At the hospital we went to while I was pregnant there is an underground car park.
Many of the memories I have from the bleakest days of my pregnancy are fuzzy or even misremembered but the memory of that car park is visceral. Thinking about it now makes my heart beat faster.
The psychological impact of descending into the darkness, the acrid smell of running engines from the cars inevitably queuing to get through the barrier, the fact that every inch of my fight or flight instincts wanted me to run far far away from what was coming. With each passing month my physical reaction to approaching and entering the car park became more extreme, nausea, dizziness, palpitations.
It all seems so distant now. That is until I find myself inadvertently entering an underground car park, as I did recently. It took me a few moments to work out why my panic responses had kicked in. Even with my logical mind talking me down, reminding me how far we had come and how much has changed in the past 7 years, my body was subconsciously terrified, and unsettled.
Seven years ago I was never the driver, I would sit silently in the passenger seat clutching my notes, my ultrasound photos and the letter. The letter that told us that our baby was too poorly to survive, that she had a catastrophic brain malformation which would result in either miscarriage or a very short life. I read that letter so many times during the rest of the pregnancy. I read it on the days that none of it felt real. I read it on the days that I needed to look for any glimmer of hope. I read it on the days when that same hope surged and I needed to manage my own expectations, to remind myself not to get carried away with positivity. I read it again and again and it always said the same thing.
I remember the sound my shoes made on the concrete of the car park floor, I remember really specific details of the motorbikes in the bike parking area. I can smell the inside of the lift lobby. I can see the face of the man who held the doors open for us once. I can see the face of the tiny baby we once met in his going home car seat. I can feel the warmth of my husbands hand on my back gently reminding me to step forward into the lift.
I remember the noise the coins made in the payment machine, I remember feeling vague resentment that we were paying to be in the place I hated so deeply.
It’s strange that I don’t feel the same negativity towards the hospital itself, just the car park. In the hospital once we were with the doctors and midwives and other families I was in public mode, I was focussed and engaged, I was a mask of coping and calm. I was the ‘I don’t know how she does it’ version of myself. I was fighting for my baby.
The car park was the stage at which my apprehension about what was to come was at its peak, it was the point at which I had to put on the coping mask and the point at which, as we left the building, the mask slipped and a different kind of coping began.
There is one other memory I have of that journey down the lift and into the car park and although it can never erase the memories which preceded it, it is the one I try to come back to each time the dark memories close in.
It’s the memory of her car seat, on the floor by the car park payment machine. Her little white hat and her diminutive body swamped by blankets against the December weather. It’s the memory of putting the car seat (one which we had had to borrow to get home because we had not bought a car seat, or anything at all for that matter) into the car and closing the door. Closing the door between the place that haunted my nightmares and the child that proved them all wrong. Emerging from the car park into the grey London afternoon filled with nothing but love, gratitude and a shellshock which would remain for months, maybe even years.
‘Take her home and enjoy the time you have’ they said. So we did.
And almost seven years later, we still do.