What You Don't See
Hint: the rest of this post is written entirely in white- highlight to read.
I was a miracle baby. 18 years ago my parents were told that their fourth child wasn't going to live. I didn't grow. There was little fluid surrounding me. I was the wrong way round. I barely moved. My mother later wrote in her journal "I mention to the consultant that I don’t feel my baby moving very much. I am examined by a nurse and a doctor and I catch a look passing between them. I am immediately concerned that something is wrong. A portable scanner is brought into the room and the baby’s heartbeat is pointed out. I remember saying ‘Thank God, I thought you were going to tell me my baby was dead’. I am only told that the baby is small and there is very little fluid around the baby and at this point I am unaware of the seriousness of the situation."
They were advised to abort me four times during the pregnancy. My mother refused. She was then advised to get my chromosomes tested - something which carried a risk to my development. She refused for two reasons writing that "(i)I would not act on the results (ii)The tests carry a risk to the baby and if my baby dies naturally, I can live with that, but if I contributed to my baby dying, I couldn’t live with that." With three little boys at home, my parents couldn't tell them my mother was pregnant because she couldn't bear to get their hopes up about a baby that they might have never got to meet. My parents and their friends started to pray to St Antony. My granparents prayed to the Scared Heart. My parish church prayed to the Holy Family. Every night they all said a rosary for the baby they could only hope would survive. On St Patrick's Day 1998, I grew. My mother was overjoyed. The consultant still maintained I was unlikely to survive till the due date. "She is sorry but there is no way my baby can survive and she tells us the baby will die in the womb in 2-3 weeks time."
Everyone kept praying. Hoping, wishing, believing that somehow all these medical experts had made a mistake. That their little child would be born and everything would be okay. My slightly older cousins, the ones old enough to realise my mother's bloated tummy, were told that the baby wasn't very well, that they might not ever meet it. Every odd stood against us. My mother writes "I am more than happy to have yet another consultant see my baby as I keep hoping one of them will say something different." Yet every second, third, fourth, fifth, tenth, twentieth opinion was the same: if this baby survives it will be a miracle.
Every day I kept on growing. Just a little, never a lot. Never enough to convince the doctors that I would survive. When my mother went into labour on her birthday, hopeful as she was, she requested the priest be there to baptise me, and if necessary, say the last rights. This was it. On what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, my mother was devastated. She could do no more. My family kept a vigil in the hospital church.
The priest was a nearly minute or so into the last rights when I took my first breath. Cried my little heart out. Physically, apart from a few seconds of assumed death, there seemed to be nothing much the matter with me. My mother said it was a miracle. Her sceptical doctor sent me for tests. My mama writes that "In our more light-hearted moments we would joke that whatever the consultant said the opposite would happen and that his pessimism was perhaps a good sign."
My mother wasn't always so positive "The consultant comes to see me. He unsettles me by saying it is a worrying time for us. I remember saying to him that surely he doesn’t still think the baby has a chromosome abnormality – to which he replied ‘Yes, I do!’ I started to cry and I cried all day long. I loved to daydream and fantasise that the baby would be born with nothing wrong and how pleased everyone would be. I think that was why I was so upset the day the consultant came to see me after she was born as the reality did not match my fantasy at all. I remember having one of those helium filled balloons which declared ‘It’s a Girl’ on it and for some reason that balloon made me feel really foolish.. We were surrounded by cards full of joy and I felt how could I tell all these people we’d been premature with our rejoicing?" Finally he too said he had never seen anything like it. All tests came back clear and two weeks later I was taken home to a little nursery my dad had hastily painted and prepared.
18 years later and I am about to fly of to India, surrounded with a chorus of "we never imagined we'd be saying that 18 years ago". 18 years later and there is no medical explanation for what happened. I was a baby that shouldn't have lived but I did. I believe, like my parents do, that it was the work of God, and that after all that trouble, it is only right that I do something extraordinary with my time here on earth.
You see, most people's stories start the moment they are born, weighing so much and noting the time they came into the world, but mine starts just a little earlier. It is a story surrounded by prayers and hope and sadness and joy. I am still a tiny person, but my height remains possibly the only visible sign that my being here is anything to be commented on. Yet, it is a story that defines me and my family in many ways- why my faith is so important to me, why I disagree so much with abortion (although I do think it should be legal), why my cousin is a midwife and my brother an obstetrician. It was an experience that shaped my family and forms the foundation of nearly all that I am and believe in.
I've wanted to write this post for a long time. Yet, hard as I tried I couldn't quite find the words. It's a hard thing to write about. Then just when I'd decided their was no point in writing such a post, the beautiful Vanessa showed me a way that both inspired and strengthened me. I cannot thank her enough for that.