A Mother's Story

From the very beginning her life was a miracle we knew never to take for granted. I remember the day after she was born, trying to write about her "birth" day, and being totally blown away by my emotions. Now, when there is so much more to her story, the words don't come any easier.

Geordi was "conceived" at exactly midnight, New Year's, 1992. I had thrown away the birth control pills the previous April when Paul landed a job beginning only three days after his last college exam. We used backup protection for four months after that until we were confident that the hormones were clear of my system. I wasn't too optimistic about getting pregnant although I wanted to very much. A premarital physical exam had revealed problems that one doctor had said would likely make me infertile. I tried breaking off my engagement to Paul saying it wasn't fair to deprive him of kids but he said he was marrying me, not my uterus. I read every book I could find on preparing for pregnancy and proper nutrition but otherwise got on with my life. The biggest change I made was taking folic acid tablets instead of contraceptive pills. I conscientiously avoided junk foods and all medications. I giggled when I declined a beer at a barbecue because it was the first time I had publicly announced that we were trying to have a baby! But we were trying not to let our hopes get too high.

December 1992 had been a crazy month for us. My mother had major brain surgery on the 9th but something had gone wrong and she had lost her ability to speak - severe and sudden aphasia. I had commuted several times back and forth from Pickering to London's University hospital to be with her. She was released to recuperate at my home in time for Christmas but reduced to struggling for every word she said, only I was able to understand her. Her language difficulties would subsequently mean that the grandmother who understood what it was like to have a "heart" baby (me) was essentially sidelined and dismissed by all but her daughter and son- in-law. I started to suspect I was pregnant almost immediately and even made a few jokes about it. I just felt "different. Then I felt a few cramps and somewhat bloated and figured I was just imagining things. I refused to take a home pregnancy test. I wanted "official" results so finally Paul and I made an appointment with a neighbour's general practitioner the second week of February and off we went. The nurse held the strip of paper in my urine sample, "I think so" she says, I'm watching my husband, not her. He starts to grin. "Yes," she said. He grins even wider. "Very," she confirmed. Paul is now grinning so wide the Cheshire Cat would be proud. I then get a big hug from him and when he finally lets go of me I put my hand on my tummy and say for the first medically sanctioned time "Hello there."

I gave my medical history to the doctor and due to the test results I got prior to getting married, I had a very early ultrasound scheduled. I have a rare physical abnormality known as a bicornuate uterus. I used to be embarrassed about mentioning it but my husband told so many people about it that I've decided not to worry about it anymore. A bicornuate uterus is a congenital malformation where the womb is divided into two halves at the top. A normal uterus fuses into one organ but in my case I had a left and a right half divided by what's called a septum. The first major hurdle for any pregnancy is for the egg and sperm to get together; many women with structural problems aren't even lucky enough to get pregnant. The second hurdle is the implantation of the fertilized egg in the lining of the uterus. The egg has to implant in the lining of the uterus, instead of the septum or the baby-to-be cannot receive all the nutrients it needs to grow. The result is an early miscarriage. We got lucky. My very little one had found itself a healthy spot on my left side. There still was a high risk of a miscarriage or pre term labour but hey, I was pregnant - which was already a near miracle. Later on, the fact that I have not one but two cervixes would definitely make labour interesting but at this point, nobody was confident this baby would even gt that far.

My first ultrasound was to determine whether or not the fetus was in a place where he or she could grow. I had it at eleven weeks and although there wasn't a lot to see, I was very excited and a little scared. I would be getting my first baby pictures! The ultrasound confirmed that I definitely had a bicornuate uterus and that the baby appeared to be in a place where he or she could grow normally (after my first ultrasound I refused to call her or him an it anymore). But I couldn't begin to relax - there appeared to be a serious problem with the baby. I got the bad news over the phone from my GP. The phrase she used was "a genetic fluke. I never saw that doctor again, from then on it would be a series of geneticists, cardiologists and other medical specialists. She referred me to the geneticist at Oshawa General Hospital and there I found out what little information they had to give me. On the back of the baby's neck there appeared something that was called a cystic hygroma. The term means "sac of fluid. It sounds hideous but by itself, it is harmless. But its presence is like an ominous neon sign flashing "catastrophe" in your body. I was pretty unnerved. But I also knew I was still pregnant and I believed where there was life, there was hope. Up until then I had been feeling quite good. I had a bad case of bronchitis but no morning sickness or nausea. I still kept touching my tummy ten times a day and saying "I can't believe I'm going to have a baby! This is so incredible!" I liked the geneticist, Dr. Gardner immediately. The two geneticists I met remain my favourite doctors. I guess I was expecting a cold, clinical scientist. If someone had to give bad news to pregnant women as part of their daily job I thought they'd end up being a little detached and gruff. This doctor was warm, and attentive. He had to tell me that he'd checked every journal abstract and looked at a lot of studies of fetuses with cystic hygromas. He showed me a stack on his filing cabinet. It looked to me to be a metre high. Of the hundred or so studies represented, only a couple of babies had survived to birth - with severe birth defects. Most of the time, the mother had lost the baby through either a miscarriage or a stillbirth. I expected that it was also the doctor's job to inform me that I had the option of an abortion so I found the courage to bring the subject up first. The very subject is anathema to a happily pregnant woman of course but I was not in a situation where denial of the realities of life would help me or my precious child. I made it clear that I was interested in any other option he could find first! A cystic hygroma indicates a severe genetic defect. However, it doesn't usually tell you what the defect is. For that you need more sophisticated (meaning painful) genetic tests. I can't remember if the first ultrasound indicated there was a heart defect then (11 weeks of gestation is a very small heart!) or if the defect only became obvious during an ultrasound a few days later to confirm the presence of the hygroma. Knowing though, that I also had a heart defect I immediately assumed that my baby's heart problem could probably be related to mine, and after all, if I survive with a small heart defect, than so perhaps could my baby. There were very good reasons to wait and see and order more tests. I had a full genetic work up before I got married and my chromosomes were found to be normal. That doesn't necessarily mean I don't have a unique chromosomal disorder, it just means it's a disorder their tests can't pinpoint and/or it doesn't have an "official" name like Downs Syndrome or Huntington's cholera. There was no way I ever wanted to consider an abortion. I had to restrain an impulse to whisper the word so my "baby" wouldn't hear me. Abhor the idea or not, the procedure exists, it is a reality and my partner and I couldn't duck the issue. There is a big difference between a quick termination procedure and a possible albeit short lifetime of horrible pain and suffering. I wanted absolute proof that it was the more merciful, compassionate and responsible option. A few weeks pregnant and here I was already facing the most terrible situation a parent-to-be could face. This was a baby as desperately wanted as any baby ever could be. It looked like I could miscarry at any time, why hasten the horror by aborting it deliberately? I had just missed the opportunity for a relatively new genetic test called chorionic villus sampling where tissue is taken from the placenta and tested for genetic abnormalities. The results are available in days not weeks. Instead I had to wait several weeks for an amniocentesis at fifteen weeks and then five more weeks for the results. In a way I was glad, there were a few more weeks I could enjoy my pregnancy in relative naivete and innocence. I practised daily exercises in positive thinking and concentrated on sending loving and accepting thoughts to my baby. I also waited for the pains to start, the contractions that meant my body was rejecting my baby, or my baby was rejecting my body. I had good days and bad days. My worst moments came when I wondered whether my baby was in any pain. There was just no way I could tell. A doctor reassured me that since my heart was doing most of the work, my baby was no less comfortable than any other baby. Still, a mother wonders. Early on, I made a decision. I could try to emotionally numb myself, try not to get very emotionally involved with my baby so that if I miscarried, the loss wouldn't be so devastating. Or I could throw my heart and soul into it, make every moment of it a precious memory. I chose the latter. We began to spread the word that I was pregnant but was having problems and needed prayer. We soon had prayer support going around world thanks to friends of friends of friends. My baby needed just one more thing, and that was a name.

My initial choice for a name was Jamie. I wanted a name that sounded good with Maybury and that was apropos for either sex, part of my reasoning being that later on in life a potential employer wouldn't be able to tell whether the person on the resume was a man or a woman! I guess it's a form of positive thinking; here she wasnít even born yet and I was worrying about what she was going to want to do with her life! I was already 95% positive that my baby was a girl.

I have heard many jokes about obsessed Trekkers getting so caught up in the future that they trip over the present but yes, I got my daughter's name from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was watching an episode called "the Masterpiece Society" (one I don't even really like) where yet another guest character - this one was human, it was usually Klingon or Romulan, was expressing surprise that Geordi LaForge's parents let him live because he was imperfect, i.e. blind. LaForge's usual retort was that he could see better than they could, and anyway, who where they to judge who was fit enough to live? His exact statement in this episode is Who gave them the right to decide whether or not I should be here, whether or not I might have something to contribute? Well, it hit me just at the right time. By the time my husband came home from work that day, I was already addressing my baby as Geordi. Paul didn't have a say in the matter but fortunately, he loved the name. (The fact that our dog is named Borg and our cat is Spot after Star Trek: TNG is irrelevant. Geordi was named after a philosophy of life, not a show.) He chose the middle name Elizabeth (which naturally I hate) after me. Thus, Geordi Elizabeth Maybury or Gem for short.

Coincidentally, Paulís father and his wife are also blind.

I put the time in before the amniocentesis reading every parenting book in the public library and talking to my baby. I found a wonderful book by Dr. William Sears called The Baby Book. He calls his philosophy attachment parenting. I now call it the best way in the world for a mother to overcome the bonding obstacles caused by a birth that involves a massive amount of medical intervention. Thanks to that book I withstood heavy criticism from my in-laws and insisted on breastfeeding, sharing sleep with my baby, using a baby sling and letting my baby schedule herself rather than forcing her into a rigid regime of feedings and naps. Only after Geordi died did I find out that my cautious care of her was the single most important thing that kept her as healthy as she could be. The amnio was no worse than a powerful pinch as they put a needle into my amniotic sac to draw out fluid. After that, I had a five weeks wait for the results. In between - quickening! That's not gas, that's a baby moving around in there! Meanwhile, I was still having ultrasounds. Every exam was a cliff hanger - "looks like one ventricle isn't developing properly, no wait, "it's beginning to grow" - "looks like multiple ASD and VSD's" (holes in the heart) and there is only a single umbilical artery, etc. There was good news though, the whole time, as Geordi got bigger, the cystic hygroma was shrinking in proportion meaning that it would be less obvious at birth. Every ultrasound I had to ask What's happening now? Quick, tell me, please don't talk over my head and/or over my stomach! By the end of the pregnancy, I had lost count of how many fetal echoes etc. I had, but I always made sure the technicians knew this baby had a name. I also had my heart checked out, the first time since my childhood. I was supposed to be checked every couple of years but we'd never lived close to Toronto before and besides, I look totally healthy . . . Excuses, excuses. I probably should have been more faithful about having my heart followed up. Most babies with congenital heart disease in my parentsí era didnít survive. Open heart surgery on blue babies was only perfected in the fifties, maybe a dozen years before I was born. So, although I didnít need surgery, I was still a latter member of the first generation of adult survivors of congenital heart defects. I represented a tremendous breakthrough in medical science. And until now, Iíd taken it all for granted. Until Geordi, I never thought twice about having a congenital heart defect. To me it was no more bothersome than having brown hair instead of blond. But suddenly I was forced to face the implications of not only my baby, but me having heart disease. I was rapidly becoming more empathetic for what I must have put my mother through when I was very young. She knew the risks much more than I did. While I donít remember ceasing breathing on her as a baby - twice, she will never forget. I had one very bad day at nineteen weeks and six days. That was the last day I could have a miscarriage, the next day, twenty weeks if I went into labour, the official terminology is still birth - acknowledgment that a woman gave birth to a baby! I made that day take all the pain, all the frustration of the previous nine weeks. Then I got up the next day, twenty weeks pregnant and refused to feel sorry for myself anymore because would be detrimental to the emotional development of Geordi! I walked into the geneticist's office to get the amnio results and the first thing I asked was "It's a girl, right?" The cardiac pediatrician at the most recent ultrasound had only told me that the baby was a heeshhh. Some doctors having a policy of not telling the parents the sex of the baby but Dr. Gardner laughed, checked the report and said yes. And the amnio results? Geordiís chromosomes were normal! Yes! I was then referred to a geneticist at Toronto General/Sick Kids, Dr. Chitayat. Toronto General was my birthplace in 1967. It was however, a 45+ minute commute from Pickering. After my birth, I had quickly been transferred to the hospital across the street and spend five weeks in intensive care at Sick Kids. It looked like Geordi might spend some time there too. The past was apparently repeating itself. The geneticist in Toronto spent a lot of time getting to know us. It was then I discovered that I may also have had a cystic hygroma. I'm not that big a size, but I look stocky, my head looks like it sits right on my shoulders. Most chokers are too tight and I hate turtlenecks. The residual effect of a hygroma is a slightly thickened neck. Fortunately, it's not noticeable unless you know exactly what to look for. The good news was that for once, a cystic hygroma wouldn't mean a baby would die. After all, I had survived, so suddenly it looked like there was a greater than 1 percent chance my baby would too. The bad news was that there was probably a genetic heart disorder in the family - that could have a fifty-fifty chance of affecting subsequent pregnancies. An autosomal dominant disorder. Again, it was Dr. Chitayat's unlucky duty to inform me that I had the right to an abortion up to twenty-four weeks. I came in the Friday before the long weekend in May at twenty-three weeks and he insisted I come back the next Tuesday and give him my final answer. I was a little ticked off he wouldn't take no for an answer Friday morning and we had to come back Tuesday morning to give him my "definitive" answer but "NO" it still was on Tuesday. I swear Geordi perceptibly increased her activity that weekend. Kick, kick. There was a notice in his waiting room for a support group for couples who had abortions for genetic reasons. I said a prayer for all those mothers. It's a terrible situation to be in. I almost think in this day and age we're heading for a society where you're considered socially and morally irresponsible if you choose to give birth to a baby with a major medical problem. For a while there it looked like there were more reasons not to have my baby than to have her. I bet on life. I decied Geordi had the right to make the "choice. If she wanted to be born, I was going to give her every opportunity to be. It was that weekend we also began discussing taking permanent measures to avoid having another child with a heart defect. A fifty-fifty chance of having another child with a heart defect bothered us. Talking about it when I had no guarantees that the baby I was carrying would survive was a bit hasty. I was probably assuaging the guilt that I felt over "deliberately" having a baby with a heart defect by preparing to take permanent measures to prevent having another one. We started a birth preparation class with other couples. On my name tag I put "Liz (& Geordi). I got some funny looks. The first session we were asked to share what we liked and disliked about being pregnant. My husband said that the great thing was that I absolutely loved being pregnant, because most of the time I was humming or lightly touching my tummy and giggling every time Geordi kicked. Then he said a little bit about the medical tests and problems we had been having, a very general overview. That really killed the conversation. The next father said he really couldn't say anything negative about his wife's pregnancy compared to us. From then on, we felt "different. We took the class more as a bonding thing than anything else. We were very sure even from the beginning that if we got as far as full term I'd have to have a cesarean section. That was before we knew Geordi would be a breech baby. It's a common complication of a bicornuate uterus. There's just no room for the baby to turn head down because she's wedged in only half a uterus. My obstetrician was Dr. Sermer, head of the Special Pregnancy Unit at Toronto General. I had immediately made an impression on him (probably not a good one) by complaining during my first internal examination that "stirrups were for horses. It did ensure however that me and my baby would not be treated like average, humbly compliant patients. I did ask to try a vaginal breech birth but was very strongly discouraged from it. I think Dr. Sermer even threatened not to show up. A scheduled cesarean had more than the usual number of justifications for it. Number one was that they could have the best resuscitation team for Geordi available from the staffs at Sick Kids and Toronto General right there waiting for her, as well as other specialists like a cardiologist on call for me. Number two is that a breech labour raises the pain level from agonizing to excruciating, or so I was told. That wasn't considering what might go wrong because I had two cervixes, Paul supported a caesarean (once they told him he could be there for the whole thing) especially since he had been having nightmares about getting me (in labour) to Toronto from Pickering through rush hour traffic! I wanted this baby so bad I'd have had it standing on my head if that was what was best for her. It did have the benefit of being able to pick Geordi's birth date. It was scheduled for Friday, September 10, 1993 at 8:00 a.m. It was the start of my 38th week. Against all predictions, (and a doctor in residence who informed me in the middle of the 8th month that Geordi could still die at any time) I had carried my baby to term. We had survived the worst the medical system could throw at us.

I shouldn't be so critical about the medical system. I had agreed early in my pregnancy that I would make myself as readily available as reasonable as a "guinea pig. They had my permission to use my medical records as a teaching resource, discuss my case with whomever, even bring medical students around to watch my fetal echo cardiograms. I signed every authorization form for the release of medical information they asked me to sign once the purpose was explained to me. I realize now that a second generation baby with a heart defect, one whose motherís records were readily available would be of great medical interest to doctors. My heart doctor at Sick Kids, Dr. Keith, was one of the medical pioneers of pediatric cardiac research. With me they had followed a pregnancy at a far earlier gestational age than they saw most fetuses with heart defects. I refused to feel ashamed for being "unique. I had my daughter's self-esteem to think about too! If her mother was embarrassed, how much worse would she feel? I also thought that even if Geordi died, there was still some good that could come of her brief existence - the advancement of medical knowledge. If she lived - suddenly there was a medical study of a baby with a cystic hygroma who lived! I wanted another mother facing my situation to have a hope that my doctors initially couldn't give me. Other than the occasional not-so-sensitive comment that a few medical "professionals" made, I was for the most part treated with respect and dignity. By the ninth month I was feeling like a bloated whale and had ballooned to almost two hundred pounds, a sixty-pound weight gain! I didn't eat quite as healthily as I intended given the stress I couldn't completely block out. An awful lot was water weight. There was some concern because another echo cardiogram on me showed an abnormal amount of water around my heart. Although I wanted to carry Geordi the full forty weeks, I was grateful just to make it to thirty- eight weeks and still be able to get around in what was only a moderate amount of discomfort. Tuesday, September 7 we met my mother coming off the bus from Kincardine with the announcement that she was invited to a birthday party on Friday. She didn't have a clue. "Mom, I'm having Geordi on Friday!" She was ecstatic, creating a scene by jumping up and down right in the bus terminal. The night before Geordi was born, I said a prolonged good-bye to our dog, and we headed out to buy a few baby things - the last thing we picked up was the baby sling, which as it turned out would be Geordi's home away from home for the next 17 months. Mom had saved a lot of my baby things so we were pretty well equipped even before I got pregnant.


I didn't know how I'd feel that night but I ended up feeling very peaceful and happy. I lay there and talked to my daughter about the next day and what would probably happen and told her not to worry about it because everything was going to be okay. I felt her soft movements as she responded when I talked to her and before I knew it-it was the next morning. I was woken up at six for a shower before the nurse came to prep me for surgery.

The day I had prayed for had finally arrived.

I didn't start to get nervous until the nurse arrived to put the catheter in. That took two tries and was not comfortable because Geordi was sitting where it had to go. It was suddenly seven o'clock and I was beginning to wonder where my husband was. The IV was put in next and I really hated that. Ultimately, that also had to been done twice because they put the wrong size in so they added a bigger one later when I got to the operating room. The final thing I did in my room was to sign the consent forms for the operation, including for the tubal ligation which we had decided was the right thing to do. Just as I was being wheeled into the hall at 7:45 a.m., my husband showed up with the two grandmothers - he had overslept! The surgery was scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m. but it turned out that nobody was in a hurry because I was bumped for an emergency C-section. So they put me in a room near the operating area and hooked me up to a fetal heart monitor. I spent more than an hour listening to Geordi's noisy, but strong heartbeat. I was concentrating on sending positive thoughts to my baby and memorizing what it felt like to have her kicking inside me - having my tubes tied, I knew it would be my last few minutes pregnant and I didn't want to forget anything.

About ten a.m., they moved me to the operating room and the anesthesiologist starting preparing me for the epidural. I was told Paul had to leave for this part but I lied and said that Dr. Sermer had okayed his being with me the whole time. It worked, he got to stay for everything and I donít feel the least bit guilty about it. A woman should have the right to have her partner there from the beginning to the end - especially so she can remind him what she had to go through for the rest of his life! Like the catheter and the IV, it took two tries to get the epidural in the right spot! The anesthesiologist muttered that I was being "difficult.

I had decided to be awake for the procedure because I wanted to see my baby the moment she was born of course, and an epidural anaesthesia is less stressful on a baby than a general one. No one was sure just how strong Geordi's lungs and heart would be and it was best to avoid a groggy, drugged baby. There was a curtain up so I couldn't see what was going on but I could feel the pressure when the surgeon started cutting. The anaesthesia makes your head and shoulders feel about ten feet from the incision. Paul was sitting right next to me with a Polaroid so he could snap the moment of birth. Knowing the gender of the baby probably ruined some of the suspense for the doctors and the nurses but I could hear whispering and progress reports being passed to the specialists standing by waiting for Geordi.

"Get ready," somebody said and all of a sudden I heard a cry. Somebody announced the time as 11:45. and I heard Paul start snapping pictures. And before I knew what was happening, Geordi was gone. I hadn't seen a thing. I was devastated.

As it turned out, they had lifted Geordi up to show me but they hadn't lifted her high enough for me to see her over the drape in front of my face. I started to cry. What if that was my only chance to see her alive? Immediately the amount of discomfort I was in, increased tenfold.

She was only about twenty feet from me but in a room where I couldn't see her. Paul was telling me she looked great and that I was terrific and before the Polaroid could develop somebody came and told us that she was breathing on her own. I ordered Paul to go get as close to Geordi as they'd let him and then he was gone too. They must have slipped something strong into my IV for I started feeling groggy and out of it. Dr. Sermer asked me for the last time if I wanted my tubes tied and I mumbled yes. I was beginning to feel major pain. A "window" was forming where I could feel my uterus being vacuumed or whatever they do to get the placenta out of the uterus after a cesarean. I shut my eyes and tried to concentrate on hearing what the doctors working on Geordi were saying or if she was crying. Instead I heard Dr. Sermer talking to the resident doctors who were witnessing my surgery and he was discussing my bicornuate uterus! It felt like he'd pulled it out of my body and was passing it around. My only regret now is that I wished I'd come up with a really bad wisecrack and reminded everybody in the operating room that there was a human being attached to that medical oddity. But I was too dazed to speak. I'm not really upset at the doctor, he was probably the best one in Toronto and he saved my life and Geordi's with his attentive and skilled care. I give him full credit that I healed quickly with no complications at all. Paul was all of a sudden next to me and bragging about how tight Geordi had gripped his finger as they were putting IV's in her and triple checking vital signs and stuff like that. All that I can really recall after that was moaning in pain and hearing the anesthesiologist telling my husband that I wasn't really feeling anything. He was such a jerk. I got my first peek at Geordi when they wheeled my stretcher out of the operating room and into recovery. What a mass of dark hair she had! They told me she was six pounds two ounces. For the record, her Apgars were 5, 8, and 9, at 1, 5, and 10 minutes. They refused to tell me her Apgars in the hospital at that time (policy?), I only learned her Apgars from her autopsy report two years later.

My mother was allowed into the recovery room with me and there she got her first look at Geordi when they brought my baby to me for a minute before they moved her to Sick Kids for an echo cardiogram. I touched her for the first time then but I can't remember it clearly, I was too tired.

Too soon, Geordi was gone. We had to wait and see whether or not she could be brought back to the General or have to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sick Kids. I wanted her back in the intensive care nursery at the General because she would be just down the hall from my room but the pediatrician in charge wasn't making any promises. I spent the afternoon resting and hearing Paul tell everybody that came into my room just how firmly Geordi had gripped his finger. I also had my first introduction to the breast pump. I was absolutely determined to breastfeed, nothing was going to stop me, my baby deserved only the best. That determination would ultimately help me to overcome the disappointment of not being able to "bond" at birth. The proponents of bonding highly overrate the importance of bonding at birth. I wrote in a letter to Teresa more than a year later when Teresa and her husband David were thinking about starting a family "I think I coped so well with Geordi's 10 days in the hospital (the letter was written before her hospitalization for heart surgery) because I recognized that birth is not really the beginning of the bonding process but is actually the first separation. I needed Geordi to learn to breathe on her own before we could get to know each other on a new level. I think every step of growth in a child requires a new separation from the parent." It was God-given wisdom that would keep me sane when Geordi was eventually hospitalized for heart surgery.

I was thrilled when I successfully produced a few millilitres of colostrum on my first try with the breast pump. Here was something practical that I could do for my baby! You'd have thought I was producing liquid gold from the fuss I was making over it. I could not be with my baby physically but I was not totally useless to her either! Just as I was starting to come down off that high, the pediatrician on call dropped by my room. It was about 5:15 p.m. Oh, oh. But the news was all good. Geordi would not need heart surgery, in fact, she was being settled into the intensive care nursery at Toronto General at that very moment. Both grandmothers promptly started crying but not Geordi's mother! I let out a triumphant "yes. I can't remember Paul's reaction but I probably got a big kiss. Even now I get weepy just thinking about it. Our tremendous gamble had paid off, all the pain and worries of the past few months evaporated. I thought I was in no condition get into a wheelchair yet, so Paul and the grandmothers quickly headed down the hall to see Geordi. To be fair, my mother was back fast with a status report - although she still suffered from aphasia and could only repeat "wonderful, "beautiful" etc. I soon had enough of that and I got helped into a wheelchair although I was still feeling very woozy and Paul pushed me down to the nursery, catheter, IV pole and everything. Geordi had an IV too and heart and oxygen monitors on but I remember them only because they are in the pictures of me holding her.

I know it must have been quite a feat for the nurse to get Geordi out the incubator and into my arms without entangling the various lines poking into each of us but she managed it. And finally at 9:30 p.m. that night I got to hold my daughter "on the outside" for the first time. She then got my "Geordi speech, the speech I'd been rehearsing all my pregnancy, the speech my nephew Daniel got two and a half years later, the same one I still adapt to welcome all my friendsí wonderful kids into the world. It goes something like this "Welcome to the world, little one. We are so happy to have you in our lives. Thank you for choosing us to be your parents, you are so very much loved . . ." And it goes on about two more pages after this. The three key ingredients are always acceptance, gratitude and love. Geordi was very quiet and calm through all this emoting. I was trembling and asking half a dozen times "Am I holding her right?"

From the beginning I had a very patient, tolerant little girl.

All too soon, I had to put her back into the incubator. They let me put a teddy bear I had bought for her into the incubator with her. I had bought it on Valentine's Day for her, only a few days after my pregnancy test. I can't remember anything else about her "birth" day. All that I could think about was my Gem!


I was not in such great shape the next day. I had been so busy concentrating on staying positive for her that I had forgotten many women experience a huge "hormonal crash" within a few hours of giving birth. It hit me with a vengeance the next morning. The anaesthetic was finally wearing off and I began feeling frustrated and claustrophobic. I was on my own because Paul couldn't be there until the afternoon. Whereas the night before I'd been ecstatic that Geordi was so near to me, now I was feeling the separation keenly.

All I wanted to do was get up but I was in pain, and couldn't reach the phone, or a pen and paper to write a letter to Geordi like I'd planned or even the breast pump. I felt like a complete and total failure. I was getting my vital signs checked regularly and reassuring progress reports on Geordi, I was a teary, miserable wreck. That was the worst hours of the entire ten days Geordi was in the hospital.

Eventually a nurse arrived and removed the things poking into me. My mother and husband showed up in early afternoon and I got helped into a wheelchair, helped with the breast pump and then to see Geordi again. My mood was quickly lifted by her and from then on things got a lot easier. If that was even a tiny taste of what post-partum depression is like, I have a lot of empathy for women that suffer from it. Geordi was doing just great, and breathing on her own. She had a few monitors on her and was receiving oxygen but her prognosis was very good. Her nurse had put a big sign with her name on it with big bright flowers and balloons on the trolley holding her incubator and it looked very cheery.

The next few days flew by in a blur. We were snapping pictures like crazy of course. By her second full day in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I was shuffling back and forth regularly between my room and Geordi and escorting a steady stream of visitors to her. I was also getting very friendly with the breast pump because I was told Geordi wasn't yet strong enough to nurse. She was receiving what I could produce for her and supplemental formula through a tube in the nose. The highlights were the first times Paul and my mother held Geordi. Paul looked so proud that I started to cry. I was so happy I could give him a child. My mother was emotional to watch, too. When I was born, she was drugged right out of it and I was taken away before she could come to. It was ten days before she was well enough to see me and five weeks before she was allowed to hold me. The first time she even touched me was when the nurse placed me in her arms in the car to take me home from the Hospital for Sick Children. Now in the same hospital I was born in but twenty-six and a half years later, she was holding her first newborn! Hospital policy had certainly changed a lot since my birth. You could virtually watch Geordi work her special magic and begin to heal my mother's painful memories.

When I wasn't with Geordi, I was sitting in on the new baby classes they held in the regular nursery, resting or pumping. After hearing many horror stories about babies that are up half the night, I decided to acclimatize myself to it and started getting up to pump at night too. I'd get up twice a night, pump and walk to the nursery to put the milk in the fridge, check in on Geordi and promptly get ordered back to bed by the nurses on duty. Looking back, being both productive, in that I was helping feed Geordi, and disciplined by setting a schedule, did wonders for my self-esteem and proved to the staff that I was a conscientious and capable mother. Ultimately, the joke was on me though. I ended up getting more sleep, not less when we finally took Geordi home. I was told the standard length of recuperation in the hospital was five days but I was feeling so good (or bugging the nurses so much) that it was suggested I be discharged a day early. I did not want to do that because I didn't want to be away from Geordi any sooner than I had to be and so my doctor decided I'd better stay in an extra night because of my heart condition. I found it funny that my heart would for once work in me and my baby's favour. Geordi was still undergoing tests but was steadily growing stronger.

On day five I was given permission to try breastfeeding, it was just before I was formally discharged. I had to initiate breastfeeding and try to get a relationship going - and I was going to be in another city at night! I cuddled Geordi and tried our first tentative positioning - and she took the nipple and immediately started sucking away like we'd been together for days. Paul was taking pictures and in them I look totally astounded. Since her first feedings had been through a tube in her nose and then a preemie bottle, I wasn't sure she had developed the right reflexes. I'd underestimated her strength and will.

I'm ashamed to say I was flabbergasted at how easy it was to begin breastfeeding my baby. The doctors, nurses and even family members had tried to gently discourage me from getting my hopes up but by the end of Geordi's first efforts, I knew that everything was going to work out like I'd dreamed. I finally felt like a normal mother with a normal baby. That quickly, any "bonding" issues - if I had any - evaporated. Geordi had exceeded all expectations - again! I was reluctant to leave Geordi and go home that night. We were just getting something going, and I wanted to get into a routine now. All the nurses had been wonderful with Geordi, and tolerant of a new mother who insisted on hovering over her baby like a dragon over her gold. I probably had pestered them with a thousand questions. I wasn't too upset when I had to kiss her good-bye because they were being so kind to both of us.

When I walked into our home in Pickering for the first time in five days, I was nearly flattened by a dog that was very happy to see me. It was good to get reacquainted with my other "baby. Paul had rented a breast pump for me to use at home and I kept up the schedule I had set for myself in the hospital. This time I had company at night. Borg got up with me when I got out of bed and lay at my feet while I used the breast pump. When I was done, I then woke Paul up and made him take the milk to the fridge downstairs! I was recuperating very quickly from my C-section but still found it uncomfortable walking, especially up and down stairs. I was absolutely thrilled to be home in my own bed but suffered an incredible shock upon discovering that it was very, very difficult getting out of a waterbed right after a C-section! My abdominal muscles and incision were begging for mercy. I may not have been thrilled that Geordi could not be released with me but I realized that a few extra days for her mother to get more mobile would probably be to both Geordi's and my benefit. My logical and practical side (and sense of humour) that had sustained my sanity during my pregnancy were still in firm control of my emotions. It was probably my faith in God too. He could sustain both my daughter and me through necessary separation.