A friend's incredible gift
BERNICE VAN GILS
A labour of love
Our little son Leonardo was carried by our dear friend Olivia.... and this is the story of when we finally got to meet him.
The weeks leading up to the elective caesarean due date saw me going everywhere with the car packed ready with suitcases, car seat, pram, hospital bags for Leo and me, bottles, naps – in fact you name it, and I had it in the car… just in case.
My phone was permanently at my side and I soon adjusted to the leap my heart would make every time a txt or call came through. I thought he would take matters into his own hands and arrive early, but Olivia had it sussed - she said all along that he would wait for delivery day and she was right.
Mark and I made the move to Palmerston North on Thursday, August 9, and got all settled into the accommodation. Ysabellah was all settled at the neighbours' for her special sleepover and everything was ready. We went out for dinner with Olivia, Tatum and Nan Robyn (Olivia’s mum) that night and had a lovely time passing the hours away before trying to get some sleep. I think we knew that sleep was going to be somewhat elusive for all of us. We had a super-early start the next morning but even that enticement didn’t help us get to sleep. It was just so amazing to think that in a few short hours we were going to meet our son who had been so beautifully taken care of in Olivia’s tummy for the past nine months.
We woke early, showered and changed and hit the road so that we could pick Olivia up at 6.30am ready to be at the hospital for 7am. Between us all we had a fair amount of luggage - much to the consternation of the admissions staff, but they dealt with us beautifully with a smile.
There was some delay as the final admission paperwork was done and around 9am we headed into the pre-surgery area to get all kitted out in our operating room gear. Mark was not going to be in theatre with us, and he was fine with that as it was something we had mentally and emotionally prepared for earlier. So Olivia got into her very sexy gown (at least it was a nice colour) and I got into a pair of scrubs, bootees and hat and we waited in yet another area ready for our turn. A conveyer belt came to mind!
There was a bit of stress as our midwife had not yet turned up so they were organising for a stand-in to come to theatre and take over. But just in the nick of time, there she came, all bright and breezy, and immediately things felt more settled. It was quite funny: I was trying to be calm on the outside and be all cool and unworried about Maree not being there, and Olivia was doing the sam, when both of us were starting to stress about it!
I lost track of time a bit, but at some point Olivia was taken into the theatre ready for her spinal to be put in. The student midwife stayed outside the theatre with me and helped keep my mind occupied while they did what they had to do on the other side of the door. I could hear the heart monitor beeping away and could tell by the rise and fall of the beeps what Olivia was going through. I had some big feelings of guilt and worry about what she was about to go through for us, but then the excitement and anticipation took over again… and the beeping had settled to a slower pace again, which I found reassuring.
The student midwife was in charge of the camera and started capturing the big event for us.
Once Olivia was all settled on the table I was brought in and shown where to sit - next to Olivia's head. I was given my instructions on what I could and couldn’t touch, and then things got under way. I felt excited but also calm. But despite this, my hands were clammy. I had promised Olivia that I wouldn’t submit her to any "headlock hugs" while she was strapped to the table and unable to defend herself from my hugs, but it felt reassuring have hold of her hand.
I had spent some time on YouTube watching caesareans to get me ready so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by it all, and I am glad I did. It was an amazing experience. The surgeons got down to business and Olivia and I chatted here and there, and the anaesthetists explained things as they went along. I don’t know how much time passed as it is all a blur, but eventually the time had come to birth Leo. I watched most of the process, but in fact could not see the business end of things as it was a low incision and the bump kept things out of my line of sight….. but I admit to being particularly fascinated with the array of equipment that was being used!
Olivia was amazing. She did her deep breathing and I just kept talking to her when things were getting rough on her poor body. As things got closer to Leo being born, the staff got excited and I remember this overwhelming feeling coming over me! It was actually happening right now. It was disconcerting when the surgeon climbed up on the table and all I could see was his butt several inches from my face; the anaesthetists explained that this is the part where one surgeon pushes while the other pulls. It looked painful - thank goodness Olivia was numb, because the amount of pressure the surgeon put on her tummy to "birth" Leo was impressive!
Time stood still. It was just magic!
I bawled and bawled – luckily Olivia couldn’t quite see my face so she thought I was doing great. When they lifted him up, my heart stopped. I really couldn’t take it all in.
The surgeon who pulled him out said "ooh he's big" but all I could see was a slippery blue bundle of chubby arms and legs all covered in vernix… and I waited for the first cry. I had been holding my breath and all of a sudden just sobbed before I fainted. Olivia was calm and relieved when he was out. She said to me to go to him and find out how much he weighed. I'm so glad she did because I felt rooted to my seat.
So I went over to the table and had such a huge rush of feelings. He was perfect, pink, and had given a little cry. Everything was fine. His weight was announced at 10lb 10oz and the student midwife went to sit with Olivia for a time and to make sure she was okay.
I was so afraid to touch him. The midwife then took my hands and put them on him and from that moment there was no holding back. I cut the cord, which was itself a symbolic and sacred event.
Leo was checked over and given the all-clear. Within moments he was on my bare chest, and we were wrapped in a blanket sitting back chatting with Olivia so she could see him.
Something amazing happened. Once he was in my arms and Olivia knew he was fine and with me she completely relaxed and went to sleep. It was amazing. I sat there with our beautiful little son in my arms watching this amazing woman resting after an incredible job well done. Watching her sleep, I felt as though I was her sentinel just for a short time, making sure everyone took good care of her. I said to her later that it would have made a great story if she had started snoring…. but she was peaceful and slept the whole time she was being stitched up.
The student midwife, Reyna (who had been with us for the whole pregnancy), took the camera out to Mark so he could see photos of his son, and it was only a short time before we were all reunited in the recovery room. I was treated like a queen and wheeled out in a wheelchair so that Leo could stay with me. Everyone was so kind and considerate.
While Olivia rested and while she was being monitored I gave Leo his first breast feed. I didn't have a lot of milk to give him, but feeling him at my breast with Mark holding us and Olivia looking on was very special.
From the recovery room we were taken to the postnatal ward and into our own double room.
The staff at Palmerston North Hospital were amazing. Our stay there was great and I felt so supported in my wishes to have Leo at the breast, even though I didn't have much milk myself - they bent over backwards to support my feeding him with a nursing supplementer so he got plenty of formula as well.
One of the precious moments for me was when I saw at the bottom of the meal planner "Adoptive mum". It made me feel welcome and involved that they had catered for me in this way.
Having those four days in the hospital with Olivia were precious. It would have felt wrong somehow to have been separated at that stage. It was lovely to be able to give Olivia cuddles with Leo whenever she wanted, and to be able to do small things to help her pass the time – even if it was making her really bad cups of tea in the middle of the night.
When it was time to head home – and us back to the motel – we felt ready, and that was the aim - that the transition from having Leo tucked away inside Olivia to the outside with me was gentle for everyone. After such an amazing journey, and such a beautiful transition time after his birth, it feels natural to be at home now and beginning the next phase of our journey: life with Leo.
View all contributions