Sometimes I forget how much my life has changed in the last few years. I live an easy, single life, every now and again, things I accidentally do would easily lead people to believe I tend to be los-kop, I go out with my mates and enjoy carefree dancing in clubs, I sleep in as late as possible during the weekends and sometimes lie in bed all day reading a good book, I get in my car and drive off wherever I want, and through all of this, I only have myself to think of or consider.
It hasnt always been this way though. As most of you know, I was a mother not so long ago. Im about to come out the closet, so grab a hold onto your seats, folks. It might be a bumpy ride.
In my teenage years, I was way off the tracks and living a life of bad choices. I left school at the age of 16 because I figured it was more productive of me to get a job and earn a living. Ive been supporting myself since then, and although I lived at home with my family for two more years, I was pretty much independent. I ran away from home when my mother gave me an ultimatum of choosing the guy in my life at the time. In my rebellion, at the age of 17, I chose a man over my family. I was young, dumb and naïve in thinking that he was the one for me. In my old blog, I wrote the story of how I met and fell in love with Nick. I wont rehash through it now, but depending on the feedback to this post, I might post the entries here for you to read and understand of how I became the person I am today.
In short, Nick was the father of the daughter I had. Her name was Kiera. She was born on the 7th of September 2003. By the time I found out I was pregnant, I was four months along and had already broken up with him and moved back home.
The day I found out, I was lying on the examination table in my doctors rooms and being treated for pre-cancerous cells in my cervix. I was 18 at the time, and utterly horrified. You see, only six months previously, I had also had an abortion, so this was the last thing in my life that I needed or wanted. I had decided to go back to my education and possibly get my life in order by going over seas and becoming someone my family would proud of, someone I would be proud of.
I remember walking out of the surgery and across the road to where my mom was with my youngest brother, Wokkie, at the circus listening to the screaming voices in my head telling me that once again, I had made a life altering mistake. The fact that the father of this unborn child of mine was the same as the last one both comforted and disgusted me. I was done with him, I had cut him out of my life with great difficulty and effort I didnt want anything to tie me to him for one more day, let alone the rest of my life.
Once my mom came outside to meet me, I was so hysterical that instead of calmly explaining the situation to her, I threw the ultra sound picture over to where she stood and sat down on the ground, laying my head upon my knees. This was the worst thing that I could have let happen, and I was devastated.
My mother was overjoyed. Yes, I was 18, and single and unemployed, but in her eyes I was meant to be a mother and she was going to support me through it. Once we had spoken about it in details, she convinced me that I was not going to screw up my childs life because I had been given a second chance, and it didnt happen very often so I needed to take it and do my very best.
I started having problems in my pregnancy about 3 weeks later, when the doctor informed me that the baby was not growing as it should have been. In a whirlwind of frenzy, everything that could have gone wrong in my pregnancy, started to. Without going into details (there are far too many) I started going into labour in my 18th week. For the guys out there not sure of how pregnancy works, a normal pregnancy consists of 40 – 42 weeks, so if you do the math, you can understand that my baby was only half way through growing.
Rushing in and out of hospital for two weeks, my gynecologist eventually put me on strict bed-rest, first at home where I would sit and read on my left side only, and chat with Flea and B all day long, as they was on maternity leave and would come visit, but then it got a little more serious and the doctors realized that my body had started to reject the pregnancy completely, even though the baby was still alive and trying to fight for a life.
I was rushed to hospital in the middle of the night where I would stay firmly in a bed for the next eight weeks. At this point I have to admit that I became the worlds biggest pain in the ass, as I was in Durbans St. Augustines Hospital, which was an hour away from home, and I was bored. I used to write about the progress of the daily tests, which drugs were injected where, what pills I had to take, which nurse was screwing which doctor, and the health of my unborn child. I actually found the diary not so long ago, and couldnt believe how much younger I sounded, yet so confidant in myself, and the life of motherhood.
The nurses would take turns letting me do their hair and nails on lunch breaks, and I had the maternity ward in an uproar of which soapies were better to watch. I used to do score cards of all the student nurses performances and fill out all their daily reports while they would sit at the bottom of my bed and read fashion magazines.
Eight weeks later, on a Sunday night, I felt a shift in my womb. To this day I cant explain how I knew, but I started buzzing the nurses telling them to call the staff and prep for labour because this child was coming. They tried to calm me down and feed me medication to put me to sleep but I wouldnt hear it, and eventually they gave in and phoned the doctors. An hour later, the Echo-cardiogram machine proved I was right and that the baby was in distress. It had become an emergency situation, and within an hour I was prepped for surgery and high on happy gas and morphine.
They performed an emergency c-section to get my little girl out alive, because she was too small to come out any other way. She weighed 520g and was only 24cm long. I remember hearing her little whimper when she came out of me, and then the beeping of machines and shouts of medics and then complete silence as they rushed her into the NICU ward, and left my mom, holding my hand, and I in theatre to be prepped for close surgery. I woke up three hours later to find myself in a ward with three other ladies all surrounded by their husbands and new children. Having my parents there only made it more scandalous and the stares got to me. The unspoken question of where my child was, made me feel inadequate and useless. I think it was with sheer determination and will I managed to get up out of my bed, order the pipes and drips and needles to be taken out of me so I could see my child.
The exclamations of the nurses of having me out of bed and back into my jeans so soon after surgery made me feel even more of a young child who didnt deserve to be in the ward with the other happily married older women. Everywhere I went, I felt like they were all staring, pointing, whispering. I had become someone who was too young to be a mother, but not young enough to be just a child. I didnt know where I belonged.
Seeing Kiera for the first time broke my heart. She was tiny and small and not formed properly. I couldnt touch her for the first six weeks of her life because she had no skin. My body was ready to feed her, but she wasnt ready to be fed by me. She still had another 14 weeks of growing and should have received all the nutrition from my umbilical cord. It was a time of terror, terror that she would die and to be very honest, terror that she would live.
For three months she was in hospital fluctuating from being ventilated, incubated and tube fed. In the mean time I had moved up to Durban so that I could spend each day with her. It was exhausting listening to the alarms and beeps of the mac
hines day in and day out, and all I wanted was to go home. I knew that wasnt an option, so I plied all my energy into learning how to feed, bath, clothe and care for her all the while learning about oxygen therapy and the medications she was so dependant on.
The thing about her being so premature was that she came out with a lot of complications. Her lungs werent developed properly when she was born, so she needed to be ventilated in order to breathe. The ventilation is a catch 22 situation, while it may keep someone alive, the longer they are dependant on it, the worse it damages lungs. Kiera was later diagnosed with a disease called Bronco Pulmonary Displasia within three weeks. Basically to give you an idea, a normal baby has the size of a blown up balloon, along with its texture, Kieras lungs were like squash balls in comparison.
Four long months of my body waking me up telling me it was time to feed my baby, had me expressing, bottling, ordering a cab and rushing to the hospital to check out her progress all before seven A.M. I would come home on the nurses orders at Eight Oclock some nights, completely exhausted and terrified that I would wake up to a phone call that Kiera was dead.
She had two brain bleeds, three infections, countless fits and even more relapses. It was a rollercoaster ride that one would step off to take two steps forward, five steps back. I remember sitting in the NICU nurse lounge with Leslie, who had become Kieras caretaker and my surrogate mother, and just crying. I didnt want to be away from my daughter, but being with her was killing my 18 year old mind. I didnt think I could cope anymore. I was staying with people who I had no bond with, missing my family, missing a normal life, one without ECG machines, oxygen monitors and healthcare people.
My hands were flaking from a mixture of stress and anti-bacterial wash. I was in agony over the cut in my abdomen, my boobs were constantly aching and I was more depressed then I could have ever imagined.
Leslie, unbeknown to me, had a word with Kieras doctor, and they called me into his office the following morning. He had arranged full transport to Margate ICU, to be closer to home, and a full training course for me so that I could care for Kiera myself, from home. I was so touched and happy I promptly jumped on his desk and hugged him with great big tears in my eyes. In the NICU ward, they threw a farewell and graduation party for us and I walked out with a certificate of Outstanding Stress management and a 96 day diploma of how not to die trying, and a hospital bill of 1. 8 million Rand. Thank god I was on medical aid.
For the next three weeks, I learned how to be a mom for the first time, and not just a nursing assistant to my daughter. We were given our own room and were allowed to personalize it to make it seem like a home. I learned how to breastfeed, despite everyone telling me it wasnt possible for Kiera because of the nasal tubes she had on permanently, and for the first time in nearly five months, I saw a light at the end of a long and very dark tunnel.
On the 4th of December 2003, I brought my daughter home. She came with oxygen tanks, a number of monitors, medications and an entire list of instructions. She had to be taken to the doctor once a week for check ups, and there was a 24hours crisis line to call if my mother and I ever needed it. We formed a routine, and I slotted into my role of being a little mommy perfectly.
I worked with my mom from home so that I could be with Kiera all day, and cater to her every need. My family welcomed her to their home with such love and support and I will never ever be grateful enough to them for all the help and kindness we were surrounded by.
Because she was so susceptible to infections and viruses, we had to be completely paranoid about hygiene and cleanliness and who came around to the house. Our friends were so supportive in the fact that when they came around they made sure they had taken every precaution to kill any germs by scrubbing hands and faces and wearing masks.
In March 2004 Kiera was showing such great improvement that the doctors expected her to come off the oxygen completely within a few weeks. She passed hearing and eye tests and her growth progress was phenomenal. Dr. Egnar even went as far as to say that she was a complete miracle child and asked permission to do a case history for the hospital and preemie babies country wide. The air that we breathe consists of 23% oxygen; Kiera had come all the way down from 96% to 25%. We were almost there, a few more days of weaning and hoping and praying, and she could almost be classified as a healthy baby who could breathe on her own.
Towards the end of March, Kiera nose-dived into a relapse so bad, we ended up rushing her back to hospital in Durban. Dr. Egnar was at home recovering from a back operation and had to refer me to another pediatrician to carry out the treatment he was giving over the phone.
Two weeks later, Kiera had gone from having her normal nasal canellas to a C-Pap, which was one step away from ventilation. Things had taken a turn for the very worst. I was back to sleeping in the hospital bed with her and refused to leave her side except to go to the bathroom. My family was beside themselves, after months of bonding with their darling niece and grandchild; they were no longer allowed to see her. Aside from the hospital staff, my mom and I, Kiera wasnt allowed to be near anyone, the risk of further lung infection was too great. She had developed pneumonia in the worst degree.
On the 2nd of April 2004, Kiera refused to make eye contact with me. Her little body was the size of a 3 month old, despite the fact that she was nearly 8 months old, she had to endure the agony of being put on machines that were meant for preemie babies. Her little nose collapsed under all the pressure, and she tried her best to eat her favourite vanilla custard, but the medication and machinery wouldnt allow her to keep it down.
Just after lunch, while trying to bath her, the nurse and I noticed her pallor had dropped to a light blue colour and she stopped breathing. The nurse hit panic stations, and screamed for doctors and help. She was in such a flat spin that I took control of the situation and started bagging Kiera with oxygen pipes and pumps. Kiera opened her eyes and stared at me, with a glazed look, but held it with my eyes. I was praying to God that he would help the staff find the part of the ventilator that had gone missing and watching the nurse use the air bag on her. Through all the sirens, alarms and screaming chaos around her, Kiera didnt break her eye contact with me once.
Four hours later, she had been sedated while the doctors were fighting for her life by testing her oxygen SATS and levels in her body. I felt like I was in a time warp of seven months earlier, as I watched my daughter unconscious and unaware of all the tubes, pipes and needles in every part of her body. The only difference was she had grown by a lot more than her original 24centimeters.
Around 8pm that Friday night, Dr. Egnar arrived in a wheel chair to see Kiera. He consulted with his substitute, and barked orders at the nurses. He then sat with me on the other side of her bed and cried. I could see he was at al loss for what to do, but he didnt know how to tell me. The nurse who had helped me bath Kiera had left in a state of shock and shame, before she came over to me and silently begged for forgiveness. I didnt have it in my heart to hate her. She should have known better, but she was human.
Hours later, our wonderful doctor came to me before he left. In his wheelchair, he persuaded me to take a mild sleeping pill and go to sleep. He was furious that the hospital hadnt provided me with a bed until now, and convinced me that what my daughter needed was a rested mother, instead of a drained person sitting next to her doing no good. I agreed on the condition that he promised to get the nurses to wake me up if there was any change.
That promise was fulfilled at 2am the next morning. I was woken up hurriedly, and I resented it. I was so, so tired. Adrenaline kicked in and I rushed over to Kiera. My mom and dad were already beside her and held my hands as the head nurse explained to me that Kiera was brain dead. The machines were the only thing keeping her alive and that I had a choice;
I could let her stay as she was with the hope that she would eventually breathe again, but remain mentally incapable of living, she was now essentially considered a ’vegetable’, or I could let her go in peace now. As much as I believed in religion and God having his will, I also believed in quality of life. My final decision was what I thought my daughter would have wanted, and I turned off her ventilation machines.
Kiera was handed to me, and as I held her in my arms, I felt her heart rate slowly diminish and finally, stop. It took only a few moments, and I was silent in my grief. My mom and Dad were on either side of me, and as we all looked at her without the pipes, she already looked angelic. She left this world the same way she came in, surrounded by love.
I dressed her body in a warm outfit, and placed her in a cot, to be taken away to the morgue.
Leaving the hospital, I walked outside to be greeted by my big bear of a step father, who bundled me up and gently put me in his car. He had made a bed for me in the back and the nurses had left my mother with a handful of tablets to put me to sleep. My last thoughts that I remember was that I felt incomplete going home without my child.
Two days later, I woke up to find Britt climbing into my bed. She wordlessly put her arms around me and held me while I silently sobbed into her. I think she stayed with me for hours because every time I woke up and reached for someone, she was there waiting.
For ages after, every time I woke up from sleeping pill induced unconsciousness, there were people all over the house. Every single person that had ever had contact with, or heard about Kieras struggle for life, came around bringing food, cards, flowers and plants. My mom tells me that sometimes I would sit in my room with the odd person having random discussions, but I dont remember any of it. The easiest way for me to cope was to wake up and swallow another handful of tablets to make me sleep again.
The funeral was held the following Tuesday. My mom had woken me up a few days before to discuss arrangements, and all I cared about was that she wasnt buried. The rest of it was handled without my knowledge or consent, I wanted no part of it except for the insistence of having Kieras toys surrounding a blown up photo of her on display instead of a coffin at the service. To my mind, knowing her death was macabre enough, seeing her body in a tiny little coffin was not.
A long time friend came around to the house a few days later with a box of smokes and a few bottles of wine. He had been around for months, and had helped me bath Kiera and feed her and become the one prominent male figure closest to a father in her life. As cut up as he was, he was determined to get my mind off what had happened. We proceeded to get absolutely smashed and he listened to my incoherent mumblings of what a good daughter she had been, and held my hand when I fell silent. He didn’t leave me alone for the next month. We ate, showered, and slept together, in the purest and nonsexual sense. For the first time in three weeks, I started to feel human again and brave enough to face the world without drugs that made me zombie-like.
One day at a time is how I coped. Every minute of it was hard, and looking at all Keiras belongings killed me softly, so my mom and Jacques packed them away for me and laughed as I sealed it off with the biggest padlock I could find. They joked that it was more of a protection of my feelings and heartache, than for her actual clothes and toys.
Three years on, I can laugh and smile about my time with my daughter. I cherish her memories and remember the fun we had together. Instead of the medicine and hospital visits, I focus on the summer days I had her on the lawn outside at the pool area, or the way she learned to grab the spoon from my hand and feed herself, or the way she giggled when the TV was on.
Through all the heartache and pain, I can smile because she taught me to be a better person, to be a better human being and to love life. She was here for only eight months, but it was enough time to correct my 18 years of living life the wrong way.
Every single person who had contact with my little girl remembers her big blue eyes and red hair, and smiles. She came, she saw, she conquered. And she brought all who loved her, to our knees.
Updated: 02 April 2014
It’s been ten years since Kiera passed, 7 years since I wrote this post. I think the most common question I’m always asked when people find out about Kiera is “how the hell do you cope?”. The thing is, I’ve had to. And with time, the hurt went away. Kiera has a special memory in my heart, and she will forever be my biggest lesson in life. I’ve grown, matured and learned to love life because of her. If given the choice, I’d do it all over again, even knowing the outcome. Ten years on, I’m finally ready to admit that I’m looking forward to being a mommy again.
I know she’s looking down on me, and every now and again I’ll dream that she comes to visit. Or, funnily enough, hear from my loved ones that they had a visit from Kiera too. It warms my heart.