We came from hospital and tentatively tried to get on with our lives. Family and friends were a huge support, always nearby or on hand if we needed them and my Mum and Brother (Frazer) were flying over from Spain the next day to stay for a bit and help out. It would be the first time either of them had met Dotty and as Mark was heading back to work that week, I was relieved at the thought of having some company.
Although I was feeling more positive about things, I didn’t cope well if Dotty cried and initially struggled with indecision over whether to start her on a routine straight away or to just let her be and try to take each day as it came. Obsessed with worrying if she should be awake when she was asleep and if she should be asleep when she was awake, I was definitely still channelling crazy but having my mum there to steer me through it eventually calmed me down. I decided that in the short term, I wouldn’t worry about a routine for now and would rather let her recover and see how we went from there.
The next few days were better and I remember feeling like things might be more manageable from here on.
We filled our time with pulling faces at Dotty to try and muster a smile, making ridiculous noises at her on her play mat, followed by short walks around the block to get her out in the fresh air.
On one particular day I felt brave enough to head into town to meet one of my NCT friends, Nic. She’d had her little boy a few days after I’d had Dotty and was struggling to recover from her traumatic emergency caesarean. We met where all new mums meet, in the café at the top of John Lewis. I remember we were glassy eyed as we hugged and talked about how we, and our little ones were doing. I thought she was a total rock star for coming to meet me ON HER OWN! Especially after having such a rough time. I wouldn’t have made it down my garden path without being flanked by family ready to make me breathe into a paper bag if Dotty farted or sneezed! So I really was in awe of her in that moment as she sat opposite me telling me about her birth.
With one eye on the babies, we all drank coffee and hot chocolate, ate cake and tuna baguettes and I honestly think this was one of the first moments that I recall having a ‘good time’ since Dotty had been born. I feel awful typing that but it’s true and hopefully understandable considering our situation.
At some point that week, Mark and I realised that amidst all of the drama, we hadn’t gotten Dotty registered yet and so I asked my Mum and Frazer to accompany me, admitting I was too nervous to go on my own. Mark had already taken a lot of time off by this point and as he’s a freelancer, we agreed that he should take the opportunity to work while he had it and not turn it down for the appointment.
The building where she was registered is literally a ten-minute walk from our house… so we obviously drove. Getting her in and out of the car seat was just easier plus it was almost March and still bloody freezing!
The man we saw immediately assumed Frazer was my husband, which had the three of us in hysterics. “We practically look like twins! He’s gay and I’m off my rocker!!… haa haaa ha…”. Needless to say, we found it much funnier than he did but whatever, at least I was laughing and not crying which was a welcome change. Dotty barely murmured and before I knew it, I was home again, smiling at the shiny new birth certificate in my hands.
I couldn’t wait to tell Mark all about it and even though Mum and Fraggle (it’s only fair that you should be rewarded with his nickname for reading this far) where flying home the next day, I was happy. Of course I was sad at the thought of them leaving but still happy all the same. Happy that we’d achieved something that day, that Dotty seemed better and that I seemed that bit more at ease with her.
The next morning, we said our teary goodbyes and then suddenly I was alone again with my baby. The first thing I did was dig out my ‘Dotty’ book and wrote a list of ‘Things to do’. I also decided to log her feeds and how long she was sleeping for just because I found (and still find!) that writing things down helps me. After that I contacted friends and family whilst Dotty napped to arrange visits and outings for the following days to try and keep my spirits up. I thought it was better to be busy and have stuff to look forward to instead of sitting around at home with time and space to worry about things.
One of the most daring plans I’d made in those few days was to meet Nic again along with two of our other NCT friends, Lucy and Sarah. Dotty seemed to be allergic to sleep that day and was quite unsettled in the morning. I decided to walk into town to try and get her off to sleep in the pram, which worked for a bit but she was such a light sleeper, she literally startled awake at any loud noise, change of temperature or bump in the road, it was almost impossible. I put her crying down to her being overtired and tried not to freak out as we arrived at John Lewis to meet the girls with their three bouncing baby boys.
I have such a vivid picture of this day in my head.
Everything from the table we sat at, who sat where around that table, where Dot’s pram was positioned, even what she was wearing. But I couldn’t for the life of me tell you a single thing that we talked about. It’s like a memory on mute as I replay it in my mind. Looking down on it, I see that I’m distracted and worried about Dot still being awake and irritable. “Why hasn’t she slept yet?… look at the boys… they’re all asleep… She must be so tired….” And then something happens as I’m holding her over my left shoulder. I feel her body go rigid and as I look down at her I know that something is wrong. It didn’t look like the ‘seizures’ she’d had before, it looked worse, more obvious, making her eyes go wide in shock as her limbs went stiff. She relaxed after a few seconds and I calmly but quickly got her ready to leave as she cried. Again, I couldn’t’ tell you what I said to the girls as I left, I only know I almost ran as I rushed home, watching her have 4 more of the same ‘episodes’ in her pram as I pushed her helplessly trying not to sob.
I called Mark’s mum and asked her to meet me at home as soon as she could. She arrived quickly and after a brief cry and a call to 111, she helped me pack a bag and then drove us to A&E. I’d called Mark already and told him to leave work immediately and meet us at the hospital which I knew would take him about an hour as he was working in London.
Ringing 111 ahead of time meant that they were prepped for us at the hospital when we arrived and took us straight into our own bay for Dotty to be examined. As the nurse asked us questions Dotty was still in her car seat. Almost on cue, she did it again. As she went rigid and started to twitch, the nurse moved so quickly I couldn’t work out what was going on at first. She’d unclipped the car seat, scooped her out in one swift movement and before I knew it, was rushing down the corridor to another room. Her voice was level but firm as she turned her head and said, “follow me Mum!”
She led me to the same room we’d had Dotty’s blood taken in before but at the time I hadn’t noticed anything else in there. It was actually quite a decent size with a bed and all kinds equipment in the corner. Dotty was now on that bed, her clothes being pulled from her as wires were connected to her skin and an oxygen mask was placed over her face. Doctors were paged and four or five people stood over her working as someone said the words ‘resuscitation’. I was in disbelief, holding her hand and stroking her head as she twitched and moaned. She finally relaxed and appeared to come around, beginning to cry as the seconds went on.
Then a Doctor I recognised came in and seemed to halt proceedings immediately. He looked her over and stood everyone down. Turning to me he said, “This is Dorothy Gardner, she’s been in before.” He smiled and continued, “I’m sure this is scary but try not to worry, this was just a precaution. Her heart rate and sats are all normal like last time but we’ll want to keep her in for more monitoring…”
And just like that, exactly 7 days after she was discharged, she was re-admitted to the children’s ward upstairs for further observation and testing. Distraught and exhausted, we were still none the wiser as to what was happening to our baby girl, wondering what any of us had done to deserve this.