Miracle of a Dying Mum

Picture shows a copy of the published article in Take a Break magazine. Take a Break - August 2011
By Ellie Woodcock, 32

I was desperate to have a baby before my life ended, but was that selfish or was it an act of love?

Dear Daisy,
The doctor was struggling to compose herself and I noticed tears in her eyes. ‘I’ve never had to tell anyone this before,’ she said, ‘but you have a brain tumour.’ I braced myself for what was coming next. ‘I am so sorry,’ she said, ‘but we might be talking weeks.’ I was so shocked I couldn’t speak. I’d been suffering from headaches and then I’d begun to lose track of huge chunks of time. Tests showed that I had a massive tumour in the right side of my brain.
Next day I had an operation but the surgeon was unable to remove the whole tumour. Instead I was left with two lumps the size of golf balls inside my head. I didn’t know if I would survive for weeks, months or years. But there were two things I was sure of. The first was that the tumour would kill me one day. The second was that I wasn’t ready to die. There was too much I wanted to do with my life and top of my list was to become a mother.

Picture shows a copy of the published article in Take a Break magazine.

I said to your daddy, Keith: ‘Do we dare try?’ We spoke to the doctor. He explained the risks. The tumour caused me to have fits and I took tablets to control them. If I got pregnant I’d have to decrease some of my medication, which meant that I could have a severe fit and choke to death or suffer a brain injury. Then he added that I could be alive for 10 years or two years. I listened and I should have felt scared but instead I clung onto one sentence:It is still possible for you to have a baby. I said to your dad: ‘It’s now or never.’

I knew that not everyone would approve of my decision. Having a baby was a huge gamble – for me and for the child. But I wasn’t going to be talked out of it, so I kept my plans a secret. Weeks passed and I felt unwell. I bought a test and disappeared into the bathroom. Your daddy waited outside the door. A few moments passed, then I burst out and waved the test at him. ‘I don’t believe it!’ he gasped. ‘Are you sure?’ I was. But I did another test anyway. It gave us the same answer. Ten weeks later I lifted the telephone and dialled a number. Your nan answered and I cried: ‘I’m pregnant?’ I waited for a shriek of joy. But it never came. Instead there was a silence that seemed to go on forever. When your nan finally spoke, she said: ‘What were you thinking? If you get ill, I know you’ll put the baby’s life before yours and that worries me.’ ‘This might be my only chance to have a child of my own,’ I said. ‘Please be happy for me.’

But as news of my pregnancy spread there was very little excitement. Your aunt was happy, but some friends told me I was mad. Others accused me of being selfish. ‘You’re dying, Ellie,’ they said. ‘You’ll leave that baby without a mother. It’s not right.’ But I was determined. Your nan and grandad worried about me but in the end they supported my decision. Soon, though, the effect of cutting back my medication took hold. I began to suffer terrible seizures. As my bump grew, the fits became more frequent and I started to have one every day. I’d feel it coming on and have to lie down on the bed. Then everything would go black. When I came round I’d have no idea what had happened but I’d have bumps and bruises all over me.

All I wanted was to be a normal mum and go shopping for baby clothes. But I resisted the urge. It felt like tempting fate. Finally I reached 40 weeks and I went into hospital to be induced. The midwife attached safety bars to my bed. ‘If you feel a fit coming on,’ she said, ‘pull the emergency cord and we’ll be here.’ My labour began and so did the fits. As the contractions grew stronger, I had one seizure after another. And then I heard an amazing sound. A cry. I looked at your daddy. He was staring at something in wonder and then his face crumpled and tears began to spill down his cheeks. The midwife handed me a small bundle. ‘You have a daughter,’ she said. That was you, Daisy. You turned your head and looked straight at me.’ ‘I’m your mummy,’ I said, ‘and I promise I’ll be the best mummy I can be for as long as I’m here.’

We took you home to Orchard Way, Croydon, Greater London, and settled you in your nursery. That night I stood beside your cot and watched you sleeping. I couldn’t believe how perfect you were. I was in awe. Your daddy and I quickly fell into a routine. I did as much as I could, feeding and changing you. If I felt a seizure coming on, I’d hand you to daddy and lie down until it passed. I’d kept a diary throughout my pregnancy and now I filled a new one with memories. Every day I’d record what we did together so you could look back on it when I was gone and know how much I loved you. One day I wrote: We tokk you swimming today. You loved it. I remember when your grandad Fred used to take me. He’d jump in and make a big splash to make me laugh. We love you so very much and we’re very proud of you. On another occasion I jotted down: Mummy used to love cuddly toys just like you. Then she grew up and became a nursery nurse to take care of little babies just like you.

Five months passed and I returned to hospital for a routine brain scan. There was bad news. The tumour had grown. I had another operation and once again surgeons removed as much of the tumour as they could. Then I began a course of radiotherapy in hospital to shrink the remainder. When I came home I was too poorly to look after you. Instead I could only watch as daddy fed and bathed you. I tried to make up for the things I could no longer do by reading to you and taking pictures. But my fits got worse again and I was taken back to hospital. I lay in bed with your nan beside me. I could tell from the expression on her face that she was scared I wouldn’t make it. Days passed and I continued to have fits. One day your daddy came to see me and he was holding you in his arms. You were eight months old. I thought: I have to survive this. I refuse to die. I refuse to leave her. Then my eyes closed. I can only imagine what everyone went through, wondering if the fits would ever stop. But they did. At last I was well enough to return home. You reached your first birthday and we held a big party for you. When it was time for you to blow out the candles on your cake, I lifted you into my arms. As I did so my thoughts turned to aLL the other special days in your life that I probably wouldn’t see and I asked myself: Was it wrong to bring you into the world knowing that I was dying? I watched you blow out your candles, surrounded by so much love, and I knew that it was not wrong.

Now, Daisy, you are about to turn three and I can’t believe that I’m still here. You are old enough to understand that I am unwell and try to take care of me. Each morning you say: ‘Mummy, have you taken your tablets for the ouch in your head?’ That makes me smile. My seizures are now under control but the tumour remains. Your daddy and I talk all the time about how he will look after you when I’m gone. I want you to be patient and caring like him. Make sure you listen to him, Daisy, and spend time with your family. They will give you all the love you need. Remember that no one knows what is around the corner. All any of us has is the living moment. And, Daisy, you have taught me that is more than enough.
All my love, Mum xxx

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