On this day, ten years ago, my first child was born. I remember gazing into her dark blue eyes as I held her for the very first time and thinking to myself, “wow, so this is what true happiness feels like.”
Until I found out I was pregnant, I had never allowed myself to think about becoming a mother – let alone wish for a baby of my own.
For years I’d told myself that I wasn’t interested in having children and that I’d rather focus on my career, but it was all a lie to protect myself from the unbearable heartbreak and defeat of never having a child.
With a face like mine, what were the chances of me finding lasting love and start a family?
What would happen if I bore a child with a cleft? Would my partner still want it? Would I have the strength to nurture a child with a cleft, a child that might well grow up feeling diminished by bullies just like I did?
But then I met someone and fell deeply in love. It was blissful. And a few months later I discovered I was pregnant.
At first, I panicked. It’s too soon; we’ve only known each other for a short while. What if he’s not the one?
But then doubt gave way to giddy excitement. We were having a baby!
I was six weeks pregnant and sitting in my dentist’s waiting room when I suddenly realised that one side of my face was numb and when I stood up, I couldn’t quite find my balance. Something was very wrong.
By the end of the day, I’d been admitted to hospital, and everything pointed towards a minor stroke, but without an MRI scan, the doctors couldn’t be absolutely certain.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been diagnosed with a stroke. Two years earlier I had suffered a stroke that had left me temporarily paralysed on the left side of my body.
I’d been incredibly lucky and made a complete recovery. The cause of the stroke had remained unknown but this time the doctors insisted on a thorough investigation of my heart, suspecting that I might have a hole in it, which could explain the stroke.
But as long as I was pregnant, the doctors were unable to do either an MRI scan or the kind of heart investigation I required.
I was faced with a terrible dilemma: should I proceed with the pregnancy and hope that I wouldn’t have another stroke? Or should I have a termination so that the doctors could do what they needed to sort me out? In the end, I chose the latter.
Terminating the pregnancy was humiliating, heartbreaking and excruciatingly painful and for months afterwards I hated myself.
At the same time, it turned out that I did indeed have a hole in the heart that required immediate surgery, something that would have been impossible had I still been pregnant.
Miraculously, my partner and I stayed together in spite of the deep pain and sense of bereavement we both felt at the loss of our unborn baby. I believe it’s a testament to the strength of our relationship and the deep love we felt for each other.
Six months after my heart operation, I got pregnant again and this time I was adamant that I was having the baby no matter what.
At my 20-week scan, my partner and I found out that we were having a girl and that she did not have a cleft.
I didn’t feel relief at hearing this, for by that time it wouldn’t have mattered one bit whether my child had a cleft, an extra chromosome or anything else out of the ordinary.
All I cared about was that my daughter would live.
And here we are, a decade on; my daughter has grown into a beautiful, healthy, kind and vivacious ten-year-old.
As with all people – young and old – she’s got her own set of challenges, dyslexia being one of them, but she takes it in her stride.
For her dyslexia is something normal, just as my cleft is normal to me.
I sometimes think about the baby that never was and I still feel a twinge of regret and sorrow that I made the decision to sacrifice it so that my two daughters could be born to a healthy mother.
In a dream I had a few years ago, a little boy came up to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “It’s ok, I understand.”
That little boy was my unborn child, and he’ll always be in my heart.