I thought I’d love being a mother.
I was wrong.
I don’t enjoy it at all; not even for one moment. I know I’m bad at it. My life as I know it ended the day I gave birth. Being a mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
All of this has been a big mistake. I don’t want to do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore.
I will ﬁx what I have done. I will make everything okay again – for you and for me.
And, please, I beg you: forgive me for what I’m about to do.
Day 1, Saturday Daybreak
A thin band of light falls in a strip of yellow on the ﬂoor beside the bed. My brain is full of static, my tongue a pad of steel wool in my mouth. Beneath the tucked sheet my legs are a tangle of pins and needles. I press my feet against the cotton and try to tug them free.
It’s difﬁcult to inhale the thick, hot air. The window on my right is out of reach. The curtains are striped and drawn together, with only a pale line of sky littered with treetops visible between their folds. A beeping monitor stands beside the bed, ﬂashing red. Silver rails are locked in place on either side of the mattress, running from my feet to my torso. A white hospital gown cloaks my chest.
Surely Mark should be here, by my side? I haul myself onto one elbow and scour the room. Empty. There’s no chair. No cot, either.
Cot. The realisation hits me. The baby.
I pull the sheet back and hoist the gown to my neck. A thick pad is taped above my pubic bone. My belly is smaller than before, and wobbly. I’m empty.
I ease myself back down against the mattress, sucking in air. There’s a ﬂash of memory from the moments before I was put to sleep: a mask held over my face, the pressure of it against my cheeks, the smell of musty plastic. The anaesthetist’s pinpoint eyes. Mark, staring down at me, blinking in slow motion. Then coldness in the back of my hand, stinging like a nettle.
I lift my ﬁngers to my eyes. My vision pulls into focus. Clear liquid dribbles through tubing into a vein. I yank at the plastic taped fast against my skin.
There’s a call bell on the bedside table. I thrust my arm over the rail, knocking a cup of water to the ﬂoor in my haste. The liquid pools on the matted carpet, then begins to soak in, forming a jagged mark. I catch the cord of the buzzer and manoeuvre it onto my lap. I dig both my thumbs into it and listen as a loud ring resonates in the corridor outside my room. There’s the squeak of a meal trolley. A baby whimpering from a nearby room.
But no one comes.
I press the buzzer again and again, hearing the echoing chime outside my door. Still no one answers.
A red light ﬂickers on the buzzer, the colour all at once too familiar. Blood. Was I bleeding last night? Why can’t I remember? There’s something far more wrong now. Where is my baby?
‘Excuse me,’ I shout in the direction of the corridor. ‘Is anyone there?’
I try to steady my breathing and take in my surroundings. Everything about this place feels unsettling. There’s a thread of cobweb stretching high against the ceiling, a sliver of a crack in the plaster above the skirting board by the door, a dull brown stain on the bed sheet. I shouldn’t be here. This isn’t the Royal, with its homely birthing suites and clean, airy rooms. There the midwives are attentive and caring. Soothing music is piped along every corridor. The Royal was where I was supposed to have our baby girl.
This – this is the hospital down the road, the one with the reputation. The one I’d insisted on avoiding in this town big enough to have a choice, small enough for me to know individual obstetricians. As the local pathologist, I’m the one who writes up the autopsies of babies that don’t make it. I’ve seen the work of each specialist. I know more than anyone how much can go wrong.
A wave of nausea sweeps over me. That hasn’t happened to my baby. Not after everything. It’s not possible. It can’t be.
The door pushes inwards, the silhouette of a broad- shouldered woman backlit by the lights from the corridor.
‘Help. Please,’ I say.
‘Oh, but that’s my job.’
The ﬁgure steps under the downlights: a midwife in a navy pinafore. Ursula, the badge at her waist reads.
‘I do apologise. We’ve been so busy,’ she says. She dumps a cluster of folders on the end of my bed, picks up the closest one and peers at it through spectacles hung on a thin chain around her neck. ‘Saskia Martin.’
‘That’s not me.’ My heart quivers inside me. ‘Where’s my baby?’ Ursula inspects me over the rim of her glasses, then thrusts the folder back onto my bed and picks up the next one in line.
‘Oh. You’re Sasha Moloney?’
I nod, relieved.
‘So you’re the abruption.’
Maroon clumps on asphalt rise, steaming, before my vision. The stench of metallic clots, bled out from behind the placenta, peeling my baby away from the inside of my womb before it was time for her to emerge. So, the bleeding was real, not solely from my imagination.
‘My oh my. You lost of lot of blood.’
I don’t ask the volume. ‘My baby. Please tell me?’
She skims the ﬁle.
‘You’re thirty-seven years old.’
‘Yes, I am.’
‘And this is your ﬁrst baby.’
From the corridor now comes the sound of babies wailing in unison. Finally, Ursula lifts her head from the ﬁle.
‘You had an emergency caesarean at thirty-ﬁve weeks. Your baby boy was sent to the nursery. Congratulations.’
Boy? I draw a sharp breath. ‘I thought I was having a girl.’
'Boy? I draw a sharp breath. ‘I thought I was having a girl.’
Ursula ﬂips through the ﬁle, sticks her ﬁnger on the page.
‘Deﬁnitely a boy,’ she says.
It takes me a moment to understand her. Not a daughter, but a son. This is most unexpected. But there’s a small chance the ultrasound – and my maternal intuition – could have been wrong.
‘Quite sure. It says boy right here.’ Her jaw tightens. ‘Oh,’ she mumbles. ‘Hmmm . . .’
Oh, no. Any baby, any gender is ﬁne, as long as they’re okay. Please, please, let them be okay . . .
Ursula scrambles through the notes, then inspects me again through the lower half of her bifocals.
‘It looks like he’s alright. The ﬁles are so difﬁcult to read these days. So many babies. And so many mothers to care for. We’ll get you to him as soon as we can.’
Relief ﬂoods my body. My baby is alive. I am a mother. And somewhere in this hospital is my newborn son. My heart is still a drum beating behind my ribs.
‘Can I see him now, please?’
‘Hopefully soon. We’re extremely busy.’ She gives a theatrical sigh. ‘I’m sure you understand.’ She checks the ﬁle again. ‘You’re a doctor, am I right?’
I’m not sure if she’s playing some sort of perverse game. Perhaps she’s merely run off her feet. I’ve heard the stories about this place: a constant victim of budget cuts, perpetually short- staffed, doctors and nurses overworked.
I nod. ‘Well, I’m a pathologist . . . But can you at least tell me how he is?’
Again Ursula drags a ﬁnger down the page. ‘It’s not immediately clear from these notes.’ She eases the folder shut.
I scrunch the bed sheet into a ball beneath my palms. ‘I need to see him. I need to see him now.’
‘I understand,’ Ursula says, placing the folder on my bedside table. ‘Of course you do. I’ll be back with a wheelchair as soon as I can.’
‘Mark will take me. My husband. Where is he?’
‘He must be with your baby. I’m sure you can see him when we get you upstairs.’ She removes my mobile from the top drawer of the bedside table and hands it to me. ‘You can call him. Tell him to come to the desk for a wheelchair.’
A buzzer screeches from a room nearby. Ursula frowns as she steps into the corridor.
I ﬁnd Mark’s number and press the phone hard against my ear. It rings out. I call again. This time I leave a message in a voice I barely recognise, begging him to come and get me straight away, to take me upstairs. I tell him I need him. That I need to check on the baby.
I’ve worked in hospitals for years. I know the systems, the faults and ﬂaws. On the face of it, I should be more comfortable here. But being a patient is different to being a doctor. Now I’m the observed rather than the observer; I’m the one being dissected, examined, judged. I can spot incompetence like a watermark. And, worst of all, I know how easy it is to make mistakes.
Nurses titter in the corridor outside my room. Mufﬂed wails of newborn babies ﬁlter through the air. My uterus seems to tighten inside me. I’m starting to get some feeling back in my legs as the tingling fades away. My muscles soften with the last of the opioids and I gasp at the sticky, hot air, willing myself to stay here, stay conscious, there’s no time for sleep, but the room tilts beneath me, and I swirl into a vortex as the walls collapse in on themselves and the room disintegrates to black.
More about the book
<h2>They've stolen your baby.</h2>
After waking from an emergency caesarean, you're dying to see your new baby. But when you're introduced something is wrong.
This is not your child.
The nurses assure you that the baby is yours.
Your husband believes them. And so does your father.
But how can you be wrong? You're a doctor. You know how easily mistakes are made.
When everyone is against you, do you trust your instincts?
You know only one thing . . .
You must find your baby.
'Taps into deep, subliminal fear. I was so absorbed that when a friend tapped me on the shoulder, I jumped out of my skin' Jane Shemilt, bestselling author of DAUGHTER
'I raced through, unable to stop reading until I found out what was really going on. Gripping and thought provoking about motherhood and mental health. I loved it' LAURA MARSHALL, bestselling author of FRIEND REQUEST
'Digs deep to examine the dark side of motherhood - mental illness, failure, violent thoughts - and refuses to look away. Mine throws into question the sanity of the narrator, the trustworthiness of doctors and the reader's understanding of right and wrong' THE GUARDIAN
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