By Amy Packham
In HuffPost Birth Diaries we hear the extraordinary stories of the everyday miracle of birth. Read more of them here. This week, Heather Copete, 37, tells her story – if you’d like to share yours, get touch with [email protected]
“Stay strong and hold on,” I whispered to my bump as the ambulance rushed me to hospital. This was my first baby, the baby I had longed for, and the idea of her not making it was too painful to even think about.
I had no idea what was happening to me at this point. The only way I can describe it is that it felt as if my body was, quite literally, shutting down. Later I found out that I’d had a placental abruption, when the placenta detaches from the uterus. It had started to fail at 32 weeks, and here I was at 40 weeks and two days, terrified I was going to lose my baby.
Soon, I’d arrive at hospital and be told I was being put to sleep in order to have a crash section – the quickest C-section you have when there is a threat to the mother and baby. It’s crazy how easily the memories of that night come back to me. As soon as I got to hospital, doctors ran towards me, grabbed a bed to put me on, and took my bra off as they wheeled me down the corridor. One midwife even got on the bed with me to fit a catheter as I went into theatre.
[Read More: ‘I gave birth so quick I missed my own leaving do‘]
With no time for an epidural or painkillers, I was put straight to sleep. I looked at the clock as I went under: eight minutes past midnight. Lyra was born three minutes later, at 11 minutes past.
It would be two days before I met my beautiful baby, sleeping peacefully in an incubator. Even then, I couldn’t touch or talk to her because any stimulation could’ve worsened her condition.
Finally, when she was 10 days old, I held her in my arms.
It wasn’t a complete surprise that Lyra’s birth was complicated. Towards the end of my pregnancy I’d had some concerns: my bump seemed very small at 32 weeks; at 39 weeks, I thought I felt less movement. Each time, I was reassured and told not to worry.
The night I was dramatically whisked into hospital, it became clear that my baby had been starved of oxygen because of a placental abruption. I’ll never know what caused it. But I’ll always remember when I became aware of it. I’d noticed a spot of blood on the sofa when I got up during a break in the ‘Great British Bake Off’ earlier that evening – and by the time I’d reached the loo, I was bleeding heavily.
I tried my hardest to remain calm – pretty hard when you’re helplessly praying for your baby. I didn’t have a partner so I called my friend straight away: blurting out “I’m haemorrhaging!” as she picked up.
She was with me within minutes, but the ambulance took longer. Initially, two lovely lady technicians turned up, but were unable to cannulate or carry me. Twenty minutes after, the paramedic arrived and we were on our way. It felt as if the world was against me that night. Breathe, I kept telling myself. Just breathe.
I always thought of birth as being a beautiful moment, but mine was far from it. Lyra was born into this world while I was under anaesthetic, completely unaware of the moment I became a mother.
I was out for about an hour before I woke up in recovery, alone and with no idea what was going on. Was my baby okay? Was she alive? A nurse asked me if I was in pain. Of course I was in pain! But I didn’t care about me. I just wanted to know about my baby. My midwife arrived and I felt my heart speed up: she told me I’d had a little girl, she was really poorly, and she was in NICU.
My concern for Lyra was so all-consuming that I completely forgot how poorly I was, too. I was on the high dependancy unit because I’d lost so much blood during the birth, and surgery was rough. I couldn’t visit Lyra, so the first time I saw my baby was when the doctor showed me a photo of her in NICU, looking incredibly small and surrounded by wires in the incubator. My heart hurt for her.
Lyra was taken to another hospital to have cooling therapy, a treatment for those starved of oxygen at birth. I couldn’t bear being separated so I requested a transfer to the postnatal ward at that hospital. That’s when I finally met my daughter, at two days old. I spent every second of every day with Lyra when she moved onto the high dependency unit. There were ups and downs that month – she lost weight because she had no sucking reflex, so we had to wait until she reached her birth weight. But she did well, she pulled through. Life felt that bit brighter the day I walked out the hospital and took my baby home.
It was tough in those months that followed. I was overwhelmed with love for Lyra, but kept having traumatic flashbacks of the night she was born. I was diagnosed with PTSD when she was six months old. Thankfully, I plucked up the courage to go to a doctor, received CBT therapy and antidepressants, and got as much support as I could.
The last piece of the puzzle came when I met my now husband Ian. Lyra was one, and he gelled with her straight away. He’s since adopted her. Lyra met all her milestones as a baby, but started to display a few interesting sensory behaviours as a toddler. She was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia, which we later found out was as a result of brain injury during birth.
Now, aged five, Lyra is amazing. She is academically brilliant, full of character, a wonderful human being, and a fighter. She is my miracle.
My birth advice?
“Tell your story and it does get better. I went two to three months feeling like I couldn’t say anything about how I felt or talk about my flashbacks. A lot of people said to me I should be thankful we were both alive, but that doesn’t take away what happened. Trust yourself and share your story.”
For information and support, visit the Birth Trauma Association.
As told to Amy Packham.