Wake up for mummy

While everyone celebrated Xmas, I paced a hospital room

Published by: Jemma Gillard
Published on: 27 December 2012

The midwife picked up my baby son and couldn't stop grinning as he gave her a gummy smile. ‘You're a happy chap,' she chuckled. We were at James' six-week check-up and everything was going fine - until she listened to his heart.
‘James has a slight heart murmur,' she explained. ‘I'm going to refer you to the hospital to get it checked out.' I felt the blood drain from my face.
‘I knew it,' I whispered. Call it mother's intuition, but my instinct told me something hadn't been right.
James had been a healthy 6lb 13oz when he was born, and as soon as he was placed in my arms I'd felt complete, like somehow he was always missing. It didn't matter that his dad wasn't around, and that I was only 20 and had no experience with babies. ‘We'll be fine, just me and you,' I promised him. Friends warned me that the sleepless nights would be hard work by myself, but I didn't care.
One cuddle with James made everything worthwhile...
But I quickly noticed James didn't seem right. He was so lethargic, just seemed to want to sleep all the time.
‘I'm really worried,' I moaned to my mum Julie, 46.
‘Stop scaring yourself, love,' Mum said, trying to reassure me. ‘Babies do sleep a lot.' Because of my age, I knew people thought I was just being a fusspot. Even my doctor said I was over-fussing. Now, the midwife had proved me right.
I just wished that she hadn't.
‘You'll be fine,' I whispered, cuddling James. I was kicking myself, though,
I just knew I should've trusted my instincts. What if I'd left it too late...
Next day, I went straight to the hospital, sat chewing my nails as James had an ultrasound.
‘I'm afraid we found a hole in his heart,' the doctor said. ‘If they're small enough, they will repair themselves in time. But this one's too big to do that.'
‘What does that mean?' I panicked. ‘Will he be alright?'
‘He'll be more tired than other babies, and won't be able to run around as much when he's older. He'll get more worn out so James will need an operation, but
we think it's best to wait until he's a least a year old,' he explained. ‘His heart should be stronger then.'
Tears traced my cheeks as I held James tight to me. His heart wasn't working properly, mine felt like it was breaking...
Back home, I was constantly on tenterhooks.
‘I'm just going to check on James,' I said.
‘Sweetheart, you've only just put him down,' Mum told me, gently.
I couldn't help it, though. And then I noticed James was losing weight. ‘You can see his ribs now,' I fretted to Mum.
‘Maybe you should get him checked out again?' she worried. So I took him back to the hospital. ‘He feeds fine,' I told them. ‘I don't understand.'
He would eat and drink normally and was never really sick. ‘He may be burning his food up more because of his poorly heart,' the doctor said. ‘It has to compensate for that, instead of storing as fat and helping him put on weight.'
Because he was deteriorating, doctors decided to bring the surgery forward. It was so hard for me to think of my tiny boy being sliced open, but I knew it was for his own good.
‘We've scheduled it for five weeks' time,' they confirmed. ‘But that's Christmas,' I cried.
This was James' first Christmas and I had so many things planned for him, wanted it to be extra special after everything he'd been through.
I knew this had to be done, but I broke down in Mum's arms when I got home.
‘Why don't you have your own Christmas Day before he goes in?' Mum suggested.
So, even though it was only November, I decorated the living room with tinsel and invited my mum and sister Sarah, 22, to come over to celebrate with us.
‘Merry Christmas, gorgeous,' I smiled, as the lights on the tree twinkled in his blue eyes. Holding James on my lap, we unwrapped the mountain of gifts.
‘What's this?' I grinned, as we unwrapped a musical keyboard and stacking toys.
It was a lovely day, but always at the back of my mind was that looming hospital date.
The days sped past and before I knew it, it was two days before Christmas and James was being wheeled into surgery.
‘I love you,' I whispered. ‘I'll be here when you wake up.' It broke my heart seeing
how tiny and defenceless he looked, as wires snaked from his arms and tummy.
Clutching a photo of him, I couldn't stop pacing the waiting room. And, five hours later, he still wasn't out.
‘Something's happened,' I panicked to Mum on the phone.
‘James is a fighter,' she insisted. Finally, an hour later, a doctor came in. ‘He's in intensive care. You can see him now,' he said. I didn't need telling twice.
‘Mummy's here,' I whispered, stroking his hand.
‘The surgery itself went well, but we discovered a burst blood vessel on the left side of his heart,' the doctor explained. ‘If we hadn't found it now, he probably would have died.'
‘What?' I gasped. We'd all thought the hole in his heart was the biggest problem, but that had actually been a lifesaver.
‘If we hadn't operated now...' the doctor said.
A chill ran down my spine. He was kept asleep to make sure his little body recovered enough. But, finally, on Christmas Day, he was back on the children's ward. Seeing his eyes flutter open brought tears to mine.
‘Look who's here,' I smiled, holding his favourite brown bear. ‘I think Jack's missed you.' Mum had bought the bear for James. It was holding a blanket with his name embroidered on.
‘Merry Christmas, darling,' I smiled, leaning down to give him a kiss. It seemed so surreal being here on Christmas Day, watching the nurses run around wearing Santa hats.
‘Bet this is a bit different from your normal Christmas,' one smiled. I nodded and tears stung my eyes as I thought back to the previous year.
‘Pull a cracker,' Mum grinned. We'd all tucked into our turkey dinners and drunk too much wine, before slumping on the sofa and watching The Snowman.
But, while this was totally different, I wouldn't have been anywhere else than by my son's side.
‘I think it's time we all had some fun,' the nurse grinned, handing me a mince pie. She put on Santa Claus Is Coming To Town on the stereo and gave me a Santa hat for James.
‘Don't you look cute!' I grinned. It wasn't the way I wanted to celebrate James' first Christmas, but I was just grateful we were together. We opened the rest of his presents, and soon the whole ward felt like Santa's grotto. Despite everything, I knew I'd take away some very special memories.
Two days later, he was back home. I was so anxious that his blood vessel might burst or he could deteriorate further, that I wouldn't let him out of my sight. But, within weeks, I noticed such a difference in him. He got stronger, which meant I could start to relax.
‘Where are you going?' I giggled one day, as he started crawling behind the sofa. He just gave me that beautiful smile and I knew everything was going to be okay.
Now, James is 18 months old and is doing so well. He still has monthly check-ups and might need another operation to repair the blood vessel, but he's reaching all his milestones. I still can't believe that the hole in his heart ended up saving his life.
I'd really looked forward to this Christmas, and I spoilt him rotten. But having my baby here with me is the only present I'll ever really need.
Emma Rowlands, 22, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear