Running through the woods on Saturday morning, I kept returning to the day Grace was born.
At around 5 miles I reached a state of calm, my legs moving easily to the rhythm of my breathing. It was early and quiet except for occasional dog walkers and the birds whirring out of bushes away from me as I passed. Overhead the trees reached high and laced together against the sun so that the path led ahead of me in cool, dappled shadow. My stride carried me forward; my thoughts carried me back.
Grace was taken out of me two weeks ahead of her due date: a consultant-decreed caesarian to ensure the safe delivery of an upside-down baby. Instead of being allowed to find her own way into the world -- predicted some time around New Years Day 2002 -- Grace found herself suddenly, shockingly airborne, briskly rubbed over, then handed to her similarly bewildered mother two weeks before we had planned to meet.
The first night in hospital she lay beside me in a perspex fishtank, choking in outrage and spluttering viscous bubbles as she sought to expel the amniotic fluid that had not been squeezed out of her by a normal delivery. I was still paralysed from the waist down and couldn't reach over to her from my bed. Terrified and impotent I squeezed a buzzer over and over to summon a nurse for help as Grace gasped for breath. A nurse arrived and again Grace was abruptly hoisted, rubbed and inspected. I held her to me for the rest of the night and finally she closed her eyes to her surroundings and drifted away, fists clenched. I watched her eyes move beneath fragile lids and held my breath.
Now I wonder if this is where her disinterest in the world began. In the days and weeks that followed Grace slept on, stubbornly detached from us all. I would hold her in my arms for hours, or peer into her cot after another feed time had passed, or watch her dream surrounded by cushions on the sofa, one tiny pink sock occasionally twitching. Health visitors scurried in and out, telling me off for not nourishing her properly. I would cry with frustration in my attempts to wake her and try to explain to them how hard it was. I would have to tickle her tummy, strip her naked and blow on her, wipe her face with cool flannels and stroke her cheek over and over to try to tempt her to turn and feed. She lost weight and I gained hollows under my eyes. There were dire warnings of drips and hospital visits.
I kept running, and remembering. I could hear my breath loud in my ears and the faint crunch of dry leaves under foot.
Eventually, Grace came round. There was jubilation after she finished 4 ounces of milk -- in an hour. The rest of her early baby days soon blurred into a recognisable jumble of nappies, routine, broken nights, teething and I responded to her summonses with weary obedience.
Last year, scientists in Scotland published a study which showed that babies born just one or two weeks early were more likely to develop learning difficulties such as autism. A friend and colleague at Reuters wrote about it here. When I was told nearly ten years ago that Grace would have to be delivered by early elective caesarian I was secretly relieved. She was my first child and I had lain awake in bed at nights looking at my huge bump and fluttering with panic at the prospect of pushing something so big out of me.
I ran eleven miles on Saturday morning. At the end I wondered how many of them would have been necessary if I had just asked what might happen instead of signing that consent form.