'For the first time, I panic’ - Victoria’s story (part one)

300 miles from home and her husband, BBC Journalist Victoria Fritz went from breaking news to her waters breaking. Here she shares what happened when she went into early labour just after coming off air.

The pregnancy had been gloriously uneventful. Somehow I’d managed to navigate the first trimester with no sickness, the second trimester with bags of energy and enormous hair and I’d entered the third with most people at work completely clueless that I was housing a little person.

I’d also been able to keep active throughout. In fact, I’d never been so flexible nor so strong. So, it is fair to say, as I searched for my other trainer under the bed after work, preparing for a self-satisfied little work-out in the hotel gym, that I was pretty taken aback to find myself in labour at 34 weeks.

Uh oh. What was that? This is not good. Am I weeing? Nope. I’m pretty certain I’m not. But surely these can’t be my waters breaking. How do I check? I’m not sniffing my wee. Thank God the carpet’s not cream. Ok, think. I’m 300 miles from home. Can I get the train back? We don’t have anything ready. Dan’s at work. I’ve only been to one antenatal class. Why didn’t I pay more attention? Why didn’t I read a single book? I don’t even know what’s supposed to happen. All I’ve got is a list of stuff I’m supposed to buy between now and…

Uh oh. So THAT’S a contraction. Oh b*gger. Call my editor. “Um, yes, terribly sorry, Adam. I’m in labour. I won’t be in tomorrow. Could Sean cover for me? Thanks. Don’t worry. No no. I’ll be fine.” There’s another. What was that? Two minutes? Five? How long are you supposed to have between them? How long do they last? Was that stronger than the last one? Mad googling…. Too many answers. Damn you, Mumsnet.

Who else do I need to call? I’m never going to be able to get hold of Dan. He’ll still be in his meeting. What should I do? I decide to leave a message at the office with a startled receptionist. Right. Think.

I pack up the room between contractions. Toothbrush, check. Phone charger, check. I make a stab at cleaning the carpet. Check out. I call a minicab. I’m never going to make it back home, I think. I need to get to the nearest hospital. I wait in reception trying very hard not to look like I’m about to have a baby whilst humming along to Shania Twain. Man, I feel like a woman. This is absurd.

The driver drops me off at the nearest hospital. I spend the journey trying again to google the answer to “how much time do you have if your contractions are less than five minutes apart?” And “development stage for 34 week baby”. I waddle hurriedly through the double doors like a harassed duck. The receptionist at the labour unit appears non-plussed.

“Good afternoon. I’m 34 weeks pregnant. I’m in labour. The baby is breech. He’s been breech the whole time. Yes, yes, I know they’re supposed to turn. He hasn’t. I have low amniotic fluid levels. He can’t turn now. My last scan was two days ago. He’s still the wrong way up.”

An uncomfortable hour, largely unattended, passes. I gently dismiss a well-intentioned, sensitive colleague despatched by my boss for moral support. He looks hugely relieved. A group of student doctors form a semi-circle around the end of the bed. Their expressions range from undisguised horror to bemused gawp. They’re going to have to seriously work on their bedside manner, I think, if they’re going to fill those white coats properly.

“The baby’s breech” a technician says, after completing another scan. I look at her long curly auburn hair and consider grabbing it as hard as I can and pulling great clumps of it out in rage. Instead I say, “Yes. I know.”

“We don’t deal with complicated pregnancies here. You need a c-section. You’re going to have to go to a hospital.”

“What? But you’re a hospital? Which other one? Where is it? I’m not from here. How far is that? How do I get there?”

I’m given a leaflet with a map on the back. I exit the hospital dilated and dazed, back in sodden tracksuit bottoms. I stand in the car park, looking from left to right, gripping on to the parking meter during contractions. For the first time, I really panic.

Time to phone a friend. Who’s in Manchester? Who can I call? Scroll, scroll, scroll. Back up. Sally.

“Sally? How close are you to the hospital? I’ve got to go to another one. Do you know where St Mary’s is?”

Ten minutes later I’m a world away. We time contractions on the dashboard clock. I grip the pull-down handle by the top of the door frame and grit my teeth. I don’t make a sound. I look out the window so as not to panic her.

Once we arrive, Sally tries again to get hold of my husband. From her deliberately assured tone and slow speech, I imagine the rising fear on the other end of the line. Her choice of words is telling.

“Just get here as soon as you can. They think they can delay for a bit. But not for long. Keep your phone on you. I will call again if anything changes”.

I’ll have to call my parents later. They’ll only panic if they hear me now. Just four hours from the hunt for the missing trainer, my contractions are continuous and from another realm. I am possessed like a demented eel. I almost bite a man’s hairy forearm as he tries to hold me still for the anaesthetist to do her work. Masked people move like beetles from a disturbed log.

Seven minutes and a champagne cork pop later, my son is born by emergency caesarean section. 6lb 1oz. At six weeks early he is a whopper. Everyone seems pleased. I take my cue from them. He is pink and perfect and laid on my chest by a bunch of people I’ve never met. He looks just like my brother, I think. Weird. I gabble excitedly to the doctors, high as a kite on whatever they’d given me, as they finish up. I ask for their finest needlework. Emma laughs. We are wheeled out to a darkened room to recover.

Like a rollercoaster that’s raced to its summit, there’s always that brief moment of nervous anticipation, before the balance of life suddenly shifts.

“Hmm. He’s breathing a little fast.” Is he? I think. Well, isn’t that to be expected? He’s only small and he’s never had air to breathe. Struck dumb, woozy, I just nod.

“We’re just going to take him off for a bit to have a little look at his breathing. We’ll bring you to him as soon as we can.” That seems sensible. She seems nice and like she knows what she’s doing. I nod again. Paralysed from the ribs down, head spinning, mouth dry, I’m not sure I have a better idea anyway. Suddenly I’m very tired. Then, it occurs to me, I’m alone.

I think I fall asleep. I’m now in a different room. There’s an incubator at the far end. I don’t know if he’s in it. I try to hoik myself up on to my elbows to see, but my body doesn’t respond. Instead I notice that I appear instead, to be weeing into a catheter I didn’t know I had. When did that happen?

My husband arrives. My little brother too. My brother’s been emergency shopping. He’s got maternity pjs, nipple shields, giant mattresses of maternity pads. I wince thinking at his embarrassment at the till somewhere near the train station. I had enough pads to supply the whole ward, but no baby.

A doctor comes in. “Because your baby is early, his lungs aren’t quite ready for the world. He was struggling to breathe on his own so to make it easier for him, we’re helping him for now. He’s in the NICU. We need another hour or so to get him settled. Then I can get someone to wheel you round to see him.”

The doctor smiles a practised smile, turns and leaves. I turn to my husband.

“What’s the NICU? An incubator?”

Dan, ashen faced, replies; “It’s the intensive care ward.”

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