They had to cut her out of my stomach because she got stuck.
I knew there was something wrong, I knew it before I even saw the faces of my mum and the nurse. I knew before they got the doctor to stick things up inside me and attach monitoring tubes to the skin under the baby’s head. I hoped they weren’t going to push too hard and hurt her brain. I know the top of a baby’s head was soft and sacred and not to be touched.
They sat me very straight and I looked deep into my mum’s brown eyes as they first numbed my back, and then my whole lower body went numb after the big needle went right into my spine.
My mum had to sign a waiver form saying that I could have that big needle. I held on to her arm and begged. It scared me how scared she was.
I would have done anything to make the pain go away. Anything.
I didn’t even care about the baby anymore. This little life that I had felt moving under my skin for so long, that I had read and sung to, had now become the enemy, trying to rip me apart. I screamed with each contraction. Nothing was happening. It was like pushing the baby’s head against a wall.
Everyone looked at each other and I was lowered onto a gurney and wheeled into the operating theatre. I waited, queuing to have this horrible baby pulled out. I didn’t know if she was still alive and to be honest, at this point I didn’t care. I clung to my mum’s hand as the useless contractions wrecked me. “Please Mummy, make it stop.” She put her forehead down to me and kissed my cheek. She smelled normal.
When it was my turn they made sure that I was numb. The anesthesiologist looked into my eyes and talked to me. I was shaking but I couldn’t move my hands. “I can’t move my hands.” I said to him, imagining that the big needle going into my spine had destroyed all the axons and dendrites and loopy cords inside. I couldn’t move my hands.
“Its ok Ashley.”, a surgery nurse arrived out of no-where and wiped my face with a cloth. “Sometimes this happens.”
They painted my stomach with yellow gunk and I needed to vomit. I vomited on the nurse, and cried a bit more.
I felt the pressure of the knife cutting me open.
“Ok Ashley,” said the now vomit covered nurse, “we are going to rock the baby out now.”
And it was one, two and she was rocked out like a boat. The movement made me vomit again. Unable to turn quickly the vomit pooled in my eye sockets. Acid. I shut my eyes tight.
And there was silence.
Then a whimpering noise, and my mum’s voice came through the fog.
“Ash, here is your baby.”
“I can’t open my eyes. I vomited into them.”
Kind hands washed my eyes out with water, and towelled me dry.
I raised my head as much as I could, still unable to move my hands, and saw her.
She was all puffy. Her eyes were blinking in folds of cheek fat. She had black hair. She was red and dirty and wrapped up. She didn’t seem overwhelmingly pleased to see me.
Oh, I thought. I suppose I should hold her but I can’t move my hands.
A nurse sort of stuck her on my chest and held her there as they started to wheel me to some place called ‘recovery’.
They put a band on her ankle, showed me, then took her away somewhere with Mum in tow. When she came back my hands were shaking uncontrollably and they were covering me with warmed blankets. The baby was cleaner and looked a bit annoyed. She had a tiny nappy on and she was naked other than that.
They opened up my own blanket cocoon and I realised I was naked. How did that happen? I didn’t remember taking my clothes off.
They stuck her back on my breast and she bindly latched onto my nipple and started nursing. The nurse smiled at me like I had done something amazing. It didn’t feel like anything at all.
“I don’t want to drop her.” I said. “my hands are shaking. Can you give me something to make them stop?”
“That’s ok dear they will stop. Look at your beautiful baby, she loves her mummy.”
I looked at her. She was making strange grunting sounds. She was so red. She didn’t look like a pretty baby from a card or a calendar. She was just small and hairy and red. I doubted very much that she loved me. She had never met me until now, and she had pretty much ignored me except to drink milk. I wonder if she knew who I was, or if she thought at all.
“Have you thought about naming her?” asked the nurse holding her steady while she made grunting noises and nursed.
“I thought I would make up a name for her so that no-one else would have the same name. I hate being one of 500 Ashleys I know.”
The nurse gave an almost imperceptible eyebrow raise as she changed the baby to the other side.
“Have you made up one yet?”
“I wanted it to sound soft. And not too girly. And have all the letters of my own name in it, rearranged. An anagram. So I made up Halsey.”
“Will Halsey have a middle name?”
“Yes, I think so. Halsey Gianna. Gianna after my Mum. That’s my Mum over there.”
Baby Halsey pulled away from my nipple and squinched up her eyes. She gave a sigh that sounded exactly like a human. Or a puppy. She rested her head right on my breast and seemed to go to sleep.
I felt a jolt of fear. She might not be breathing.
“Is she ok?” I asked the nurse with an edge of panic.
The nurse smiled. “She’s having a nap. You will have to feed her again in two hours.”
I looked at Halsey in wonder. She was so tiny – impossibly tiny.
“Um, nurse. Is she ok?”
The nurse looked at her, and me in puzzlement.
“Sweetie, she is just sleeping. Most babies sleep after they have been born. Think of it from the baby’s point of view – it would be very frightening and new. All the lights. They can’t see when they are just born, you know. They can’t see much anyway. “
The nurse looked down at Halsey who had her tiny mouth slightly open and was drooling, just a little.
“Um, she is very small and I thought she would be a lot bigger. She doesn’t look well.”
The nurse looked at the baby critically. I coudn’t tell if she was humouring me because I was so young, or she was genuinely assessing my baby.
“She looks fine to me, Ashley, but I can call a doctor to have a look at her if you wish.”
“Yes. Please. I’m sorry.”
The nurse touched my arm. I had thought she was young but close up I noticed that her hair was bunching and grey at the temples. She looked tired. I felt bad that I was making her do more work by going to find a doctor for me.
“You know, my dear, its quite natural to be emotional. You just had a pretty major surgery and now you have a little baby to look after. Your baby is healthy, Ashley. She has no health problems and the only reason this was a high risk pregnancy was that you are 15 and that is a bit younger than most mothers. Look at her, she is beautiful.”
I looked down at the little black haired baby lying on me, skin to skin – kangaroo care they called it. Little baby joey. Halsey had the straight black hair of her Vietnamese father and long straight eyelashes. She was pink and beautiful. Her little hands were curled up like ears. Her ears were like rolls of paper. I went to touch her and moved my hand away. I didn’t want to bruise her.
I felt hot tears roll down, and my voice was shaking.
“I want my Mum.”