Ben would have been three today. I wonder what he would have looked like. Who would he have been more like? Adam or Kate. Maybe a mixture of both. Or maybe totally different. I am so sad that I will never know.
(Thank you to all of you who remembered, and to those who sent the emails and text messages. Thanks for remembering him)
I wake up with a start from a hard, painful cramp. It's Sunday morning, 4 January 2004, and the cramp is so sharp, so vicious, I literally jump out of bed, hunched over, clutching my tummy. Ouch! I wonder what it is – these days I am full of aches and pains, my bladder particularly. So this pain could be courtesy of my bladder. I'm a little concerned about the pain, but I'm half asleep.
I get up to pee. Out of habit, I look down at my panties and notice more of the same brown mucousy stuff that has been there for the past day or so. I hate seeing it there. When it first appeared, I showed the nurse on duty, but she said it could be many things. It could even be Luke's sac breaking down. It worries me.
But the discharge, combined with the distinctly uncomfortable, crampy feeling, is worrying. I ask for the CTG machine, which monitors contractions, to be placed on my belly. Even though they don’t seem to mind, I hate asking – it makes me feel like a paranoid, pain-in-the-ass patient.
Good news. Ben’s heartbeat is fine. There are signs of uterine irritability, but I have those all the time. My uterus is so irritable, anything sets it off. Marko comes to visit, but we hardly talk. He knows by now that if I admit to being worried, things must be bad. We sit there in silence – me anxious and off kilter, Marko helpless. I tell him to go home and he leaves.
I ask the nurses to put the monitoring belt back on and to check again for contractions. The CTG machine shows signs of irregular contractions. I’ve had those before, but I sense these are different. I seem to be the only one who is worried – the nurses seem unconcerned. I hate being a pain but things just do not feel right. I make the nurses call Dr L, who is looking after me while Dr H is on holiday.
Dr L instructs the nurses to give me a muscle relaxant to try and calm my uterus. It doesn't work. I now sense something horribly wrong. I make the nurses call the doctor back. The belt goes back on. The contractions are still there. Dr L arrives and checks my cervix. I am five centimetres dilated. Ben is coming today, and soon. Now.
It is too early! I am not yet 26 weeks! But there's no stopping labour. Ben is arriving, ready or not.
A strange calm descends on me as everyone else jumps into action. I am in slow motion as the world around me goes into overdrive. I call Marko and tell him to come back right away. He does the 30-minute trip in 12 minutes. I don’t think the car has ever been the same again. I call my mother and ask her to come to the hospital. I need her here. I won't be able to do this unless I know she is here.
I am scared, yet not too scared. I think I am a little numb, in denial. I lie there rubbing my stomach, whispering to Ben. I look up and see that Dr H has arrived. I am overjoyed to see him. He is wearing shorts and a T-shirt. He has interrupted his holiday. I don’t know who called him, but I am so glad they did. He takes my hand and squeezes it hard. I hold his hand for a while, looking into his eyes. No words are said, but I can feel his strength and concern for me.
My mother arrives as the nurses are prepping me for surgery. Everything seems surreal – I feel as if I am in a play, or a dream. They have found an anaesthetist and a paediatrician. Everyone is ready.
An epidural is administered, then I lie down with Marko in his green scrubs by my head. This is it. My baby is about to be born. Instead of excitement, there is fear in the air. This is not how it should be.
Then I hear the sound that makes me cry every time I think about it – the tiniest mewling, a barely audible whimper. I hear, for the first time, the sound of my son's voice.
As they lift him to cut the cord, I catch a glimpse of him – he is so very, so painfully tiny. The sight of Ben's small body makes me cry. Marko, too, starts sobbing. I’ve never seen him cry before and it breaks my heart. It makes me cry even more. We cling to each other, Marko and I, sobbing into each other's arms. Oh God, it isn’t supposed to be like this. My poor little baby boy – he is so tiny. So very, very tiny.
He is whisked away immediately by the paediatrician, who starts working on him frantically – pumping, wiping, checking. I can’t see what is going on. They take him away with pipes and tubes all over his body and rush him up to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Little Ben Albertyn was born at 17:00 on 4 January 2004, weighing 920 grams (two pounds) – less even than two tubs of margarine or a packet of sugar. Tiny, fragile. Perfect and absolutely beautiful in every way.