Friday, April 1, 2011

Diary of a bereaved Mother: Chapter 1, part one

2nd October 1989, Monday 4.30am, part one.

You have your baby
They whisk him away.
They don't tell you why.
You try not to worry.
But you can't.
How can you not?
Every new mother has her baby with her,


The weekend passed. Andrew did not die that Friday evening of the 29th September. The next day, Dr. James got me my own room. It was so sweet of him. He did not want me to see all the other mothers with their babies if I remained in the first room I was allocated to. Neither did he want me to be constantly crying and upsetting the other mums.

Since there was nothing medically they could do for Andrew, on Saturday they brought him up to my room so that we could be with him. When it was time to feed him, I held him while the nurse tube-fed him. The nurse changed his cloth nappies. I couldn’t bear to see his body. He had a small bell-shaped chest, and with each breath he took, you could see his chest overworking. The obvious exterior sign of his being Campomelic Syndrome was his club foot.

Both Dr James and Dr Simon Rowley were very good and they came to give me moral support. I greatly appreciated Dr Simon Rowley as it wasn’t even his job. We had other visitors. Bobby Tsang, a good friend from the Bible Study group, came. He was a doctor there.

I started writing at 4.30am. I must have been tossing and turning for a long time before I decided to get up and write.

I wish my sisters were here with me holding my hand and listening. I have not been so miserable since Mother’s death in February 1988.

The top copy was posted to my siblings and I kept the carbon copy as my diary. It is from this carbon copy that I am transcribing. The letter was written with such pain. I had wanted to write since Friday. But God has delayed me writing till now, so that I can write with a clear head. This is not asking God, “Why me?” because I do not ask, “Why me?” I pray that God will help me accept why this is happening to me, and that what is happening to me will glorify God.

I am also writing this so that, while things are still fresh in my mind, this is recorded so that I wouldn’t forget. In the future, my daughters, Deborah and Gabrielle and their families will have something tangible to read about this sad tale of my life and part of theirs too: Farewell our baby.

Please pray for me, and for CO and me to be given strength. Pray that through this painful heart-wrenching experience, we will grow closer as husband and wife, and our family will become stronger and not grow apart. Pray that we don’t blame the other person for what has happened.

Our baby son, Andrew -- Deborah named him that and I also always wanted to give him his Chinese name Chiang Shiong (Hero) -- Andrew was born on Friday the 29th of September 1989. His labour was quite short and not too difficult.

That night of the 28th, I was up because I was coughing badly. I decided to wake up to sew an outfit for Deborah. While sewing, I felt some strong contraction pains. I went to sleep at about 3am. CO was sleeping in our guest room so that my coughing wouldn’t disturb him.

I must have fallen asleep soon after. At 6am, I heard CO waking up to attend to Gabrielle. I felt the contraction pains; then decided to time the contractions. It went on about thirty minutes. I went to the bathroom and went back to bed.

At around 7 am, CO came into the bedroom. I had been suffering from light bladder leakage, because of the coughing, and had to sleep with a pad. I found that I was having a little “show”, and knew this was a sign that Baby was probably coming very soon. I got up, and started the washing machine to do the laundry.

CO told me to get things ready so we could go to the hospital. As I had been admitted to hospital just the Monday before, I had everything ready in my overnight bag. I was busy doing the laundry, picking up bits and pieces and stripping the bed in the guestroom to prepare for our homestay student who was coming from China.

We rang the hospital and told them about my “show”. In view of the fact that Gabrielle came so quickly, though Baby was not due for three weeks, they agreed that I should go straight away. But by the time we got ready, waking Deborah and Gabrielle and sending them to our neighbour Brina’s house and making all the necessary telephone calls to arrange for the girls for the day, it was almost 8 am.

Because of all the rushing around, I did not feel the contractions. I kept telling myself, I hope I haven’t imagined it and it would be silly to be sent back for a false alarm.

We arrived at the hospital at around 8 am. The nurse met me and I was to wait at the preparatory room. I changed into a hospital gown and waited. The nurse checked me. There didn’t seem to be any contractions but the baby’s head was well down. The midwife contacted Dr. A Lim who said he would come at about 11am. If nothing happened, they would send me home.

They put a monitor on me. Baby’s contractions were every five minutes, but my cervix was not dilated. She said it was only 1 cm, which was normal for women who had given birth. While I was having contractions regularly at five minutes, nothing was happening below.

I found each contraction very painful when I lay on my back with the machine strapped on my tummy. I recorded the time of each contraction. The midwife removed the machine and I moved around a bit. I went on all fours like a cat and the pains lessened. Even then, nothing happened, and then the interval between contractions became 10 minutes.

At 11.30am. Dr A Lim came. He said I was dilated 5 to 6 cm, and I was quite ready. He must have broken my water as I could feel a warm trickle between my legs. He didn’t tell me that he had done it, and to expect that the baby would come soon. I was still in the preparatory room. They didn’t send me to the first stage room like when I had Deborah.

The midwife walked with me to the theatre 5. Dr. A Lim had left, and the midwife told me that she and Dr. A Lim had a bet that that baby would come before he came back. He had gone back to his surgery. I thought it wasn’t very nice of him to do so, knowing how, when I had Gabrielle, she came in 30 minutes.

In the theatre, the young midwife told me to push any time I felt like pushing. I went on all fours again as this was how I delivered Gabrielle; it was a very easy labour. My Indonesian friend Rita told me that she had a famous Dutch gynaecologist who taught all her patients to do this, and their labour was easy. They gave me two pillows to act as a wedge, but it wasn’t comfortable. So they removed the pillows and I gripped the top of the bed. It was about six or seven pushes, the pain was so bad. Just before the baby came, CO and the midwife told me to hold on so I wouldn’t tear. But I couldn’t hold any longer. I pushed.

The mid wife said she could see the black hair. Baby came, and I heard someone say it was a boy. I was very happy. The pain was far worse than Gabrielle’s or Deborah’s, as I remembered.

The time was 11.50am according to the clock on the wall.

The midwife asked if I wanted to hold him. He was trapped among my gown and the sheets. We got him out. He had so much black hair, spiky one-and-a-half-inch hair. The hair was like rough bristles of a brush. (This we found later was part of his syndrome.) He was covered with Vernix caseosa, the creamy cheese stuff. Deborah and Gabrielle were very clean. Andrew looked quite big and looked like Gabrielle. I checked his thighs, which looked straight. I praised God. The midwife took him away quickly.

I was really tired and drained. I didn’t have an ounce of energy left in my body. I just lay down on the theatre bed. I didn’t notice that he didn’t cry. CO, the midwife and the paediatrician, Dr. Armstrong, went to look over the baby at one corner of the theatre. CO came back to tell me that one foot was funny. I didn’t care, I was happy that we had a son.

Dr. A Lim came; he did not even say sorry that he went away. He did the stitches on me. Baby was 3.180 kg, similar to Deborah. He went to check on the baby and came back to me. Baby had one foot turned in and he had little testicles.

“What?” I asked.

He said, “The paediatrician will let you know,” and he left.

I was exasperated that he was not forthcoming with information. He was my doctor; shouldn’t he stay around to give me moral support?

They took Baby to Ward 11A, the neonatal intensive care unit. The mid wife said someone would take me for a shower and then take me up to the ward. We waited in the theatre for a long time. Someone brought us a tray with tea. Later they came with lunch. It was Hawaiian chicken. I was too tired to eat a morsel and asked CO to eat it.

Someone came with a wheelchair, and wheeled me to a shower stall in the same prep room I was in. The shower was cold, so she pushed me to another, but it was not very warm, just tepid. I had a quick wash of my legs as I didn’t want to touch the cold water. I told the midwife that I didn’t want to shower because the water was cold. The Chinese did not like women who had delivered babies to touch cold water. They believed that cold water would cause them to have arthritis and rheumatism when they grew old. The midwife understood different cultures. She said she liked the smell of the tiger balm I had applied on my forehead.

They gave me a clean gown. I put on a dressing gown and my winter parka. I felt quite cold. Then they wheeled me back to Ward 11A to see Baby.

I saw Dr Simon Rowley on the way to ICU. Dr. Rowley was Gabrielle’s paediatrician. He saw Gabrielle for her skin allergies. I told him there was something wrong with his foot.

Simon said, “Yes, I know, I have been to see him.”

The midwife gave me an orientation, “At Ward 11A, there are lots of small babies, babies with tubes and so on. Please do not be worried or frightened. Do ask any questions if you have any.”

A female worker eventually pushed me to Ward 11A. There were many nurses and doctors crowded round Baby. They were still busy checking him, so they told us to come back later. They said they would call me when they were ready. CO said he saw Baby in an incubator with a tube in his mouth. They had mentioned that Baby had breathing difficulties.

We came up to Ward 2, and she wheeled me right to the back. I was given a window bed. I was sharing the room with two other mothers. I told the nurse that I cough very badly. On Monday when I was admitted to the antenatal Ward 5, they had to move me at night to sleep by myself so I didn’t disturb the other women. I was hoping to get a room to myself like when I had Deborah and Gabrielle in Ward 8. Unfortunately, that ward had become a week ward and was closed on weekends.

It had been a long and arduous morning. I needed to sleep. CO had to go back to his office to finish off some urgent work to meet his deadline. Then he would cook me some chicken soup and come with the girls. It was about 2 pm.

I couldn’t sleep. I was very tired but my mind was over active. My mind was with Baby down at Ward 11A. I didn’t have a thorough look at him, and I didn’t even notice his unusual foot. I thought of a university friend from Hong Kong -- I couldn’t remember his name. He had polio when he was a child and walked with a limp. That didn’t deter him from having a very nice personality and he was very good at playing table tennis. His polio didn’t seem to worry him at all. It was many years ago and I tried hard to remember his name. I kept thinking and thinking, and eventually I remembered, it was Chris Orr.

I just thought Baby would be like Chris Orr. In this day and age (1989), surely the doctors would be able to fix his foot and he would be alright. Baby wouldn’t be an All Black and play rugby for New Zealand which was every New Zealand mum’s dream. But I wouldn’t want him to be an All Black anyway.


  1. A riveting beginning to your book! You are very honest and hold nothing back. I feel as if I'm there with you.

  2. I agree with Ginny. It must have been a worrying time but ever hopeful.