Five o’Eight, a midwife’s tale
Darcey Croft is taking on the London Marathon 2020 in order to raise money for Sparks. She has written this blog post about her inspiration to run.
This is a story from my career as a midwife, about a baby I had the privilege to meet.
It happened a few years ago now but has left an enduring memory. I call her Five o’Eight because I never knew her name and this is the time of her birth. She was born with a terminal condition called Lethal Skeletal Dysplasia and lived three minutes short of an hour. In that short time, she left an incredible impression in my world, one I will never forget. I am running the London Marathon next April for my little Five o’Eight and all the children like her who need science to catch up and find cures and treatments for them. I would be so grateful if you can back me on my run and make your donation here. Small or large it all adds up and makes a huge difference.
This is her story.
At nine minutes past five in the morning, I was called to the operating theatre to relieve a midwife who was not feeling well. As I entered the clinical bright environment I felt something unusual. The atmosphere was flat, and still. Not one of the nine people present in the theatre was speaking, all very unusual for a medical operating theatre. I scanned the room quickly to work out what was happening. A baby on the resuscitation table, crying, a good sign. The baby was safely delivered and the paediatrician was attentive but not actually doing anything, another reassuring sign. Mum, a Syrian refugee was lying on the operating table and the surgeon was suturing following a standard delivery. Her eyes were open but no emotion registered on her face, the machines showed her vital signs were good and the suturing looked uncomplicated. Yet still, the staff avoided eye contact and busied themselves in their tasks. Only the father looked over to me, I gestured towards the baby, smiled and congratulated him, he beamed at me and rushed over, thanking me in heavily broken English, this was more like it, perhaps everyone was super tired, it had been a very busy night.
My friend, a usually chipper ODP (operating department assistant), passed by into the anaesthetic room, I followed and he explained in hushed tones that the baby was incompatible with life and hadn’t been expected to have survived after delivery. However, the thing was, and this is the thing about the will to live, the baby did not have the same expectation and was putting up a considerable fight in the other room. He told me that no one knew what to do about it and they were all waiting for the consultant to arrive with a new plan.
Standing next to the baby, I watched her tiny face, heavy brow and eyes screw up as she summoned the energy to wailingly complain, her shallow ribcage heaved with effort and she filled her very small lungs and mewed loudly. The paediatrician was vexed, she told me the new plan was still to do nothing. I noted that doing nothing is a very hard thing for anyone dedicated to healing and caring, the doctor’s eyes filled with tears and she walked away. Following one by one, the other professionals left, along with Dad, who had gone to collect his mother. I found myself alone with mother, baby and my maternity support colleague.
‘Let’s get out of here’ I said, the harsh clinical environment was not right for mum or baby. We helped mum, into a wheelchair, she spoke no English but I don’t really think words would have added anything to the moment. I carefully wrapped baby in blankets and passed her the baby. She refused the baby and turned her head.
So there we were our sad little group, walking slowly in the early hours to the warm, comfortable and dimly lit cocoon of a room at the far end of the corridor. I cuddled baby as we walked and watched her blinking dark eyes getting sleepier and sleepier, she had stopped crying now and a passing midwife paused to exclaim ‘Aww how lovely’ smiling her congratulations to mum.
We reached our sanctuary and helped mum get comfortable on the bed. I tenderly offered the baby to her and again she shook her head crossly and pushed her away, I knelt beside her to show her that her baby looked so beautiful and she needn’t be afraid of what to expect. She didn’t look and abruptly flipped on her side, turning her back on her daughter. I understood, she was afraid and I felt deep respect for the pain she must be in, yet at the same time it was hard to understand and my heart broke for this precious little girl, shunned when she needed her mother the most.
I placed her on the resuscitaire snug in her blanket, put the gentle warming heater on, the dim orange light emitted a comforting glow around her and spilt over into the darkened room. With my stethoscope on her chest, I held her tiny hands and begun to talk to her. I told her about kind and caring people, about funny things that could make you laugh out loud and about love that made your heart feel like it was bursting with joy. I described incredible places like forests, mountains, deserts and oceans and about the marvellous animals that lived in these places and wondrous things about space and the stars. Then I told her a fairytale about a princess who had travelled to a far off land to see these marvellous things and how the princess could only stay for a little while just long enough to take these stories and all the love back home to where she lived happily ever after.
I listened as we talked, to the soft rhythmic beating of her heart and felt the quiet gentle rise of her chest. It might have been like slow-motion wings of a butterfly growing softer and softer as it flew away. Becoming quieter and quieter, the pause between beats grew longer and I strained to hear another but it was too far away, just gentle silence - a time between time, peaceful kind of silence and my little Five o’Eight was gone.