situation like this.
Maybe you could analyse the drawings for yourselves. Perhaps you’ll pick up on things that have passed me by. Let me know.
Once I had finished, Carmen asked me if she could see what I had drawn. She asked me to explain why I had drawn what I had; and so I did. She said, “but Nicola, you didn’t include your baby.” She gave me another piece of paper and I started to draw again. I couldn’t believe that I forgot to draw the baby; the most important thing; the very being whose possible ill health brought instant anguish to me. I could guess why though; subconsciously I had been preparing myself for a life without this child.
I drew the picture and only until recently did I realise that what I actually drew was a foetus, or life in the very earliest stages of being, and not a baby. Quite interesting, I thought. Carmen pointed out that my sketch depicted that the baby was breech. We laughed. Little did I know that she would be.
Carmen took me on a journey that enabled me to analyse my own thoughts and feelings, which allowed me to have a clearer mind in many ways. It was also clear that the scenario she talked about was a different, hypothetical version of what I was currently going through; different but the same; and by talking me through it and asking me to visualise her words, she was able to provide me with a picture of a positive outcome. Channelling strength; courage; love; determination; offering a plan of action; and preparing me for a difficult journey.
We chatted for a little bit afterwards. I understood what had happened; I got it; and I felt different. Dave got it too actually. We talked about the power of the mind and how sometimes it can make a difference; a big difference. “Be strong Nicola”, she said, “I believe in you.”
Can you believe that someone did something so kind for me; for us? I mean from bringing the oils; the music; the time; and the acts themselves; when it wasn’t something she was expected to do; it wasn’t part of her job description. I mean, try and visualise the scene – all that goes on in a very busy hospital ward, and there we were doing this because this kind lady truly wanted to help me; because there was nothing else.
She left our room and I was the most relaxed I’d been in weeks; Dave too. We were ready to sleep; and sleep well. My baby was happier in there; more settled; I could feel the difference.
I truly believe that our child would have been born that night; my body was telling me so. But in our opinion this amazing woman, without knowing it had bought our baby some extra time. I know this to be true. I know my body.
Carmen; with all our hearts – thank you!